AGALLOCH, synonym for vast, snow covered forests, cosy mountain lodges, deers, melancholy and acoustic guitars…
It had been two years since their 1999 surprise debut "Pale Folklore" when the band finally resurfaced in 2001 with the 5-song EP "Of Stone, Wind And Pillor", in anticipation of the next masterpiece "The Mantle". Hopes were high on this one, but the wait was more than worth it, even though 28 minutes of material makes for a frustrating listen, leaving you begging for more…
Cue the intro of the title-track, and you're set for another stroll through the melancholy drenched wastelands of AGALLOCH. Take a close look at the cover art, the inside booklet and the back case, and you'll quickly find yourself in that forest while listening to "Foliorum Viridium", a neo-classical Breyer piece, which really sets the tone for "Haunting Birds", quite possible the EP's best track, consisting of a simple acoustic guitar, some percussion and bon-fire sounds at the end. Already, "Of Stone, Wind And Pillor" marks the stylistic transition to "The Mantle" with its extended use of acoustics and instrumentals with a more intimate approach, last but not least by the use of Haughm's clean singing voice, introduced in full force on the SOL INVICTUS cover "Kneel To The Cross".
"Kneel to the Cross" has turned out to be a love/hate song among AGALLOCH fans it seems, because some absolutely despise Haughm's singing while others seem to love it for what it is, namely a beautiful haunting voice, of fitting contrast to his Black Metal rasp (a vocal style which brings that other great voice of Metal to mind: Mikael Akerfeldt). He may not be able to reach Power Metal highs but AGALLOCH doesn't require him to sing those too.
"Kneel To The Cross" is also my second contender for best song on this record. The lyrics are strongly anti-Christian, with Haughm's rasp over the "kneel to the cross"-chorus. Simple but effective.
"A Poem By Yeats" isn't exactly my favourite track in here, because it feels overblown, and ends with a strange sample after minutes of silence but it doesn't put me off on "Of Stone, Wind And Pillor".
It's another neo-classical Breyer song in the vein of "Foliorum Viridium". Btw, if you like this, you may want to try out NEST as well, a neo-folk band roughly in the same category as the aforementioned tracks. (a NEST/AGALLOCH split is rumoured to come up!)
As mentioned, this EP is too short to make for any sort of satiating experience, but it's a lovely gem nonetheless. It'll have you reaching for "Pale Folklore" and "The Mantle" in no time; If you happen to own all three of these records, I recommend you to hold an AGALLOCH marathon anytime, simply because it makes for a brilliant aural voyage, in that particular landscape they created within their brand of "Grey Metal".
Just watch that deer drinking from the mountain river… (Online October 29, 2003)
Guest reviewer Ben Meuleman