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Hailing from Portland, Oregon, and taking inspiration from their surroundings much like their northern European forerunners, Agalloch are bringing the beauty of darkness to light. But don't confuse similarities in inspiration with similarities in sound. With their latest release 'The Mantle', Agalloch have forged a sound all their own that draws equally from the band's metal and non-metal influences. Epic, dark and forlorn, the 70-minute album longs to be heard as a whole. Metal Update had a chat with bassist J. William W. about what goes into an album of this nature, why they haven't played live yet and their views on branching out into non-metallic territory.

METAL UPDATE: Is John Haughm the primary creator behind Agalloch?

J. WILLIAM W.: Yeah, he is for the most part, but it has been changing over time. With 'Pale Folklore' he was definitely the primary creator, but he lets Don and I have a lot of creative input into it. As time progresses, we've had a lot more input. On 'The Mantle' we each had a lot more input than we had before. If you look at the credits, Don wrote the entirety of "Desolation Song" which is quite unusual for us because it is the first time that anybody has written an entire song that John didn't do.

MU: Oh wow. I was actually just reading those lyrics and I thought they were really good.

JW: Actually John wrote the lyrics but the music was written by Don. And on future stuff, you'll see a lot of that too. It's turning much more into an entire band effort instead of John writing the songs and us recording them. It's getting a lot more varied that way because Don and I have a lot of different input that we would like to see in Agalloch. I think it makes it a lot more varied and different. I think that is one of the big reasons why 'The Mantle' is so different from 'Pale Folklore'.

MU: How much do the other two of you contribute to the end product?

JW: Don and I?

MU: Yeah.

JW: It depends on the release really. But for 'The Mantle' I'd say it was almost equally as much Don as it was John. Don spent a lot of time on 'The Mantle'. The music didn't really call for me to do a lot more than usual with it. A lot of it, as far as rhythm section goes, is pretty simple. But Don spent a lot of time with different guitar melodies, especially on the parts that are really layered. He spent a lot of time on that. So I'd say 'The Mantle' was almost 50/50 between Don and John.

MU: How do you guys write your music?

JW: John comes up with the basic idea. He writes the song and demos the song and then he gives us CDRs of it. Then Don and I write our individual parts to it. Then we run it by John and John either OKs it or vetoes it and we go from there. So, most of the time John writes the basics for it and we add stuff on top of it and then we just kinda work on it that way.

MU: Do you practice as a band often?

JW: We never have. No, that's not true. We did before we recorded 'Pale Folklore' for a couple months. We were writing 'Pale Folklore' and Sculptured's 'Apollo Ends' at the same time, so we would sit around and play Agalloch and Sculptured in the same session. And they were recorded back to back. That's the only time we've done that. We've never played 'The Mantle' stuff together.


MU: The recording process for 'The Mantle' was done in segments. Why was this?

JW: A couple of different reasons. One because we never played them together as a band. Actually hearing the finished product when everything is put on top of one another, it kind of reveals a lot of things that we wanted to change, or things we wanted to add to. So a lot of times we'd spend a couple of weeks in the studio and then go home and listen to it and see what we thought and come up with more ideas. We just wanted it to be a multi-layered album and we wanted to take each step and analyze it instead of just blowing over several steps and just trying to get it done as fast as we could. And there was also a point in time where the studio was getting revamped so the studio was shut down for about a month. But for the most part it was just that we just wanted to take our time and make sure that we were happy with everything as we recorded it.

MU: What instruments were used in the recording of this new album? Quite a few?

JW: Of course the standard guitar, bass, drums. There was stand up bass, keyboard, mandolin, trumpet and then we sampled a few different things. We had some field samples of different things. That's about it. A bunch of different types of acoustic guitars, steel and nylon strings, stuff like that.

MU: Now this is the third album, correct?

JW: Yeah. . . Well, the second one is more of an EP or mini CD but yeah, you could consider it.

MU: Every band usually goes through growth stages until they find their vision or direction in sound. Do you think you are on a definite path or does it have room for expansion and growth?

JW: I think it has an exponential amount of room for growth. I don't think any of us are really satisfied with doing something that we like to do and sticking with it, so I think that in the future you'll probably see us changing form. The plans we have for future releases will be quite a bit different than anything we've done before. In certain ways and in other ways it will be pretty similar. Just like everyone else says, we don't want to paint ourselves into a corner.

MU: 'The Mantle' to me is something that should be experienced in its entirety rather than on a song by song basis. Was the album written with these intentions?

JW: Yes. Definitely. It was written and arranged to be listened to as a whole. Everything has been to a degree, but I think 'The Mantle' even more so. I think certain parts of the album lose their impact if you just listen to them in sections rather than on the whole. So, yeah it was definitely the intention.

MU: Were the songs strategically placed to achieve this or were they written in the order that they appear on the album?

JW: They were placed that way. They were written at different points in time and then we just arranged them the way that we felt best fit.

MU: The previous albums were pretty much written the same way?

JW: Pretty much. The mini CD was more of a collection, but 'Pale Folklore' was written the same way for the most part. I think those songs on their own stand up much better.

MU: I've read some previous interview and it was basically saying that imagery goes hand in hand with the creation of the music. Now if Agalloch had the money and the tools would you release a DVD or video depicting the images that should go along with the music?

JW: Yes, we definitely would. If that were an option, we would definitely do that. It is something that we've looked into. I'm not sure how feasible it is. Maybe at some point in time we'd have a CD-ROM along with an album or something. But yeah, we'd definitely like to do something like that. We've got ideas of different little. . . I wouldn't really want to call them videos, but more like short films to go along with the different songs. Like you asked, if we had that available to us we would definitely do something like that.

