“Where am I?
How long shall I suffer here?“
Two years ago I was preparing for a road trip that would take me out of Colorado, through Utah and Idaho, and into the Pacific Northwest, only to return through the birthplace of the spirit of Agalloch. It was the year I had written my in depth profile on Profound Lore Records and I had PFL releases 070 (Mitochondrion’s Parasignosis) through 099 (Bosse-de-Nage’s III) to keep me company on my seemingly endless drive through these United States. County line by county line I passed, with John Haughm, Rebecca Vernon, Brett Campbell and Dave Condon as my invisible passengers…speaking to me in tongues as day turned to night and night turned to day. I was on a mission. A mission to see Agalloch destroy Spokane and Bozeman on their “Faustian Spirits Tour”. This band, a band I had become obsessed with in recent years, was scheduled to play right here in Denver on July 17th, but it would have been impossible for me to make that show. So I did the only thing I could do. I found my way to that city on the eastern Washington border, and then I stalked the band across Interstate 90 to their hometown in Montana. It was a journey worth a thousand words, but the words never came.
The reason I missed the Denver date was work-related, and that work got in the way of me documenting my experiences in a public format. The memories will always live in a vault in my head, but that is where they will stay until their dying day. 2,500 miles, 8 states and countless encounters — it was quite the journey. But it was the pair of Agalloch shows that will always stand out in my mind. Those shows personified everything I love about extreme music, but Tuesday night’s performance at the Gothic Theatre took things to a whole other level. Agalloch brought winter to Colorado on an 80 degree night in July…and it was as violent and beautiful as any winter we’ve witnessed before.
“they fade into the shadows I cast“
I haven’t been writing about metal shows lately. I found myself using the same tired adjectives to explain something that can only be felt physically. Words are just words. And no words can explain what it’s like to be on the floor of a venue when bodies smash together and fly apart in a semi-controlled chaotic fashion. The only thing I can compare it to is a major thoroughfare in a Southeast Asian country — where motorbikes compete for space with trucks and buses overflowing with people. Sometimes is all just flows together like a choreographed dance and no one gets maimed, but sometimes it doesn’t. The threat of injury is part of what makes it so exciting. Extreme music is supposed to be dangerous. But again, those are just words. Unless you’ve been on that floor (or on that motorbike), you don’t know what it feels like (or smells like, or sounds like). Agalloch are a different kind of dangerous, and although words are a sorry excuse for the living experience, I knew I would have to write something. As soon as the lights went down and Aesop Dekker took his place behind his kit, not to be seen again until the fog cleared on the wreckage before him, I knew this was a show that had to be shared. The pale prose was already forming in my head as “(serpens caput)” marked the beginning of the end for the “Serpens In Culmination” tour.
The first half of the performance was strictly business. Dekker provided cover from his concealed perch at the back of the stage while Anderson and Walton lay waste to those in the front row. Haughm left his body to explore the farthest reaches of time immemorial, only to report back through the lost voices (and wails) of witches burned at the stake in Salem. Heavy on material from The Serpent & The Sphere, the band did not break character until the intro to “Dark Matter Gods” when Haughm came crashing back to Earth to compliment our beautiful city. In his best human voice, he denounced the “good things” in “pink boxes” that have recently arrived from Portland…
“You know, I fucking hate that place.They actually took over my favorite venue in Portland and turned it into a fucking pink donut shop. So remember that the next time you go to Portland and you see the big stupid line around Burnside for a fucking penis-shaped donut. Congratulations Portland, you’re officially stupid!“
Donuts were the last thing on my mind, but the comic relief did help ease the weight that held heavy in the air after a 40 minute sonic assault to the senses. My earplugs had found themselves useless as the sound worked its way around the seams to slither into my ear hole like a snake stalking its prey. It was a time to take a deep breath, let out a laugh and gather oneself before the next barrage — a 30 minutes barrage that include “The Melancholy Spirit” and “Celestial Effigy”. I’m not sure I took another breath until the next break came in the form of “…And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth” — as the sole track from The Mantle to make the set, it was the perfect selection to represent that landmark album.
“And I am shattered on the floor“
Agalloch is anything but a ‘singles’ type of band. It’s not about what songs they play, but how those songs flow together to create the perfect atmosphere for the evening. The night was compartmentalized into a few ‘acts’, and I would be hard pressed to say which ‘act’ defined the performance, but I can say the two finales are sticking with me two days later. The main set closed with “Into the Painted Grey”. It was during this song that even those who were trying to start a pit decided to look inward and experience the show on an individual level. Like I said before, Agalloch are a different kind of dangerous, and while people are always going to slam around during this type of show, Agalloch feel dangerous on an internal level. It’s almost as if their music is coming from within you and the danger is that it won’t be able to escape. That much-needed release came during that first proper track from Marrow of the Spirit. It was the one sing-along song.
“Hands…hands that lift the oceans
to vertical depths above the stars
For when I die, the universe will die with me
and all will be lost forever gone“
Giving voice to everything that had been pent up inside during the long set was so much more rewarding than running around in a pit. It was exactly how the set needed to end. Just by walking into an Agalloch show you are giving them permission to hold you hostage in the world they have created. But there is an understanding that they will liberate you when they are done. “Into the Painted Grey” was that liberation.
“you will die
and fade away in silence“
Sometimes the liberated don’t have the good sense to know when they are free. So it was that the crowd haven’t moved an inch toward the front door when Haughm led the band back onstage to join the feedback they had left behind. The last act of the night included “Falling Snow”, “Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor” and “Plateau of the Ages”. The latter of which was a 13 minute instrumental epic that took on a whole new life in a live setting. It was the final act of a 21 night tour that saw the band travel many miles through many states. I’m just glad they were able to find their way to me this time, instead of the other way around. Sure, I have less stories and I didn’t get to hang out with cross-dressing men and vulgar deaf people in a bar in Missoula this time around, but it was still quite the journey.
On a sidenote, here’s a big thank you to the man who drove down from Montanta — the man who introduced an 11-year old Haughm to extreme music via a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits. Thanks for driving down to our beautiful city for the show, and thanks for steering Haughm in the right direction. Who knows, he might be slinging dick-shaped donuts if it weren’t for you.
The Astral Dialogue
Vales Beyond Dimension
Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires
Dark Matter Gods
The Melancholy Spirit
…and the Great Cold Death of the Earth
Into the Painted Grey
Of Stone, Wind and Pillor
Plateau of the Ages