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Local metal powerhouse Agalloch has released a new record, and I’m going to come right out and say it—this is the best metal record you’re going to hear until they release another one.

Editor’s note: Yeah, I called it “Marrow of the Soul” in print. So what, honest mistake.

Local metal powerhouse Agalloch has released a new record, and I’m going to come right out and say it—this is the best metal record you’re going to hear until they release another one.

 When one thinks of influential bands from Portland, they likely think of indie contemporaries Menomena and, to a lesser extent, the Decemberists. Perhaps you think of the Dandy Warhols. Hopefully you don’t think of Everclear. While that is fine and all, if you thought you knew everything about Portland’s music scene, there are still surprises lurking around every corner. Maybe you didn’t know about worldwide thrash/crust legends Lebenden Toten and Tragedy, both calling Portland their home. Maybe you didn’t know about legendary punk bands MDC and Poison Idea, both of whom live here. Then again, maybe you did.

However, this is gonna blow your mind: Agalloch, a local metal band, is by and large considered one of the best metal bands in the whole world. You read correctly: In a world populated by bands of angry Norwegians who burn down churches and make necklaces out of each others’ skull fragments and Swedes who dress up in the spikiest costumes you’ve ever seen, Portland has Agalloch.

Even their name is Portland as all get-out. Agalloch is the second part of the Latin name for Agarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) and not some obscure religious character or Lovecraftian monstrosity one might expect. However, that’s where Agalloch’s ties to this city end. Agalloch is so fiercely popular everywhere but here that their shows are a real occasion.

As local metal shows around Portland that don’t involve guys in their 40s rapping are pretty rare, Agalloch shies away even from the scarce ones that do pop up. And they never tour. So, when Agalloch decides to throw their fans a bone and play somewhere, it’s a big deal.

How big, you ask? Agalloch shows bring in metalheads from all over the country, and there have been reports that people fly into the U.S. from all over the world for a chance to see Agalloch play. Impressive, seeing as how the number of bands in Portland who would command such a rabid international fanbase is so low. One, in fact.

So, Agalloch has a new record coming out. It’s called “Marrow of the Spirit,” and it has six tracks—the first of which is a babbling brook serenaded by two stringed instruments and some birds for nearly four minutes. Put down the pitchforks and blow our your torches, folks. The record clocks in at an exact hour, making the other songs a little over 11.5 minutes long on average. Of course, there are high and low values skewing the data—track five, “Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires,” clocks in at a paltry 9:40, and “Black Lake Nidstång” weighs in at a healthy 17:34.

The first track, “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness,” sounds like something your dad would listen to as he fell asleep—if your dad was Bela Lugosi. Though the first minute or so can seem boring, it’s important to understand the level of songwriting mastery that Agalloch exhibits here. The strings and nature go on for JUST long enough. Any less would not have been fully explored, and anything more would have been boring.

Perhaps as an exercise in aural physics, the listener is immediately pummeled with a drum fill to break the sense of solace. It’s at this point that Agalloch grabs you and refuses to let go for the better part of an hour.

The songs are so well crafted that the length is as little of an issue as possible. In fact, the listener might not even know when a track ends and when another begins. Exceptional guitarwork leads the listener on quite a journey—one that also includes acoustic guitar, raspy, filthy black metal vocals, choir, xylophone, synthesizer and what this writer believes to be Tibetan singing bowls in one song.

The album’s apex comes, not surprisingly, as “Black Lake Nidstång,” Agalloch’s 17-plus-minute opus right in the middle of the record. The song switches moods and tempos so often that you’d swear that you were listening to an exceptionally dark concerto.

Agalloch caps off “Marrow of the Spirit” with “To Drown,” a song truly fitting the closure of such a monstrous record as this one. The track seems more of a expertly crafted closing credits dirge than an actual song, but it is enthralling nonetheless. Agalloch have really managed to craft more of an experience than an album with this one.

That’s the beauty of Agalloch in action, though—they do an exceptional job of taking the listener out of the mindset they’d normally expect from a metal record. At times incredibly soul-bearing (see the middle six minutes of “Black Lake Nidstång”) and other times crushingly dissonant, it’s not often that one can slip out of their metal skin and into their own mind with this or any other genre’s magnum opus. When was the last time any record took you to a place like that, especially on first listen? What record has the power to peel away layer upon layer of grey matter and trap the listener in the newly dug pit that remains? If your answer is not “Marrow of the Spirit,” either you’re lying or you haven’t heard it yet.

Because “Marrow of the Spirit” is officially released soon, a real-deal Agalloch show is sure to follow. If the record is any indicator, this show is not to be missed, and only a hospital visit or funeral (really dependant on whose, though) should be keeping you from this show. And with “Marrow of the Spirit” as utterly breathtaking as it is, don’t be surprised if the person next to you in line doesn’t speak English. You might even make a pen pal.


Marrow of the Spirit


Profound Lore Records

Out Nov. 23

5 out of 5 stars