MU: What might that be like in a vague sort of way?

JW: In a vague sort of way - then again it depends on the track - pretty much anything from 'The Mantle' you can expect a lot of the same type of imagery that you see on the CD. A lot of sculptures, a lot of stone, a lot of architecture, probably a lot of nature. It would probably be a lot of different images stripped back to back.

MU: Does the location of the band help with the creation of the music?

JW: Yeah, I think so. It's pretty cliché to say, but I think it's just the reason why so many great black metal bands come from Scandinavia. It's just a very beautiful place and Portland is a very beautiful place. 'The Mantle' was written and lot of it was centered around the area - the same with 'Pale Folklore'. We get a lot of inspiration from the area that we live in, so I think it would be definitely safe to say that.

MU: If you guys could write and record the next album anywhere in the world, where do you think that would be?

JW: That's a really tough question. Personally, I would like to say I would like to do it in Europe somewhere, but I don't know what the other guys would have for opinions. Either do it in Europe somewhere or just do it around here and if we had the ability just cut ourselves off from everybody for a couple of months and not do anything but that.


MU: Agalloch seem to have a unique batch of influences musically speaking. What have you been listening to lately?

JW: Today I listened to Darkthrone 'Soulside Journey' on the way to work. I've been on a big old death metal kick lately. But I listen to a lot of noise, a lot of power electronics, a lot of black metal. I listen to a lot of experimental stuff. I'm a huge Mr. Bungle fan. They are like one of my favorites. Anything with Mike Patton I am pretty much a fan of. So, we have a lot of different stuff that we like to listen to, but mainly I'm into different types of experimental music.

MU: What music had an influence on the creation of 'The Mantle'?

JW: I would say there's always some Ulver in there. I would say there's some Swans, Godspeed You Black Emperor, some different apocalyptic folk bands like Death in June, Current 93. I think 'The Mantle' as far as inspiration goes was not inspired by metal bands. Metal aspects are there because of our background more than anything. So I think most of it is stuff like, like I said, like the Swans and as they call 'em, post rock bands.

MU: Definitely. I think that a lot of your fans will be exploring some of that stuff and expanding their horizons.

JW: That would be great.

MU: That is what I've been venturing off into lately. 'The Mantle' is the first Agalloch album that I heard. It kind of caught my ear and I was pretty much stuck with it from then on.

JW: That's a great thing if that happens because I would like metal fans in general to realize that there is more to music out there and not just metal. Especially stuff like Godspeed You Black Emperor and stuff like that. It is just very intense music that has nothing to do with metal and I think that people should expand their horizons and get into that type of stuff because it is really great.

MU: You guys are also in Sculptured?

JW: Yeah. Sculptured is Don's band primarily. It kind of works the same way that Agalloch works with John. Pretty much all three of us each have our own projects. Mine is a noise project called Nothing and Don's is Sculptured so we all have our own thing that everyone helps out with.

MU: What is Sculptured like?

JW: Sculptured is best described as avant-garde metal. A lot of it is being compared to a cross between Voivod and Edge of Sanity. We have two albums out on The End. We haven't done anything with Sculptured in awhile but we are looking to doing another one here soon. But that is mainly Don's thing. It's a lot of discordant harmonies. We try to make it painful to listen to. It's pretty jarring. A lot of time changes. Not like Agalloch at all. Very technical stuff. It's great because it is so different from Agalloch. It's just a different thing for us to do.

MU: Does one band take priority over the other or are they of equal importance?

JW: I'd say they are of equal importance. Sculptured is on the back burner because Don has recently graduated from college. He had to do his thesis and things like that. 'Apollo Ends' was released in 2000 so it's been awhile since we've done anything with Sculptured. A lot of people have forgotten about Sculptured and Agalloch has been in the limelight lately for us so Agalloch has been the center recently. But that is just because of the situation. Agalloch is a lot more popular than Sculptured.

MU: That always makes priority.

JW: Yeah exactly. Sculptured was pretty popular when 'Apollo Ends' first came out but then it kind of petered off. A lot of people didn't like it. A lot of people did, but Agalloch has a more steady popularity. I think it is more accessible. People have a hard time getting into Sculptured so it only makes sense that Agalloch can be more popular.

MU: Has Agalloch played live yet or do you have any intentions of doing so?

JW: We haven't played live yet, however we are trying to rectify that situation. Our problem has always been lack of members because it always fluctuates between three or four core people. We haven't had enough people to actually play, but we are trying to change that. Hopefully within the next few months we will be having live shows.

MU: That would be very interesting.

JW: Hopefully first in the Northwest and then we hope to tour after that.

MU: What is your involvement in The End Records?

JW: Besides being in Agalloch and Sculptured?

MU: Yeah.

JW: I don't know how to describe it. I do sales for The End on a very, very part time, almost never-do-it basis. I was one of the first people approached about doing it. I would love to be able to do it, but I've had a really hard time getting anybody to buy. My main thing was to contact record stores and have them carry The End titles and it has been just about impossible. Other people have had better luck and have had more time to do it and have kind of taken it over. I try to help out as much as I can but unfortunately that is not too much.

MU: What are some future plans for the band?

JW: We are halfway done recording a split 7" with a band called Mist from Finland. So, we have a split 7" coming out. We have a couple of other things in the works. I can't really say what they are because they are not finalized yet, but there'll probably be a couple of small limited releases - possibly a tour only 7" - and we are hoping to do possibly another mini CD. So we have a bunch of plans. We pretty much have the next couple of years planned out - what we want to do - but it's hard to say what will happen exactly with that.


review of Agalloch 'The Mantle'






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