The only thing heavier than John Haughm's music is the expectation surrounding it.
As vocalist of folk-metal masterminds Agalloch, Haughm served as the metronome and muscle of one of the Pacific Northwest's most inventive and admired metal acts of the past two decades. When the band abruptly split last May, there was much speculation as to why Agalloch would pull the plug when they were quite obviously still at their peak. Former Agalloch guitarist Don Anderson cited Haughm's ambition as cause for the group's undoing.
"He's getting tour offers from all over the world," Anderson said in a 2016 interview with Billboard. "And we had to turn 'em down. We never assumed or imagined there would be a day he would choose that over playing with his best friends that he's been playing with forever, but I think when the band becomes the business, and when some members depend on it for their livelihood and you start playing gigs to pay rent, that is the beginning of the end because you're not playing music to just play music."
While Anderson has resigned academic life in upstate New York, Haughm is doing everything he can to remain true to his roots while stepping out from Agalloch's considerable shadow. Part of this has involved a steadfast insistence on no longer discussing the details of his previous gig, which is understandable. The other component of moving on is his latest project, Pillorian. Founded shortly after the dissolution of Agalloch, Haughm sees Pillorian as the best of both worlds.
"I really like the aggression in Pillorian's music," Haughm writes via email. "I enjoy utilizing weird, alternate tunings and the unorthodox melodies that [guitarist] Stephen [Parker] brings to the sound. It pushes me to be even more creative with song structure and my own guitar work. I think we will step this up even more on future material."
The brute force that opens Obsidian Arc, the group's debut record, is a clear indicator that Haughm intends to hit the ground sprinting. Whereas Agalloch records dabbled in elongated build-ups interspersed with cloudy atmospheric passages and quirky Renaissance faire instrumentals, Pillorian goes straight for the throat, with blast beats, crunchy power chords and the minor-key arpeggios that Agalloch helped solidify as a calling card of the folk-metal genre. Fans expecting a recapitulation of Ashes Against the Grain's meandering ambience won't be far from home, but Haughm has little intention of coddling them as they adjust to the raw power of Pillorian.
"[Expectations] are there, of course," writes Haughm. "But [they] don't bother me. Pillorian was never meant to be a continuation of my previous band. It is a totally different entity and I think it will evolve even further away from the shadow of Agalloch with each new album we make."
Of course, the luxury of fronting a legendary metal group is access to a built-in and particularly rabid fanbase. While his work may not have made him a household name in mainstream circles, Agalloch's relentless touring laid plenty of tracks for Pillorian to smoothly travel while promoting Obsidian Arc. With a band set on global domination at his back, Haughm is poised to overcome the personnel challenges that stalled so much of Agalloch's momentum. Considering the first slew of dates they undertook, calling them a "Portland band" seems to be a stretch at this point.
"There are positives and negatives in being a musician here like with any local scene," Haughm writes. "As for Pillorian, we are a bit of an anomaly because we started our career with a show in Eugene, then did a 25-date European tour and a show in Seattle before playing in Portland. That's not exactly how most new local bands start out."
SEE IT: Pillorian plays Dante's, 350 W. Burnside St., with Usnea and Atriarch, on Saturday, May 20. 9 pm. $10. 21+.