Published Jul 12, 2012
Portland, OR-based metallers Agalloch are known for their complex and highly influential sound, which combines black metal with elements of neo-folk, avant-garde, post-rock and doom. Faustian Echoes
is their first release since 2010's Marrow of the Spirit,
and comes in the form of a two-part song that stretches a little over 20 minutes. The EP opens with Faust calling upon the devil, Mephistopheles. Faust being, of course, the titular character in the much-adapted German legend, and this EP is based on Goethe's extremely influential version of the story. It's a tale about a scholar who, bored by his studies and the world, trades his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and magical power, with the song including many samples of dialogue from Goethe's play. Faustian Echoes
is their most black offering in some time; it's more oppressive and menacing than the green, shivering, vital Marrow of the Spirit.
This decision fits thematically with the concept of an infernal bargain. The music is filled with a twisted, aching quality that echoes both the soul-crushing dissatisfaction that drives Faust to consult the devil and then, later, his yearning for redemption. The vocals are harsh, with John Haughm employing the most agonized range of his rasping voice, while the music relies on the tension between intense, high-pressure passages that give way to plaintive, vulnerable moments as the "voice" of the instrumentation shifts from Faust to Lucifer. It is easy now to expect excellence from Agalloch, whose composing and emotional sophistication are peerless, but it is particularly exciting to see them tackling a concept album. And the restriction suits them well, allowing them to play with constraint while also stretching out their sound. (Independent)