Essential Black Metal Listening: AGALLOCH Pale Folklore
Agalloch are one of those bands who have changed heavy music for all time. Perhaps the most influential black metal band of the last twenty years, this is the band who took the promise of Ulver and turned it into something greater. This is the band who proved that USBM could be a veritable force in the scene and gave it a sound all of its own. Without Agalloch, so much of what we know as black metal today simply could not have happened. While other records may more accurately represent the turning point of black metal, almost all of it stems, at least in part, from Pale Folklore. Put out just before the new millennium, the band seemed to be ready to usher in a new wave of black metal and inundate us with seventeen years of mind melting, blazing beauty.
The album starts off with the classic suite of "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline Parts 1-3". It's rare that in a band's first few songs they can define the ethos of all that is to come, but somehow Agalloch managed to do exactly that. These three tracks, with their mesmerizing guitars, gentle samples, and above all, top notch melodic content provide a window into the elements that would come to define Agalloch. What's fascinating about it is that despite being far removed from much of the black metal idiom of the day it is still fairly easy to see where the band was coming from, and in the tremolo picked chords one sees images of the frozen north being painted in front of them. The suite functions as a sublime introduction to the band that overwhelms the listener and allows the waves of sound drag you off into a magical otherworld. It provides a sense of depth to the music and gives you even more to get lost in.
Another key aspect of this record that helped so many fans to fall in love with the band is obviously the distinctive vocal stylings. This is an album that has a female opera singer slotting in nicely next to perfectly executed screams, not to mention male cleans that are absolutely to die for. There is a really refreshing variety to the singing on this record, with its powerful melodies and brilliant orchestrations fitting in nicely underneath some of John Haughm's best vocals ever. That is not say that Agalloch didn't get better from this point on, but the sheer majesty behind the singing on Pale Folklore has had legions of fanatics coming back to the album time and time again for years now.
Can I say for certain that Agalloch changed the face of black metal? No. But can I say that they had had a huge impact of the sort that almost none of their peers could claim? Yes. The songwriting on Pale Folklore is powerful and grandiose, even by modern standards. This isn't just a great black metal record, this is a great record, one that pushes forward music as an art form. When we come to the breaking of the world and aliens excavate our ruined civilization, I pray that this be one of the things they uncover, so that they can know, even though humanity is pretty demented, at least we had Agalloch.