Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Agalloch with Taurus [Middle East, Cambridge, 7/25/2012]
The previously-announced Voivod/Revocation gig/tour having collapsed, the calendar really cleared up for this show. Hammers of Misfortune were playing right next door, but as noted previously, when you can see Agalloch, you generally should see Agalloch -- and on this tour, especially so, for reasons detailed a few grafs down. The drive over was a little more intense than necessary, with the obligatory traffic jam getting off 93 made worse by a goddamn motorcade barrelling down the fully loaded ramp, making us poor schmucks without a platoon of motorcycle cops escorting us get out of the way. The holdups meant that I didn't get over to the venue until well after notional "doors", but with the Middle East being the Middle East, still, this wasn't much of an obstacle. I skipped out on the plan C ("drink at the Phoenix and watch the end of the Liverpool game") and got in line, and soon enough I was in, paid, frisked, beered, and trying to figure out with Agalloch merch was least likely to be full of dirt and twigs. I settled on Faustian Echoes and a shirt, and missed out on the Self Spiller stuff on this pass, because the lights and noise down the front indicated that Taurus was going to be starting up.
Taurus and some filmic backdrops. In the year 2012, this also is a metal show.
The net effect of Taurus, as indicated above, was something far outside the normal bounds of what gets considered as metal, but the components of the sound are easily understood and sourced. The music, despite the restriction to drums and guitar, was low-and-slow grinding doom filled out with a lot of samples and electronic playback, overlaid with harsh, heavily processed vocals that instantly reminded me of Finland's Eyescale, though people who actually listen to this music regularly will probably have a less obscure source for that sound. They lost the audience pretty convincingly -- in 2012, Agalloch is pretty damn accessible, and Taurus if not quite kvlt is at least Brechtian-hard -- but continued to lay the material down, and if the music didn't always hold the attention, Ashley's drumming did. In addition to being kinda SCHWÄÄÄÄRM (as German hipsters might rate it), she also is about the second most violent drummer I've ever seen after Mike Mechannibal. Using a lot of reverse-grip and marching-bass beaters, she thrashed the unholy fuck out of her kit, even when nominally staying "in the pocket", her strokes starting back at the shoulder and then bouncing back that far off the equipment again. I don't pretend to be a student of drum technique, but the violence was appealing, and even more than that, was completely real in a set that was maybe 30% prerecorded. They likely played all or nearly all of Life, and if it was good enough to me to merit a couple more minutes (I like Eyescale and Brechtian alienation, not to mention hipster chick drummers who seem just about to destroy their gear), most of the people there were probably quite ready for Agalloch to go on.
The band is not linked not because they are popular and well-known, but because there is fuck-all information directly trackable about them on the internet. The members' antecedents may be of interest; Dark Castle is at least a doom metal band and still in operation, but Purple Rhinestone Eagle is both defunct and packs an influence list that looks like Regretsy's tag cloud.
Time to fist-pumping by mulleted girl with forearm sleeves: third song, ~1:50 into "Black Lake Nithstang". (Ok, not fair, Cambridge is Cambridge after all.) There were also a few sound issues here and there, but even with those problems, and a slightly more prominent incidence of hipsterism, this was a unilaterally better Agalloch set than the last time around. How so? Well, two solid hours of Agalloch is how so, especially when the normal non-encore part of the set closes with the full version of "In The Shadow of Our Pale Companion" into "Kneel To The Cross". That alone would have filled up my expectations bucket, but we also got a decent amount of other Mantle stuff and about half of Pale Folklore (yes, including "Dead Winter Day", which still sounds as vital and awesome at nearly fifteen years' distance), as well as what will likely be a rare take of nearly all of "Faustian Echoes", basically just minus the sampled dialogue. On this set, Agalloch mostly still presented themselves as the enduring leading light of third-wave black metal, but also took a significant chunk of their runtime to demonstrate the transformational sound that got us to this point, where the definition of black metal has been expanded to the point of being exploded, and dudes from Sonic Youth are joining Twilight. There is a backlash building if not already here, just as the first wave was a backlash against the superficiality of the more radio-friendly end of the NWOBHM, the second wave was a backlash against the sweatpants-and-lipservice-to-Satan of death metal, and the third wave has been a backlash against pro forma black leather and pointy guitars, but no matter in what form black metal re-emerges or where it happens, Agalloch remain good and talented enough to keep forging forward with this stuff, even when the tide of the current wave will eventually set.
Agalloch in the waters of the Black Lake.
Eventually, though, this set did have to come to a close, and after putting down the rag ends of my wallet for Taurus and Self Spiller material, I headed out, in enough time to be ready for work and Mausoleum the next day, but not enough to write this in any kind of timely fashion. It goes on. Only a few more shows before the summer tour.