The breakup of Agalloch in 2016 caught many fans by surprise. Agalloch were riding high on the success of a string of critically acclaimed albums, and were at the top of the Cascadian black metal heap as a result. They made festival appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, and toured both North America and Europe numerous times over a career that stretched for more than a decade. Unfortunately, friction developed between vocalist/ guitarist John Haughm and the rest of Agalloch, resulting in the group calling it a day.
From the ashes, however, two new groups have arisen with Haughm fronting Pillorian with the aid of drummer Trevor Matthews and guitarist Stephen Parker. The other group to come from the demise of Agalloch, made up in part by bassist Jason Walton and drummer Aesop Dekker, is called Khôrada, but Pillorian beats them to the punch with the release of a full-length debut album entitled Obsidian Arc.
Released on Eisenwald (a label with a roster loaded up with pagan/ black metal bands), Obsidian Arc is typical of Agalloch’s early sound. Semi-progressive riffing with lots of melody, variations in tempo, muted rasps for vocals, a primeval atmosphere centered on nature, you name it, Pillorian tick all of the elements on the checklist. Gone are some of the more folk oriented elements of the latter releases from Agalloch, as Pillorian go back to basics with plenty of layered riffing, a dreamy feel, bursts of speed backed up by frenetic riffing, and a few acoustic moments.
Unfortunately, the results are mixed as most of the songs just aren’t very interesting. The songwriting does not particularly stand out (a key component of the later albums from Agalloch), and the songs tend to blend in with one another as you wade in deeper. After a few songs, there’s just not much here to hold the listener’s attention beyond what you’ve already heard.
Is there a rushed feel to Obsidian Arc? I wouldn’t necessarily say so given that as Haughm and his bandmates have delivered a polished release that obviously comes from cadre of veterans. However, a desire to make a statement early on after the demise of Agalloch may have resulted in a subpar album from someone who is obviously a seasoned professional. In short, there’s room for growth and I’ve no doubt that future releases from Pillorian will be considerably better.
(released February 10, 2017 on Eisenwald Records)