Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two cents of an Agalloch fan

Agalloch - noun
the fragrant, resinous wood of an East Indian tree, Aquilariaagallocha,  of the mezereum family, used as incense in the Orient.

What started off as a simple demo in the form of 'From which of this oak' has now spawned into four immensely successful albums and a myriad of good EPs which,in the words of the band, represent the fringes of the sounds they want to develop and are the creative outlet for the band.

Formed in 1995, in Portland, Oregon, Agalloch has mainly stayed away from the mainstream metal scene. They have been invariably lumped into a variety of genres, post rock, folk metal, doom metal being some of them. But as singer/guitarist John Haughm puts it, Agalloch started off as a Dark metal band and that is how they intend it to be always.

Right from their demo tape upto the hugely successful 'Marrow of the spirit', which was rated as one of the best albums of 2010, Agalloch's lyrical themes have revolved around Pantheism, nature, winter and Nordic imagery. They have also been heavily influenced by cinema of the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Bila Tarr, Bernardo Bertolucci and the like. The band didn't start performing live until very recently and have done so to rave responses especially from the fans in Europe. So much so, they have even come out with a live DVD which includes some interviews from the band which are pretty hard to find otherwise. Also included on the live DVD are some amazing captures of the natural surrounds which are an absolute must-have.

The band's first full length album was 'Pale Folklore' and the melancholic riffs of the demo tape were carried forward but their sound evolved as it has with every album. The songs on this record were mostly around the 10 minute mark which has now become a real trademark of the band. 'Dead winter days', 'Hallways of Enchanted Ebony' and 'The melancholy spirit' were some of the masterpieces off this album.

The band's second full length venture was ' The Mantle' which in my humble opinion is the band's best and most complete effort. The band unanimously state in interviews that this is invariably a Portland album, set around the scenic locales of the area where the band come from. This album contains the 14 and a half minute epic, 'In the shadow of our pale companion' which was the song which got me into Agalloch. Other notable songs include, among others, the musical masterpiece, 'Odal', the acoustic based, 'A desolation song' and ' You were but a ghost in my arms'.

After 'The mantle', the band stripped down their music and produced a more metal based album in the form of 'Ashes against the grain'. Acoustic sections, which were so prevalent on 'The Mantle' were dropped and it also gave us a glimpse of Agalloch's first real upbeat song in the form of 'Falling snow'. This album includes the three part magnum opus, 'Our fortress is burning' characterized with amazingly solemn bass lines and heart wrenching riffs and lyrics to back up.

The band's latest offering, 'Marrow of the spirit' has almost seen the band come full circle. You can see traces and snippets of all the earlier work done by Agalloch in this one. Also this album is characterized by the raw sound, quite like the demo due to analog recording as insisted by the band. As always, the epic song of this album is the 17 and a half minute long epic, 'Black Lake Nidstang'. More than anything this album leaves the door open for endless possibilities to take this band forward into unknown realms where not many artists have gone. I for one, cannot wait to get my 'Ashes against the Grain' official shirt, my first piece of Agalloch merchandise and yes you guessed it, it was pretty hard to find!

The Maple Tree

Silhouttes of a long forgotten summer
Despair ekes, devoid of color
Its solemn boughs flail
lost vigor 'neth a barrage of hail

The repugnant winter breeze
fleecing away, nothing can it appease

The morose being, a once haven
Left desultory by the loathsome winter so brazen
no defatigable melancholy, no desires to elope
Spring's advent springs eternal hope

From Mexico - With love

Amores Perros (Love's a bitch)
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo
Directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Released - 2000.

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

Although the literal translation of the title is 'Love's a bitch', it could well have been 'Love is betrayal' for that is the common motif running through this film.

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is the director who also came out with the immensely successful 'Babel' and after watching this film, it's pretty clear that Babel is a more expansive, telling and dare I say 'globalized' version of this Mexican film. Like 'Babel' the theme of the movie revolves around an incident which affects a bunch of people in conflicting ways, and then sets off another chain of events. The film basically tells three different tales which are inextricably linked by this incident.

In the first tale, Gael garcia bernal plays Octavio, who is in love with his brother's wife, Susana who is treated like a rag doll by Octavio's brother. The next tale involves an advertising executive who is cheating on his wife with a spanish supermodel while the third tale tells the story of a former professor who abandoned his family to become a guerilla and as he puts it to "change the world for good".

Although 'Amores Perros' has its dull moments, the first hour blows most Hollywood crime thrillers out of the water with its upright impact and brutal pace. The film's backdrop is set on the unforgiving streets of Mexico city and dog fighting which has been a controversial topic in recent years forms the basis of what sets off the chain of events which goes on to define the destiny of the characters. Inarritu also employs the use of symbolic parables, a story within a story, to drive home his point, especially during the parts where the story seems to fall apart a bit.

Finally 'Amores Perros' laid the basis for what turned out to be the biggest success of Inarritu's career in the form of 'Babel' and although it is not as hard-hitting as 'City of God' was, I'd still rate it four and a half stars out of five. A definite must watch and a great advert for mexican cinema.