As epigrams go, this one from a guy in line outside before the show started is all that you really need: "When Agalloch's playing you fucking go. It doesn't matter what you listen to normally, you fucking go." More than just the band that's responsible for some of the best and most influential metal albums of the last decade never touring, they're fully as good on stage as they are on disc, and a show that good does not come around all the time.
Since I didn't have a ticket, I knew I had to get down early, and did so, rolling up sufficiently so that even if I'd had to pay my ticket at the door, I could have gotten one of the last handful. As it was, I ended up buying someone's extra while standing in line, and thus skipped the last 15 minutes or so of the lineup outside in favor of a beer in the restaurant and a hike around the block. Time killed, it was in and down, with enough time to hit the merch stands before the bands started.
Musk Ox [5/7]
Ok, for 'bands', read immediately "one Canadian with a classical guitar". Despite being pretty explicitly not-metal, Nathaniel got a good reception from the crowd over his four songs, who likely could see or at least aspire to be in his shoes: one musician, doing his thing, super-amped to see Agalloch at last. Of course, the differences were manifest as well: you go from "random dude with a guitar" to "working with Woods of Ypres and handpicked to open for Agalloch" for a reason, and the music reflected that, neofolk that held its own end up despite opening a fundamentally metal show.
Though the front was pretty packed for this set, the venue filled up over the course of it, getting up to nearly full. As far as I can recall, this was as full as I've seen this room -- but then again, I hadn't actually been in to the Middle East, upstairs or downstairs, for a gig, due to various stupid factors, in like two and a half years.
This band successfully makes the argument that The Mantle is the most important American metal album in the first decade of the 21st century; without it, it's very difficult to see a six-piece outfit burning incense, playing auxilliary percussion, and having a samples guy play a length of steel towing chain like a triangle seeing themselves as a metal band, let alone making it through a nontrivial set at a metal show without people throwing things at them. That said, the band also made the argument that diversity of influences is a good thing; from the few songs that they played, it wasn't easy to see what they'd been listening to to form this sound other than Agalloch (and the usual little bits of Filosofem and late Sigh). The music was decent, but Agalloch-cloning on a bill where the real thing was coming up in an hour or so. It might be interesting to hear how these guys develop, or what a full set rather than an opening set sounds like from them, but they didn't do enough to convince me to put (literally) my last 10-spot on their record rather than Worm's.
Worm Ouroboros [5.5/7]
Unlike the first two bands, I saw Worm from a fair distance back, which may have contributed to the mix; in a sharp disjunct from the two bands who'd come before, this trio presented a set of doom metal that stirred out with a feel midway between Shroud and Woods, to pull a cheap reference from last week, half soporific and half nail-your-boots-through-the-floor crushing. The ethereal and sleep-inducing bits might be expected from a band with neofolk influences and two female vocalists, but the heavy parts might not, and so far as I've gotten into their self-titled record, did not announce their existence in the band's recorded material. Not that I'm complaining; it's always better when bands are better and heavier live (cf. Evile), and perhaps the quiet, snoozy bits make the contrast sharper. Regardless, the music was good, and the sound plainly different from the other bands on the bill in influence and results.
EDIT: further listening shows that the heavy parts are, obviously, in-source; 80mph dodging fools and potholes just isn't an optimal environment for picking them up on the first listen.
Just due to the material involved, this was always going to be a top set as long as the band actually showed up. Agalloch just produces good music, any way it's cut. Had I been able to get to the prior tour, I might have enjoyed that more, due to Ashes... and Marrow... not being out yet and not being able to dominate the setlist as they did here, but it's not like those are bad records or something. Thus the inherent contradiction of being a band that never tours; because the last time Agalloch was through was six, pushing seven years ago, fans want to hear the best material, but the band wants to play more of the new stuff that they haven't done live yet. The reaction they got on the two early songs they played ("Dead Winter Day" and "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion", as an "encore", probably for tuning reasons) was as strong if not stronger than that for the bulk of the set, but the band looked and felt more comfortable on the the later material. Time passes, tastes change, and "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline" is, really, far too long to perform in any non-"An Evening With..." set, but without that early transformative material, Agalloch is just a very, very good third-wave black metal band, and not the band that debatably invented the style by presenting the music of desolation in a way that wasn't dependent on black water in mountain crags.
"...Shadow..." wrapped with like five minutes before venue curfew, and for a while it looked like they might do a real encore, despite the logistic difficulties involved (seriously, name an actual Agalloch song that runs under five minutes), but the lights came up and the crowd cleared out. Short hike to pick up the car, then a relatively quick drive back despite bridges being closed here there and everywhere. Next gig, who knows? Depends on if there's anything before Wormrot at O'Brien's.