Review of Agalloch at Sonar

So Monday the 21st of March 2011 saw the Portland based dark metal band Agalloch come to Sonar in Baltimore. They put out an album late last year, Marrow Of The Spirit, that as per their usual won a lot of critical accolades and was put on many best of 2010 album lists. I did like it a lot though I have to say I prefer some of their older material more. Still, it does have some really good songs on it and is another quality album in their back catalog. Agalloch has quite a devoted following and their fans tend to know every song, not just a few ‘hits’ or whatever. This show saw a lot of people in the local metal community come out. It’s always nice to see a strong turn out for underground metal bands. The smaller Talking Head Club stage was used for this concert though it was rather cramped in the room by the time Agalloch hit the stage and they probably could have put this show on the larger main stage.

When I first got to the show some band named Vindensång was playing. They were awful but I missed all but the last few songs of their set so it wasn’t that bad. The next band was Worm Ouroboros, a three piece with Agalloch drummer, Aesop Dekker, and two women playing guitar and bass who also both sing. Aesop has another non-Agalloch side project, named Ludicra, that is pretty good and since I hadn’t heard anything by Worm Ouroboros going into this show I was hoping for something that might be on par with that. Unfortunately, and contrary to what just about everyone else I spoke with about them thought, they were awful. Their sound was very slow, atmospheric and it sorta seemed like a lullaby trying to put me to sleep. That would be OK perhaps if it was the intro song to their set or something, but the music never picked up. The women’s voices were singing very softly and they didn’t seem very in tune with each other at any point where they were both singing simultaneously. There were a couple of times where it seemed the music was starting to pick up, but it was a trick, just more soft and slow music would follow. I realize headliner Agalloch isn’t the most brutal band in the world and their opening acts aren’t going to cover Napalm Death, but this was still a fucking metal concert! When Worm Ouroboros was playing I couldn’t help feeling that I was watching a band on the second stage at the Lilith Fair. I didn’t bother shooting video of them because I didn’t want that on my YouTube page so if you want to check them out you’ll have to do that somewhere else. When they finally finished (and took their Christmas lights with them) much to my bewilderment the audience gave them a great response. Am I some elitist narrow minded prick who only listens to metal, the more extreme the better? Hell no, I listen to a lot more than metal, of various levels of speed and all sorts of moods. This was just bad and made me wonder what everyone else saw in them. Perhaps I should have been drinking more?

I felt like I was waking up out of a coma before Agalloch’s set, so I really hoped they were going to keep it interesting. As if in an effort to wake everyone up, after the taped intro they opened the set with Into The Painted Grey which starts off with one of their faster riffs. They went right into Falling Snow and then played one of their new songs, The Watcher’s Monolith, which just happens to be my favorite on the new album. By this point I was pretty into the show with any thoughts of poor opening acts far from my mind. Agalloch’s very dramatic atmospherics and epic, well polished riffs have always been present in their sound. It’s the details that seem to change the most from album to album. More acoustic guitars used on one, female back up singing on another. They are very good at writing songs that go through a lot of changes in tempo but always seem to feel like they flow perfectly from the highs to the lows and back again. This was even more apparent live where the faster parts had more energy and the grand build ups to those great riffs just seemed more powerful. Their set list was a good mix of tunes spanning their career, three songs from Marrow Of The Spirit, three from Ashes Against The Grain and a song each from their older full lengths and they even played what vocalist John Haughm identified as the fourth song they had ever written, Of Stone, Wind And Pillor. I was hoping they would play my favorite song of theirs, Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony but they didn’t. People were calling out for the band to perform that song’s album, Pale Folklore, in its entirety as an encore but they only played two songs (I have video of the entire encore posted below). The band didn’t seem too cramped on the small stage, at least not from where I was. They used the fog machine a lot and the lighting was pretty low the entire set, and they had members of Worm Ouroboros going around the crowd telling people to stop using the flash on their cameras (that was annoying) but whatever, the songs are good enough that they made this show excellent regardless. I, and the rest of the audience, probably could have stood there and listened to them play their entire back catalog if the band had wanted to. After the set guitarist Don Anderson got on the mic and asked who had stolen one of their three cauldrons from the stage. I have no idea who did, but that’s kinda metal that it had to be asked. Agalloch does not tour a lot out here on the east coast so I’m glad I got the chance to see them as they came through the area. This is a band highly recommended by critics and my opinion is the same, see them live if you have the chance, just get there late to miss the openers. Now, check out my videos of Agalloch at this concert below and feel free to look at the rest of the pics I shot of them that night on my Flickr page here.

6 Comments

  1. Glad you’re keeping your opinions on the bands honest. I wasn’t too into the openers myself. Fun show, though I felt the club stage room was too small for that show to see it comfortably. Low ceiling equals shittier sound. Agalloch does rule.

  2. Me want much Hatebreed

  3. Wow! I felt exactly the same about the opening groups and I thought maybe I was not getting it. The energy was so low, by the time Agalloch took stage I was feeling exhausted. I definitely do not want to bash the opening bands’ music, but I guess it was a wrong pick to have them before Agalloch. They could have been perceived better in a different setting.

  4. Haha, I was at this show and agree 100% about the openers as well, at least the 2nd & 3rd ones. I’ll give the first guy a break since he was doing an acoustic set by himself and people were pretty much ignoring him and talking over his music.

  5. […] don’t even want to think about it again to write about it here (so check out the write-up on DCHeavyMetal.com), but it was a serious yawn. And also, really, NO ONE wants to listen to that much head voice. 21 […]

  6. I really wished that I went to this show, but i will say that I disagree when saying this was a “metal show,” yes Agalloch is folky post black metal, and Worm has it’s moments leading into doom (both bands HEAVILY influenced by classic Katatonia), but it’s all art, which is also why Worm is and has been more well received on the west coast.

    being a doom head, Worm’s album is definitely strange, and it took a few listens, but It’s my absolute favorite album of last year. don’t judge them by their live performance!

    I take it you didn’t come in for Aerial Ruin? it’s a one man acoustic project, but live he had a backup guitarist, both playing electric guitars with different effects. more “art”


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