Agalloch, Taurus, and Rituals Rhythm Room Wednesday, August 8
Though the Rhythm Room parking lot was near capacity and the venue itself crammed full of metalheads, there wasn't a single display of physicality last night.
No moshing, no shoving. Nobody who wasn't playing an instrument onstage really appeared to break a sweat. But it was hardly a dull show; people simply stood in awe of what they witnessed. Veteran metal band Agalloch returned to the Valley for the first time in nine years and treated everyone to a deft palette of dark post-black metal that wasn't worth missing for a second, even to jostle against their neighbor in zest.
At first, though, it could have been assumed the crowd was tranquilized by the viscous drone of the opening acts. Local Valley five-piece Rituals kicked things off with a particularly patient brand of slowcore doom, featuring e-bow-sustained guitar and vocals alternating between growls and shrieks. Though I liked the impact of the solemn tempos, the drummer's cymbals were on the splashier side and the guitar procession had moments of indistinct meandering. They did however end with a strong start-stop feedback finale that tied things up with a nice sludgy bow.
Next was Taurus, a Portland guitar-drums two-piece featuring Stevie Floyd from sludge metal outfit Dark Castle. Her vocals teeming with delay, Floyd conjured heavy distortion beds for her drummer's punctuated snare hits and ruthless cymbal crashes to contextualize. Boasting an ultra-low kick drum and huge toms, the drummer generated lots of counter-intuitive impact within the vaulted space of the riffs, at times recovering from frenzied soloing bouts right at perfect quarter note. Between songs they employed samples of John Cage extolling his love for silence while projected clips of a Jorodorwsky-esque psychedelic film draped the rear stage. It was high-minded doom metal that was easy to get lost inside.
Before the entire band took the stage, Agalloch guitarist and singer John Haughm drew out a quick high-pitched drone from his axe, set it down, and then began lighting sage with a nearby candle. Used to cast off negative spiritual entities, the sweet smoke drifted into the crowd as Haughm placed three trays of the slow-burning herb on different tree stumps placed along the stage ledge.
Once any nefarious demons were assuredly spooked off, the rest of Agalloch ripped into their extensive back catalog of extreme metal shredding, blast beats and blackened chugging. Though they obviously sound beatific on record, the band's major chord blasts and winding choruses felt downright triumphant. In fact, a few of the early songs opened with bright, chorus-y guitars that kind of sounded like The Cult, right before crashing into black metal downpour.
Frankly, the entire set seemed to touch on every sub-style of contemporary metal. Having been around since 1995, Agalloch are master practitioners. Drummer Aesop Dekker, a metal journeyman with salt-and-pepper hair, crushed his snare drum at the exact same volume for the entirety of Agalloch's roughly two-hour set. No need to get rowdy: it was worth it to pay attention.
Last night: Agalloch, Taurus and Rituals at Rhythm Room
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Personal bias: I'm a drummer, in case the percussive nit-pickery wasn't obvious enough.
Overheard: An older non-black-clad gentleman, remarking about Agalloch to someone I assume was his wife: "That was like U2, but heavier."