When frontman John Haughm left the mighty Agalloch in 2016 to follow a more blackened direction, the heartbreak was soon complete when the remaining members officially laid the idolised beast to rest. Two years later, through the detritus comes Khôrada, lending itself to the apocalyptic post-doom of the parent but with a more emotive, folksier bedrock.
Debut long-player Salt (Prophecy) opens with ‘Water Rights’, a dark undercurrent, new vocalist and ex-Giant Squid leader Aaron John Gregory offering a seedy growl as the quickened instrumentation swells around him and an eighties goth-styled chorus. When the riffs do kick in it is as powerful as one would expect but the Gallic-flavoured undertow adds a wonderfully uplifting and nuanced effect. ‘Edeste’ has a similarly inventive base: a fluctuation between quiet, maudlin jangle and explosive bridges dictated by Aesop Dekker’s trammelling drums and post-black leadplay but Gregory’s Torch-like howl adds a serious emotional edge, particularly when accompanied by heartfelt harmonies. The track’s second half exudes wonderfully distant hornsbeneath delicately squalling airs while Gregory adds pathis to the tragic demise.
There’s a truly unique sound here, which the following ‘Glacial Gold’ continues, an initially mournful dirge decorated by gentle musicality and brittle yet pained vocals that soar with the explosions: deliciously raw, doom-laden, the devastating wails to the heavens not a million miles away from a Hebrew lament. The whole song is a triumph of construction and execution, breaking the hardest of hearts. ‘Seasons Of Salt’, meanwhile, begins in a more familiar, crushing fashion, Blackened rhythms supporting a desolate paean to the changes of the years, the mercurial climate reflected in the constant switches of time and ferocity whilst maintaining an organic fluidity.
‘Augustus’ is a brief yet haunting respite with African-style harmonies adding to the mix. This segues into the remarkable, heart-rending ‘Wave State’, a hugely affecting journey through the various levels of emotion, the shrugged shoulders of apathy leading to subsequent protest before a vehement anger flares wildly, again graced by subtle Eastern influences. The coda is an eerie surf through the cosmos, leading into the Stranger Things-esque keyboard oscillations of closer ‘Ossify’. Initially returning to a dark, eighties electronica, the Depeche Mode / Soft Cell frostiness underpins the excrutiating pain of a soul that is indeed turning to bone. The effortless blend of styles here is incredible and despite the early dragging pace, the energy eventually unites with indie sensibilities to create a truly remarkable experience.
Sometimes death is necessary in order to create new, more sparkling life. The glowing caterpillar produces the dazzling butterfly, the striking moth, and it is the latter we often remember. Here is a classic case. Agalloch was huge: Khôrada is a more multi-faceted phenomenon. Here is delicacy, heart, power and creation in abundance, an album almost beyond the ability to describe and which Time may well mark as possessing true greatness.