A Requiem for Agalloch: 1995-2016
A celebration for the death of an American extreme metal institution.
Earlier today, May 13, 2016, Agalloch announced via their Facebook page that the Portland-based band was no more. The statement is brief, and succinct. It leaves no room for acrimony, and endless space for the questions that we’re now dying to find answers for, but given the intensely private nature of all those involved, probably never will.
“Following 20 years, 5 full length albums, many tours around the world, and numerous other recordings, John Haughm and the rest of the band (Don Anderson, Jason Walton, and Aesop Dekker) have parted ways. What the future holds for the separate parties remains undetermined. We collectively thank all of our fans across the world. There are also way too many other people to thank who made this band possible. You know who you are.”
Those words lack the grand depth of emotion fans have come to expect from the band itself, but perhaps it’s better this way; it allows us to plunge immediately into reaction mode, and move more swiftly into the grieving process. You see, Agalloch was special; they were—are—loved in a way that transcends typical fandom. Their melancholy, ethereal music crossed borders that would seem farcical to an outsider, but are held in deep reverence by those who are sworn to their love of black metal, doom, neofolk, progressive rock, acoustic guitar, ambient music—or, thanks to Agalloch, all of the above. Their fluid approach to genre and lust for experimentation and boundary-breaking endeared them to so many, and helped elevate them to their current status as one of the most important American metal bands of the past twenty years, if not all time.
Agalloch has long managed to hold onto the kind of mystique that so few bands are able to pull off in our current age of oversharing and Twitter spats. For years, they didn’t bother playing live, and if they did, it was an Event; they only recently started touring semi-regularly, and the turnouts made clear just how hungry fans had been to see them in the flesh. Even before the band's commercial success reached its zenith with 2010’s immensely successful Profound Lore debut, Marrow of the Spirit (to say nothing of its well-regarded successor, The Serpent & The Sphere), Agalloch was a cult favorite, fiercely loved by those who’d discovered them though earlier albums like Pale Folklore, The Mantle, Ashes Against the Grain, or the myriad EPs, compilations, and demos in between.
Of all Agalloch’s often intoxicating, sometimes challenging, and always compelling works, The Mantle has always been my favorite. I discovered the album when I was still in high school, in the midst of the transition of my tastes from the easily-accessible mainstream to the more enticing and foreboding underground. I can’t remember which of my newly-forged “metal friends” introduced me to the band, but I do know that as soon as I popped The Mantle into the temperamental stereo on my powder blue Saturn, the world shifted on its axis a little.The album’s blessed alchemy of atmospheric, moody black metal and subtle, almost pastoral folk melodies conjured something wholly unique, and—to me, and to many others—almost indescribably beautiful. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and it impacted me in a way that I’d never imagined music could.
From then on, it became my sanctuary, a guaranteed bringer of calm— whether I was driving home from the Woodcrest train station after catching a metal show in Philly, or trudging through the hallways at school, or sitting in a hospital waiting room worrying about my mom, or running through the woods behind my house, it was there, echoing through my headphones, reassuring me that there were other people out there who understood that darkness and light, and that peace was possible even amidst a storm. The Mantle is one of those albums I will always cherish and point to as a landmark musical touchstone in my life, and I can’t thank Agalloch enough for bringing it into existence.
Agalloch may be gone, but the band’s impact and legacy will live on in perpetuity. The band’s members—John Haughm, Don Anderson, Jason Walton, and Aesop Dekker—will continue their other projects, and invariably bring new ones into being; musicians graced with this much talent rarely stay still for long. We’ll have much to celebrate as their careers continue and evolve, and we owe it to them to allow them to follow their own journeys. There will never be another band like Agalloch, though, and their loss will be felt intensely.
The dark matter gods have escaped the weight of darkness, and now we’re left with whisps of woodsmoke, the ghosts of midwinter fires, and dreams of fallen snow.
Thank you for your music, Agalloch.
UPDATE: John Haughm (the original founder of the band) has posted another statement on the Agalloch Facebook page, clarifying that, while the other three members of the band are gone, he has not yet decided whether or not the project itself will end yet. Time will tell, of course, but with the future so uncertain and the lineup so fundamentally altered, there is still much to mourn.
"After being inundated by a barrage of responses, I feel that I should clarify some things. I take full responsibility for the decision to part ways with the other guys. It was difficult, well thought-out, and something that had been culminating over the past couple of years. I simply could not continue any further with the band as it was. I had to make a change as my motivation and inspiration had started to completely deteriorate. Whether this is the permanent end of Agalloch altogether or a possible fresh start, I don't know. I probably won't know for awhile. The band has simply been reduced back to its founding, visionary member for the first time in 20 years. Beyond that, the future is unknown.
- J. Haughm"
UPDATE (AGAIN): According to Haughm, who is currently the sole member with access to the Agalloch Facebook page, the band is really, truly done. As a new post reads,
"Following 20 years, 5 full length albums, many tours around the world, and numerous other recordings, John Haughm and the rest of the band (Don Anderson, Jason Walton, and Aesop Dekker) have parted ways. What the future holds for the separate parties remains undetermined but the name Agalloch has been permanently laid to rest. We collectively thank all of our fans across the world. There are also way too many other people to thank who made this band possible. You know who you are."
Kim Kelly is in mourning on Twitter.