Date: October 8, 2011.
Place: El Corazon, Seattle’s version of Portland’s dearly departed Satyricon. Do you miss Satyricon’s inconvenient pole and pillar placement? Its seven band bills? The way its bar/venue split discouraged intergenerational mingling? You’d feel right at home here. In fact, I do believe El Corazon is Seattle Spanish for “cavern that smells like piss and boy sweat.”
But enough about me and my predilections. I was at El Corazon to see Portland destroy Seattle. In this corner, representing PDX: metal deity Agalloch, doomy newcomer Atriarch and mysterious piano band Sedan, who’d all played Portland’s Fall Into Darkness festival the night before. In that other corner, the corner without food carts, representing Seattle: a bunch of dudes wearing black shirts and black jeans.
Portland clobbered Seattle, of course, but we all won. And since this was my first Agalloch show, it was a night of new sensations, exciting discoveries. Even the piss and boy sweat smelled somehow...fresh. Like a new car. A new car some gross boy just peed in.
This, then, is what I saw, what I felt, what I noticed, what I learned...
1. You know the law: Thou shalt not don duds honoring the bands you have come to see. Agalloch fans do not give a flying fig about this hoary commandment. I realized, upon entering El Corazon and seeing a sea of identical Agalloch shirts, that this punk rule, which I live and die by, does not apply in the metal world. The metal world makes more sense, I think. I wear my A’s cap to A’s games, so why didn’t I wear my Retox shirt to the Retox show two weeks ago? In my head, I pretended I didn’t even own a Retox shirt while at the Retox show. That is stupid. I am stupid. Still gonna follow this rule, though.
2. Sedan needs to make music for movies. Scott Seckington’s subtly unnerving piano compositions, accompanied on this special night by Total Life (a.k.a. Kevin Doria of Growing) and his hypnotic drones, are the stuff horror films are made of. I can see Argento making a comeback with a Sedan-scored trip into some cold, bright, demon-filled hell. Imagine Goblin swimming in a goblet of Ambien-spiked wine. We’re talking a slow, sad descent into madness here. (Argento: call me. I’ve got ideas!)
3. Agalloch is not afraid of being shown up by an opening act. Witness Atriarch’s presence on this bill. I almost forgot Agalloch was going to play once Atriarch finished with me. Guitarist Brooks inaugurated the set by cleansing the stage with smoldering sage. He proceeded to extinguish the sage stick and decorate his face with ash. Then Atriarch launched into a forty-minute set of terrifying, intense, gorgeous, gothy doom. Bones hung from singer Lenny’s microphone. Bones! Atriarch is the kind of band that uses bones and sage as props, is what I’m saying. And they totally earn these affectations, because Atriarch sounds like bones and sage, like blood and dust. This is some elemental, sublime stuff; Agalloch had a tough act to follow.
4. Agalloch digs deer. The four members of Agalloch were bracketed on stage by two banners decorated with crudely drawn deer. Frontman John Haughm played his guitar with a deer’s leg during their final song. A severed deer leg. It’s not like Haughm invited a deer up on stage to form chords while Haughm strummed. (Agalloch: call me. I’ve got ideas!) There was also a deer leg on the merch table. I don’t think it was for sale, though. It was there as a warning: “Look what happened to the last guy who tried to steal one of our limited edition posters. We turned him into a deer and then cut his leg off. This one doesn’t even get to help us play guitar during our encore. That poster will be ten bucks. Ha! That was a deer joke, because we love deer. But really. Ten dollars please.”
5. Agalloch plays long sets. I’d been wondering why El Corazon, usually so fond of the marathon night-of-a-thousand-bands metal shows, only booked three acts for this evening of sinister entertainment. Then Agalloch played. For nearly two hours. It felt like two hours, too, but not in that bad The-Cure-plays-Disintegration-in-its-entirety way. No, Agalloch took us on an exhausting, exhilarating trip, from pastoral instrumental stretches to soundscapes of volcanic terror, from beauty to filth and back again. And when John Haughm announces that they have a few songs left, what he means is that you can go rent, watch and return Lawrence of Arabia and still have time to catch Agalloch’s encore. But I’d advise you to stay right where you are. You will not want to miss a thing.
An old Agalloch video