The four members of Agalloch live in four separate states now, but at one time they were Portland's own. Remember? You're forgiven if you don't. The internationally beloved dark-metal act didn't play live shows for their first several years. And as recently as 2006, they only had 20 minutes to open an overbooked metal show at the Gravity Room. They haven't played Portland since.
"We have very busy lives outside of Agalloch, and Agalloch is mostly a studio band," bassist Jason William Walton wrote shortly after the gig. "We play live when we can, but it has never been a priority for us."
Agalloch's finest output remains 2006's Ashes Against the Grain, a vibrant and unconventionally melodic mix of hissing vocals and heavy post-rock. Though folk music is central to their new offering, The White EP, it is relegated to the margins of the electrified, massive Ashes. "Cast these limbs into the water," spits singer/guitarist John Haughm through clenched teeth in "Limbs," a powerful, heavy metal standout, but what follows is even wilder.
When Don Anderson taps a swift phrase on his seven-string Schecter during the first seconds of "Falling Snow," the band becomes roundabout Brit pop—surprisingly upbeat and highly memorable. Haughm's chilly vocals crack into the song late, as if to savor Anderson's uplifting gesture. "A wind haunted/Wings without bodies!" he bellows in a black-metal howl, true to the cold song title. His voice is wicked—as misanthropy should be—but those optimistic guitar taps linger.
Agalloch aren't the only underground metal band making nice. Ex-Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick now crafts lead-balloon pop with shoegazing metal act Jesu, and Olympia's Wolves in the Throne Room evolve black metal by evoking My Bloody Valentine and Lush (and Darkthrone, lest we forget). Are these bands studying external cultural shifts? The Cure shocked the world with their happy Wish album; Joy Division became techno-pleasant New Order. If you're wondering about the future of metal, look no further than the history of gothic rock. Better yet, look at Agalloch.