Show Review: Agalloch’s Reunion Show at Crystal Ballroom in Portland, OR

“Life’s so incomplete,” from ‘Doom Town’ by The Wipers

Gathered in the late-September drizzle hours before doors opened at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, people were waiting for an event many thought would never happen: the reunion of hometown extreme metal pioneers Agalloch. The 1,500 tickets sold out in moments, with fans jumping at the chance to see the band play live in the United States for the first time since breaking up in 2016. To say that anticipation was running high would be a grand understatement. For many, it was as if a missing puzzle piece was finally being put into place–as if life might not feel so incomplete, if only for one night.

For the uninitiated, Agalloch is an American extreme metal band that blended black metal, folk, and doom metal, layering in post-punk influences like Field of the Nephilim and Death in June, to create a unique and influential sound. Formed in 1995 by John Haughm (Vocals/Guitar), the band released five full-length albums during their career: Pale Folklore (1999), The Mantle (2002), Ashes Against the Grain (2006), Marrow of the Spirit (2010), and The Serpent & the Sphere. Their music is characterized by atmospheric soundscapes, melancholic melodies, and evocative lyrics, often addressing themes of nature, loss, and longing. Agalloch’s influence can be heard in the work of many other bands, and their unique sound helped bridge the gap between black metal and other genres, such as folk, doom, and post-metal. Agalloch is also credited with helping to popularize the Cascadian black metal scene, which emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s and continues to thrive to this day.

This evening saw founding member Haughm joined by original and longtime guitarist/keyboardist Don Anderson and bassist Jason Walton. The group was rounded out by their new drummer, Hunter Ginn. Joining Agalloch on the bill were the Los Angeles-based Thief and the initial hometown appearance of the wonderful new band The Keening. Thief, fronted by D. Neal (ex-Botanist), performed a tight set of post-punk-infused electronica music that emphasized energy and attempted to balance danceability with abrasiveness. Their set was followed by the rich melodic depths of the new solo musical project of Rebecca Vernon (SubRosa), The Keening.

Vernon’s band created an intricate tapestry of rich orchestration, evoking American Gothic elements and introducing the audience to chilling murder ballads set amidst a backdrop of haunting folk melodies. The musicians rounding out the group included Billy Anderson (High Tone Son of a Bitch), Nathan Carson (Witch Mountain), Andrea Morgan (Exulansis), and Christy Cather (Ludicra). Of particular note was the beautiful vocal harmonizing by Vernon and Morgan. The music took the crowd on a journey through haunted swamps, bottomless wells, concealed crimes, gilded prisons, and the unfortunate role of a murder witness. As they closed their set, the crowd cheered enthusiastically, no doubt looking forward to the night’s headliner but also to where Vernon’s new band goes in the future.

As the crew began to change over equipment, the sounds of ‘Hollow Stone’ from Agalloch’s White EP played over the speakers. The rich smell of wood smoke filled the air from the ceremonial burners the band had located at the front of the stage. The anticipation in the crowd was intense as the band took the stage, only heightened by a minor technical difficulty with Haughm’s pedal board, which was quickly overcome. The band commenced their performance with “Limbs,” a haunting and foreboding track from their 2006 album, “Ashes Against the Grain.” The audience erupted with cheers as the band delved into the song, and the atmosphere in the venue was electric.

Agalloch proceeded to deliver a series of other beloved classics, including “Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires,” “Dark Matter Gods,” and “Not Unlike the Waves.” Additionally, the band treated the audience to several songs from their earlier albums, Pale Folklore and The Mantle. These songs exhibited a more refined and mature sound while retaining the emotional intensity and atmospheric prowess of Agalloch’s earlier work.

A standout moment of the evening was their rendition of “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion.” This epic composition, spanning over 14 minutes, ranks among Agalloch’s most ambitious and gratifying pieces. The band executed the song flawlessly, completely captivating the crowd with their performance. The concert culminated with a powerful rendition of “Our Fortress Is Burning… II: Bloodbirds” and a delightful surprise in the form of a cover of “Doom Town” by fellow Portland-based band The Wipers. The audience enthusiastically sang along to the song’s chorus, and the band exited the stage to a standing ovation.

The Agalloch reunion show in Portland was an exceptionally memorable night. The band exhibited a peak performance, and the audience’s energy and love for the band were palpable. It served as a tribute to one of the greatest metal bands in history and exemplified a masterclass in atmospheric metal. The band’s performance was marked by technical precision and emotional resonance. What truly made the evening extraordinary was the profound connection between the band and the audience. The members of Agalloch were visibly moved by the crowd’s enthusiasm, pouring their hearts into the performance. All in all, the Agalloch reunion show in Portland was an indelible night, destined to be reminisced about for years to come. For one night, at least, life in Portland didn’t necessarily feel so incomplete.

Agalloch

The Keening

Thief

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