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Agalloch- Pale Folklore (Album Review)

Updated on June 14, 2012

Artist: Agalloch

Album: Pale Folklore

Year: 1999

Score: 80/100

“Atmosphere, Anyone?”

“Pale Folklore” is one of those albums that is enjoyable primarily due to the atmosphere. It’s not super technical, nor incredibly memorable; but it has that great forest-like atmosphere. The songs flow together really well even though they’re all a bit dull. The clean/acoustic guitar parts are compelling and paint a nice picture of dark, forlorn woods. Most of these types of albums don’t ask for me to listen again, though I know many people have a different view. This is one of those albums that’s great to listen to while you’re listening to it, even though you forget about it ten minutes later. If you’re into atmospheric stuff, you will probably enjoy this.

Most of the vocals are rather weak; the whispery ones are okay. The black metal-ish vocals are a little comical and lack a good bit of power. The clean vocals on the third part of “She Painted Fire…” are completely ridiculous sounding at the beginning. They ruin the mood. The vocals seem to serve their purpose in accenting and further developing the mood of the songs, though I would be lying if I said they were great. The occasional female vocals add a good contrast to the blackened vocals and sufficiently compliment the mood. I believe they are a nice asset, but not key to the feeling that the album gives. This album is a very easy and relaxing style of metal. Although it is closely related to black metal, there isn’t much aggression to be found here. The distorted guitars have that sleepy, atmospheric feel to them. The odd thing about the guitars is that there are a good bit of solos thrown into the album. Generally speaking, these solos are somewhat weak. They also feel a bit out of place at times. The slower, more melodic ones actually work better. However, there is not anything impressive about them. The more intriguing solos just don’t fit. The acoustic guitar work is very well done. It has a very pure feeling to it, and I especially enjoy when the harsher vocals are mixed into the acoustic guitar work. The acoustic work is actually a highlight of this album (and this is coming from a person who generally hates long, acoustic passages). Despite the average performance on some of the guitars, they have a big presence in the music. Nearly the entire atmosphere in the album is derived from the guitars. It is showcased through simple, yet melodic riffs (see beginning of “She Painted Fire…”). Some of these riffs are quite catchy and memorable, but others aren’t. The drums and bass aren’t that notable, but they serve their purpose fairly enough. The bass is often inaudible, but I’m not sure that it matters too much for the album. The drums are somewhat muddy sounding, but again it’s doesn’t take much away from the music. I don’t feel that the keys are very prominent either. They are most showcased on the instrumental song, “The Misshapen Steed”. Many wind sound effects are used (particularly in the intros to songs), which I rather enjoy.

None of the songs are horribly bad, and the album is worth listening to… if only for the excellent atmosphere. The music is quite layered, with multiple guitar parts and various vocal styles. Even if some of the instruments are bland sounding, it’s a worthwhile listen. The songs are primarily driven by their structure, as well as the guitars. Part of me feels that this is a love or hate album; even though it’s neither for me. It’s simply an interesting thing to hear. This is the kind of album that you listen to when you’re doing something else that consumes your attention more than the music does. It’s like a good background album. Some of the songs take a while to pick up, but that’s exactly what you’ve got to expect from this kind of atmospheric music. It’s got a subtle charm and beauty. My two favorites are probably “She Painted Fire across the Skyline” and “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony”. “As Embers Dress the Sky” is another notable song, and has some of the best melodic riffs in the album under the black metal styled vocals. “Dead Winter Days” has some good clean guitar work with soaring heavy riffs. These aforementioned songs are the best off the album, as they display the best that the album has to offer. “Pale Folklore” is my favorite release from Agalloch, though I think there’s some value in all of their work. It’s also their album most reminiscent of black metal. If you’re into this atmospheric stuff, then don’t miss out. It’s not bad by any stretch of the word, but part of the lower score is due to the fact that this isn’t really my style.

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