You knew it was going to be a killer night when for the first time I can recall for any show, the line to get in stretched around the block, over an hour before doors at this venue. Agalloch always draws a big crowd in the Boston area, what with our love of black metal and emo-style self-hatred overflowing at all times. All jokes aside, Agalloch on their first tour supporting the excellent new album The Serpent and The Sphere (Profound Lore) was a can’t miss proposition for this summer of metal shows so far. The venue was well sold out with people walking up for tickets turned away. I bumped into many of my friends in the scene and my photographer for the night, the exceptionally cool Hillarie Jason outside while I waited to get in. I wonder if selling out the House of Blues is next for this band, since every time they visit our city, the sell out yet another venue.
Growing local legends Obsidian Tongue opened tonight, following a brief, but successful mid-west run opening for this tour. Front man Brendan James Hayter has long had a relationship to Agalloch, written songs with them, and in general is in a mutual admiration society with them. All good, but playing in front of basically a sold-out hometown crowd had advantages too. Brendan, flanked by powerhouse drummer Greg Murphy just blew everyone in attendance away with their all too brief set. As always, their gut-wrenching, perfectly executed traditional USBM, captivates and kills. In addition to playing a brand new song that was nothing shot of epic at almost 14 minutes long, John Haughm himself joined the band for a closing rendition of “A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time”, of which Brendan remarked they will likely “never play this again.” One of the cooler moments of the night was meeting Brendan’s beaming parents, clad in their O.T. Shirts. Parents- you’re doing it right!
The BM-centric crowd was a little less forgiving the doom of Jex Thoth. For her part Jex was awesome, and in her own little world. She was nonplussed by the few mumbles in the room about them and their placement on this bill. Nevertheless her tight band blessed with her namesake blasted through a lengthy set of good songs. Caught up in the ritual, Jex wailed like the chanteuse that she is, connecting with the audience, but she was also on her own trip too. As my pal Mike Vargus commented later, she brought the sexiness to doom. Transformed by the process of the ritual, lost in the magic, she milked every bit of soul out of each note that escaped her throat. Her band was no afterthought either, they were present in the moment, right with her musically, especially guitarist Jason Hartman. Playing songs mostly from their 2013 album Blood Moon Rise (I Hate). At one point Jex jumped off the stage and into the crowd to get up close and personal with everyone. She sang, and danced and played with fire, burning some sage for effect. Maybe the beers and shots I had were fully kicking in by this time, but I was totally in her spell. She said little when their set was done, but they certainly made an impact.
There was a pretty fast change-over for Agalloch to come on. The sold-out crowd held their collective breath together while the band made their way to the stage. Not one note had played, but you felt something electric in the air. Everyone felt it actually, you could just tell. From the swell of the intro music, the wave just hit the eager crowd and a cheer went out. The opening notes of ‘The Astral Dialogue’ and the rollicking beat meant there would be no slow burn build up to start the show tonight. Nope, tonight had is moments of dynamic intensity, but Agalloch was full of hustle and power much more than in the past when I’ve seen them. It was an instant reminder that American black metal is the real deal now, and a band like this is the reason. Haughm’s economical playing style looks almost too easy, and his bleak vocals just crush. He is always note perfect and flawless live. I was immediately surprised by how much knuckle-headed moshing there was, more so than any show in memory for black metal in Boston. Perhaps it is a swell of new fans, but I was turned off by it, as was Haughm who joked about it later on.
The new ‘Vales Beyond Dimension’ was more typical fare I was used to for these Pacific Northwest giants. The fans seems to chill out for a minute and soak it all in. Always impressive, Aesop Dekker almost stole the show on this night with his tireless blasting behind the kit. I have seen him live many times with different acts, and this night was a performance we’d never seen from him before. Epic in scope, ‘Limbs’ was another killer early set highlight. Oh, so heartfelt and deep, I almost felt like a hippie for a second. Almost. John finally addressed the crowd, dissed the moshers, and generally welcomed all to the tour. Picking back up with ‘Ghosts of the Midwinter’s Fires’, we fell into the emotional abyss again. This is what Agalloch does best: toying with your soul and mind with their songs. There was a lot of singing along to this one, which made me smile. Other standout songs were the newer ‘Dark Matter Gods’, ‘Celestial Effigy’ and the mighty ‘Into the Painted Grey’.
Coming back on for an encore, Haughm thanked the openers, made more jokes about moshers and then just melted the place down with the stirring ‘Falling Snow’ and Plataeu of The Ages’. We were all left speechless and happy. What a great night!
Agalloch Set List:
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
WORDS BY KEITH CHACHKES