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Of Stone Wind And Pillor - Agalloch

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Genre: Indie Rock & Punk - Post-rock / Artist: Agalloch / Audio CD released at End

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      19.07.2007 20:59
      Very helpful
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      Released between 'Pale Folklore' and 'The Mantle' (2001).

      One of the most interesting American metal bands of this decade, Agalloch combines elements of European neofolk, doom and depressive black metal and fuses them with the burgeoning American post-metal sound of bands such as Isis. All this genre name-dropping may be a bit confusing and off-putting, but it combines to give Agalloch a refreshingly unique and inimitable sound that still has solid foundations in bleak transatlantic music.

      Each of the band’s major releases has been wide enough apart to properly demonstrate its transition, and focus on quality over quantity. To satiate fans craving for more from the increasingly acclaimed Portland group, Agalloch have mercifully released several intermittent E.P.s between the major releases, of which 2001’s ‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’ is the most significant and eagerly anticipated. Released over a year before the second album ‘The Mantle,’ this five song E.P. provides a greater insight into the band’s evolution with songs from as early as the 1997 demo, a few later songs that can essentially be seen as B-sides to the full-length ‘Pale Folklore,’ and a brand new song to demonstrate Agalloch’s new softer sound, which balances their influences more evenly than the black metal-oriented debut and is also highlighted by the interesting choice of an English neofolk cover song of Sol Invictus.

      1. Of Stone, Wind and Pillor
      2. Foliorum Viridium
      3. Haunting Birds
      4. Kneel to the Cross
      5. A Poem By Yeats

      The album cover, band photos and song titles give a clear indication that this is to an extent woodland-based music, and indeed that is the mental image conjured by the sweeping orchestration, folk guitars and crackling fire effects. It’s a less threatening wilderness than that conjured by the earlier ‘Pale Folklore’ and the ambient black metal bands it drew its inspiration from, particularly Ulver’s first album ‘Bergtatt,’ but it’s still a far cry from a cheerful hand-clapping rendition of Kum Ba Ya. The mood of the dual acoustic song ‘Haunting Birds’ is one of deep contemplation, and the fire that creeps in at the end would be one absently stared into by all present as they contemplate their lives, rather than toast marshmallows. This song is a perfect showcase of the band’s unplugged side to contrast with the heavy presence of keyboard and distortion elsewhere, with crashing drums heard far away as a menacing but distant threat in a technique pretty much lifted from Ulver’s ‘Een Stemme Locker’ and later re-used on the final song of ‘The Mantle.’

      The other instrumental is an older song, which is unsurprising considering its similarity to the beautiful ‘The Misshapen Steed’ from Agalloch’s debut. ‘Foliorum Viridium’ evokes a similar atmosphere to its acoustic neighbour, but this time in full daylight in a panoramic sweep of forest landscapes depicted by a soft keyboard lead over soaring violins and a lead cello section. It’s understated enough to avoid approaching the realm of film soundtrack, and is simply a peaceful ambient piece that opts to leave all thoughts of metal behind it, although it pales in comparison to similar songs on more substantial releases. The final song, ‘A Poem By Yeats,’ aims to be more majestic with a prominent rising violin repeated over John Haughm’s spoken word rendition of Yeats’ ‘The Sorrow of Love,’ and this time thoughts of a film score aren’t so far away. Yeats’ ‘lyrics’ can hardly be heard as Haughm chants them in the first section before taking a more standard monotone, but it still works excellently and at no points feels like a cheap, gimmicky B-side tagged on to increase the track length, though the final four minutes of complete silence are an irritating addition. The violin ‘swells’ are hardly original, but can’t help but move me, reminding me of the final song from My Dying Bride’s ‘Like Gods of the Sun.’

      With the shorter and perhaps more forgettable pieces dealt with, the two main pillars of ‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’ are the excellent title track and the cover of Sol Invictus’ neofolk song ‘Kneel to the Cross.’ The first is a fair preview of the sound to come on ‘The Mantle,’ based on alternating acoustic and electric guitars at a fairly slow but steady pace, with a great balance between being gloomy and vicious, and melodic and catchy. After the acoustic guitar introduces the song and sets the tone, the metal comes in for the only real time on this release, and again still reminds me mostly of Ulver at this point in the band’s development. Haughm screeches his lyrics in a mostly indecipherable black metal growl (apart from a shockingly vulgar final pronouncement), and ties in excellently to the restless and constantly changing melodic lead guitar and riffs. Those unaccustomed to growling vocals would most likely approach this song with a degree of confusion, as the inhuman screams contrast starkly with the generally pleasant-sounding instruments, and in this case I tend to agree that clean singing vocals would have been more appropriate, even if Haughm’s singing voice (as demonstrated on ‘Kneel to the Cross’) takes an equal amount of getting used to. The second half of this ever-changing song is where the aforementioned catchiness comes in, with a gothic-sounding guitar and drum rhythm reminiscent of Katatonia’s influential ‘Brave Murder Day’ album providing a bouncing point for some great, slow guitar solos that lead the song out.

      As I’ve never heard the original version of ‘Kneel to the Cross’ I’m unable to make a comparison, though it’s certainly intrigued me about Sol Invictus and that whole school of home-grown neofolk, but this was an excellent and unusual choice of cover song. I could do without the opening, in which Haughm repeats the same line over and over in his nasal clean voice over a backdrop of keyboard and organ melodies, and if this wasn’t a cover I’d once again link it right back to Ulver, this time their experimental and rather dodgy ‘Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ release. A sudden pause makes way for much better things, and the more familiar acoustic guitar and drums return, the latter resonating nicely in what proves to be easily the most upbeat sounding cut of the E.P. The electric guitar can still be heard filling in the spaces in the background along with the reliable but ultimately unremarkable bass, but this is really a demonstration of the band’s folk roots to follow on from ‘Haunting Birds.’ It’s probably the most enjoyable part of the E.P. For being so different, but of equal value to the first and third tracks. It’s also the only song that can be easily found elsewhere, on a later compilation of Sol Invictus cover material.

      ‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’ is primarily a piece of fan merchandise, generously provided to ease the wait for Agalloch’s second full-length album and providing some nice rarities and effective B-side instrumentals to go with it. At twenty-five minutes (excluding the pointless pause at the end of the final song), there’s not really enough room to explore the intricacies of Agalloch’s sound, especially as two of their currently three albums are dominated by multi-part epic compositions, and also because the band’s sound continues to change substantially every few years. Nevertheless, anyone who enjoys ‘The Mantle’ or even ‘Pale Folklore’ or perhaps the more recent ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ should place this high on their list of releases to check out, as well as the albums I can’t help but repeatedly cite as a direct influence.

      ‘Foliorum Viridium’ is taken from Agalloch’s first demo, which I would guess is extremely hard to come by and only worthwhile for the most hardcore fan of their early sound, and as mentioned earlier the Sol Invictus cover was later added to a compilation. There’s still enough enjoyable unique material here to keep this bizarrely titled release slipping into oblivion for many years to come, especially if Agalloch’s music continues to improve and achieve even greater acclaim. Of course, another release may take a few more years yet.


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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor
      2 Foliorum Viridium
      3 Haunting Birds
      4 Kneel To The Cross
      5 A Poem By Yeats

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