AGALLOCH at the Opera House, Friday, July 4. Rating: NNNNN
The gamble with metal shows, especially at a consistently so-so venue like the Opera House, is that it's hard to guess how they'll come together live. It's especially true with Agalloch, the Oregon-based blackened folk metal group who take four years between records, and rarely tour. Their albums are loaded with quiet, meditative, folksy elements (acoustic amblings, babbling brooks, birds chirping) that give counterpoint to all the pummelling, howling and power solos. Short of looping an ocean songs CD over the PA, or packing a live bird, it's the kind of thing that's hard to imagine registering as effectively on stage.
And then you see it. Filing onstage through prop smoke, cued by tone-setting acoustic finger-picking, Agalloch drove into The Astral Dialogue (from their latest, The Serpent & The Sphere), which carried them through an impressively heavy, incredibly fun set. It's easy to joke about the band's bright instrumentals and crescendo-fetishism (one friend called them "the U2 of spa metal," another "if Coldplay was Hatebreed"), but their ability to massage the savagery of black metal into complex, triumphant instrumentals that are dynamic beyond their vacillations between acoustic and electric guitars, is impressive. Especially live.
Also: big shout-out to openers Jex Thoth, a definitive example of a band who sounds flat and kind-of boring on record, but explodes in concert. Singer Jex contorted like a Tim Burton claymation maquette, her commanding, soulful vocals summoning the anguished spirits of classical metal frontwomen like Coven's Jinx Dawson. Really incredible, and, all tolled, one of the best metal shows Toronto's seen in a while.