DB HOF NO. 093
The making of Agalloch’s “The Mantle”
label: The End
After nearly a decade of European dominance of all things anti-Abrahamic metal—starting with Bathory’s Viking-themed classic Hammerheart—Agalloch issued debut album Pale Folklore. A studied interpretation of Ulver’s Bergtatt, Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day, Dark Tranquillity’s Skydancer and film score music, the group’s premiere long-player was unlike anything from North America when The End issued it during the summer of 1999. Many had incorrectly assumed Agalloch’s sylvan songs were of European origin until interviews proved otherwise. At the time, the Internet had yet to experience any type of content normalization, so fiction was often fact for bands of (perhaps intentional) mystery and limited promotional means.
Agalloch’s explorations into dark ambient, neo-folk, martial music, post-punk, post-rock and neoclassical weren’t entirely foreign. They can be heard across Pale Folklore’s hour-long sojourn, in fact. But one song in particular would serve as the blueprint for The Mantle. The cover of Sol Invictus’ “Kneel to the Cross” on stopgap EP Of Stone, Wind and Pillor would have a profound effect on the way Agalloch approached their craft. Sure, the young trio could’ve turned into a Cold Meat Industries or World Serpent Distribution product had they wanted, but Agalloch didn’t “Ulver-ize” on The Mantle. Instead they welded disparate genres—from bucolic strums and thoughtful swells to scrapes in the dark and black metal frolic—into a singular force. Tracks like “I Am the Wooden Doors,” “You Were But a Ghost in My Arms” and the epic “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” were of familiar Agalloch root, spiritual successors to Pale Folklore’s brightest moments. But unlike its forbear, The Mantle’s forays into the filmic—like “Odal,” “The Lodge” (replete with deer antler percussion) and “The Hawthorne Passage”—allowed for different textures and a wider/deeper foundation upon which to build. Jason William Walton, Don Anderson and John Haughm had crafted a new paradigm on The Mantle—a collection of songs with real emotional and physical heft—and emerged genre-averse. For all its metal underpinnings, The Mantle was, in effect, post-metal.
The Mantle shaped not just subsequent albums by the Portlandians, but would also inform generations of frustrated shoe-starers, sky-gazers and nature votaries a half-decade later. Agalloch were the silent vanguards way before it was hip to sit around fires or farms and jam to gods from times distant and forgotten. For this reason, and the fact that The Mantle continues to move with timeless relevancy, the Hall’s great oak doors part with reverence and heraldry. It’s with profound respect that The Mantle now shares the hearth of Decibel’s holies. Welcome, dudes.
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