Thursday, 26 July 2012

Review: Agalloch/Nest Split

True Collaboration Between Two Unique Bands

Your average split is usually nothing more than two bands putting songs on the same record. Often, the bands will have two very different vibes and this can sometimes make the split come off as not a cohesive listening experience. Not only is this a split where both band's sounds go together, it is a split where both bands are collaborating and giving the other band a helping hand. For this nature-inspired release, Agalloch provides both vocals and acoustic guitars for Nest's song. The artwork on the picture disk and postcards are done by a member of Nest. More than a split, this is a true collaboration.

The first side of the split is Agalloch's "The Wolves of Timberline". This release is the third and final small release for Agalloch that was put out between 2002's The Mantle and 2006's Ashes Against The Grain. This song has the nature inspired acoustic vibe of The Mantle as well as the winter atmosphere Ashes Against The Grain. The two previous releases between the two albums were not as well received as this split. The first of these two EPs was Tomorrow Will Never Come. Wile the guitar work was beautiful and the samples were very interesting on the title track, it was the other song that got this release a lot of negative press. It was called "The Death of Man (Version III)". It was a pointless third version of a song that was already captured well in two different contexts. The Grey was not well received due to its over-long songs and strange, abstract experimentation. The Grey showed a side of Agalloch that does not often rear its head (it would show again in the final song of Ashes Against The Grain.) Unlike the Grey, "Wolves of Timberline" has that classic Agalloch sound. While not sounding like a derivative of older material, it captures the essence of who Agalloch are. Agalloch are one of those bands who often experiment with different genres, but be it a metal or a folk song, they always had a unique aura around them distinct to the band.

This song is one of those tracks that evoke strong imagery. While listening, I can't help but picture heavy snowfall in a carnivorous forest during the dark cover of night. This is atmospheric acoustic guitar at its best. Simple, but not overly so, this draws you into a peaceful state of mind. Possessing a rustic feel, this would be perfect for hiking to in a snow covered forest or simply watching the snowfall while sitting by a fire in a wooden cabin. This type of folky instrumental has always been a part of Agalloch's sound, and was especially prominent in The Mantle. This may remind some of "A Desolation Song" or "The Lodge", and especially "Haunting Birds" off their EP Of Stone, Wind and Pillor. This is a sound that was further explored in the only EP released between the band's third and fourth albums, The White. The EP completely eschews metal in favor of folk and a bit of ambient.

Nest's song is a collaboration with Agalloch. The most prominent aspect of Agalloch's contributions is John Haughm's vocals. The vast majority of his vocals are a croaky near-whisper. The diversity of the instruments is one of the largest factors contributing to this song's success. Part of what makes Nest such an interesting band is the inclusion of traditional Finnish plucked string instrument Kantele. A didgeridoo lumbers in the background, setting the atmosphere for the whole track. The acoustic guitar solo is wondrous and majestic. This track is different from the majority of Nest tunes as in it has a strong songwriter vibe. While still very atmospheric, most Nest songs are long-winded, do not feature vocals high in the mix and have a very abstract songwriting approach. It is interesting to see Nest in a different setting, which they adapt to flawlessly. Nest member Alsak Tolonen who handles the artwork, has created the enchanting images for both band's sides. Agalloch's side of the picture disk features a rustic winter scene and Nest's side, also orientated around nature, has a wonderful and bizarre atmosphere about it.

Music needs more splits like these. Instead of two bands putting in their separate input, this is true collaboration. This is about as far as you can go without it being like Sunn O))) and Boris on Altar where the album was basically recorded as one band. This split has a cohesive sound throughout, and the songs feel like they truly belong together. They both capture the essence of the wilderness. This shows how well two unique bands working together can end up when they both share a common vision. The picture disk is absolutely beautiful, so it would be advisable to jump at any opportunity to own this.


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