The news of Agalloch‘s dissolution last May was nothing short of shocking and saddening to fans all across the metal community. The band released five near perfect studio albums, as well as numerous EPs and a split during their storied career. Agalloch‘s downfall seemed to be a product of the deteriorating relationship between frontman John Haughm and the rest of the group. Not long after the band’s split, Jason Walton, Aesop Dekker, Don Anderson, and Giant Squid vocalist Aaron Gregory formed Khôrada, while Haughm started a new project with Stephen Parker and Trevor Matthews called Pillorian.
Pillorian is gearing up to release their debut album, Obsidian Arc, on Friday, March 10 via Germany’s Eisenwald Records. Throughout my listens, and even before I even began forming opinions on this album, I found it very difficult to listen to it without the legacy of Agalloch coloring my expectations. So let’s get one thing straight here: Obsidian Arc does not sound exactly like an Agalloch album, nor does it sound like it was supposed to. What we have here is simply a solid black metal album.
Throughout this record’s seven songs, Pillorian manages to treat the listener to catchy moments and downright brutal heavy passages, all without doing anything groundbreaking. Blast beats, double bass drumming, tremolo picking, and Haughm’s distinct raspy vocals appear in nearly every track. Though the overall aesthetic of the album can be very repetitive, I found no problem enjoying the album from front to back.
Obsidian Arc is an album that can seem pretty one dimensional at times, but it’s the little spurs of creativity that make it memorable. Whether it’s the overdubbed acoustic guitars, or Haughm’s occasional clean vocals (which we haven’t heard since Agalloch‘s Marrow of the Spirit in 2010), there’s always a unique element that seems to serve as the driving force behind each song. There’s even moments that I thought sounded satisfyingly reminiscent of Agalloch‘s The Mantle and The Serpent and the Sphere. Though John Haughm is the only former Agalloch member in Pillorian, it is undeniable that his identity as Agalloch‘s frontman and founder carries on into his new project.
Upon my first few listens to Obsidian Arc, none of the songs really seemed to stand out, but the album’s finale “Dark Is the River of Man” grew on me as easily one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song begins with a sound unlike any of the others; clean guitars and more of Haughm’s clean vocals envelop the atmosphere in the beginning, and create a somewhat gentle mood. As the song unveils itself, it proves to be more of a post metal song than black metal, and The Mantle‘s influence is as prevalent as ever on this track.
It’s still tough to come to terms with reality that Agalloch is no more, and it would be crass to claim that Pillorian is the logical successor to them, but, all in all, Pillorian have crafted a fine album. What we have here is a proper black metal record; nothing more, nothing less.
Overall Score: 8/10
FFO: Agalloch, Enslaved, Ihsahn
Notable Tracks: “By the Light of a Black Sun”; “The Vestige of Thorns”; “Dark Is the River of Man”