"I spent about 30 minutes in the sepulchre... It was one of the most amazing spiritual experiences I have ever had"
Well shit, this week entry might just be that batch of longhairs from the beaver state, Agalloch. It’s Thursday and I’ve got Friday on my mind in a lot of ways. Sure these guys are winding my intestines around a fencepost and will eat them later, but the weather is just so damned nice, don’t you think? What amazes me most is how these guys first resurrected Chuck Schuldiner and called up his spirit in the voicebox of whatever painfully lost soul screamed out the needing, wanting, desperately alone vocals. Next, a special incantation was needed. To recreate this you’ll need three lambs for blood, a hundred candles exactly and a lot of hope, and three free sleepless days. With these accoutrements, a little luck and a lot of love, one can successfully summon the spirit of Eric Johnson from where it currently resides and imbibe it into a guitarist. And the kind of psychic manipulation used to convince George Orwell to mate with Timothy Leary and write the lyrics and the music, I’ll never know. After that feat, enlisting the entire forces of twilight nature to do your interludes was presumably simple. It is a mesmeric album that literally brings tears to the eyes not with ugliness or fear, but with beauty and love.
I think I need to be locked away. I change my opinion far too much. In an as yet unpublished review of this album, my exact words in the conclusion were ‘It isn’t going to change the world or redefine the barriers of metal’ and now here I am writing a set of ‘tasting notes’ for it like an extremely fine and eloquently drinkable wine. Slap the cuffs on me, fuzz, I’ll come quietly; I hear you get a reduced sentence if you plead guilty... Where to begin with Marrow of the Spirit? It’s possibly the hardest question asked about this album. What is it? It’s death metal, it’s black metal, it’s folk metal, it’s cold and hard and yet there are warmths and tendernesses ever present. Touches of acoustic guitar, whispered reassurances. The schizophrenic moment in the climax of a winter storm on an unforgiving and uncaring peak that says, it’ll be okay, you’ll be fine. This album is that entire moment though. All through the gentleness there is the violent and unpleasantly traumatised force that rips great hags of peat out of the ground and throws them into the shrapnel rain. It’s the darkness in the clouds, that blackness that is blacker, darker and more determined than the night. Truly this album isn’t just four men playing instruments. Through that action it has summoned some truly primal forces of nature. Some of the percussion comes from ‘petrified bone’, and it was all recorded exclusively on analogue equipment for a more natural edge.
Nature is melded with this record, the two have become one to such an extent I am virtually certain that this record was not pressed but the music was simply played to freshly watered barley and it produced compact discs ready in their jewel cases. The music itself, though undeniably and brazenly proud of its electricity, lest we forget that electricity is a natural force and you’ll soon remember that when a bolt of lightning leaves you a small pile of ash they can sweep into a regular letter envelope with your name on it. These guitars are played powered by lightning. The record breathes, inhales and exhales in between violent outbursts. The thrumming beat at around fourteen minutes on my earth watch in Black Lake Nidstang is exactly like a heartbeat. If you care to notice, that same beat runs through the entire song like a river cutting its way through a valley; sometimes there are rapids and rough rocks to cross, and sometimes all going is soft and peaceable, with no sign of the brutality and savagery with which the very same beat had been slapping down forty feet onto jagged rocks but a moment ago. Each song has a rhythm and is mind-jellyingly complicated on first listen. This is less like an ever-flowing river and is more like the entire valley, flora and fauna as well mother fucker, knuckle down and get ready for a nature walk at 3am. Soaring over it all is the golden eagle of John Haughm’s vocals; at once a spectacularly beautiful sight to behold, hanging on a cushion of air like natures rapier and yet, imagine being a hare caught in the crosshairs of such an instant shock-and-awe brute. Screams such as have never been uttered by a damndest soul lost in the depths of Papillion have never issued forth with such an energetic and yet heartbreakingly exquisite screams as those found seven minutes into Black Lake Nidstang, like admiring the lines on Guernica through your hopelessly teary eyes. A reminder that those who practice rituals at the witching hour sometime have to watch the sun rise. The guitar knows no equal. Into our tranquil nature scene it is a tiger. Flashing exciting colour in a sea of green, romping across acoustic, distorted and clean electric trying to find a worthy adversary not knowing, there is none. Don Anderson, you are surely unparalleled in your field.
Along with feeling organic, or natural, it also achieves something that American music and American culture have been striving for; it feels ancient. This feels like folk music, not Dylan folk, but traditional folk. The folk music that exists in the expert dexterity on a violin neck and the half-forgotten verses of a song hummed in a local bar or in a lonely campsite all over Britain and Europe. Those songs that are older than the singer. That is what these melodies feel like they entwine. Moments sound almost historic.
A record of almost heartbreaking and unsurpassed beauty in its genre, Marrow of the Spirit is testament that metal is far from dead and further cements the genre’s abilities to surprise even its most die-hard proponents. Listen, and be transported.Words - (written under duress by) Steven