"Marrow of the Spirit"

By Count Alucalb

Back in January, I contributed my list of the year's best metal albums to Wormwood Chronicles. I always have bit of a problem creating those lists, for while it is easy to come up with 10, 20 or 50 records that I enjoyed listening to over the last year, ranking them in any sort of meaningful order always proves elusive. This year, however, there was no question in my mind that Marrow of the Spirit—the fourth album by Portland, Oregon-based Agalloch—would have the top spot.

Agalloch’s style is a form of progressive black metal incorporating folk and post-rock influences to create a uniquely melancholy sound. Like most BM-influenced music, the mood is dark, but there is something almost celebratory in the feeling behind the playing here. The songs are densely layered, with acoustic guitar blending seamlessly with harsh distorted tremolo picking, anchored by solid drumming by Aesop Dekker, the band’s newest member. Dekker—who is alsoa member of San Francisco’s Ludicra (whose "The Tenant" is another 2010 favorite of mine)—can swing between solid rhythmic grooves to fierce, blasting beats at the drop of a hat, allowing the best pieces to build and flow in constantly surprising ways. The overall effect is like following a cold, calm stream through silent woods to suddenly see it shift to become cascading torrential rapids. Lyrically, the band eschews the usual BM themes of Satanism and evil for an atmospheric pagan view of the natural world.

The analog recording and production here serve the music well, keeping an organic feeling that is clean enough to allow the layers of sound to heard clearly while simultaneously giving things a rough, punky feeling that keeps it from ever becoming staid or oppressive. Like nature, the music of Agalloch contains both beauty and danger and in the combination of those things lies truth.

Count Alucalb is the curator of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, which you can read more about  at