Well folks, here we are, starting another new year. 2016 was quite an eventful one, both on a personal level (Valley of Steel headquarters has relocated within the past few months! — which is why we’ve been so quiet for a little while; we’ve been hella busy between finding a place to move to, moving there, getting settled in, etc. — although for those who may be worried: we’re still in a valley in a former industrial area outside Pittsburgh, so the website title is still accurate, it just happens to be the valley of a different river than our former location), as well as on a sociocultural level (politics, both domestic and foreign, has really been a mess lately, hasn’t it??).
Of course, like every year, tons of great music got released in 2016 as well — and like every year, I’ve failed to write about everything I’ve wanted to share with you folks (or even half of it). We’ll be diving back into the reviewing and sharing of new (and some fairly not-so-new) music very soon. But today, I’d like to hit a few other items as we briefly glance over the year that was…
The Visit – Through Darkness into Light (self-released, 09 October 2015)
The Night Watch – Boundaries (self-released, 15 July 2016)
Nathanaël Larochette – Earth and Sky (self-released, 29 July 2016)
Hey, folks — have you read this review of Canadian neofolk/baroque trio Musk Ox‘s 2014 album Woodfall? If you haven’t, I’d be kind of surprised — after all, in the two years since it was published, that review has become the most popular single item to ever appear on this website (as I alluded to when I named the album as an honorable mention for the Top 14 of 2014 list). In fact, it has had more visitors than the About or Contact pages, and far more than any other article I’ve ever written: twice as many as the second-most popular review ever, and almost three times as many as the most-visited article that I published in 2016.
As incredible as all that is, it’s absolutely true, and I figure it can be ascribed to one of two things: either I’m exceptionally good at writing about non-metal music performed with folk/classical instruments, or Musk Ox is just really, really popular. On the off chance that it would happen to be the first one, I’m going to take some time over the next few days to write about some more neo-folk/neo-classical groups whose orchestrations are decidedly non-metal. But in the event that the second thing also comes into play, I will be hedging my bets a bit today: what I’ll be sharing with you has been released by three different musical entities that each involve one or more of the three people who make up Musk Ox. And away we go …
Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore Records, 13 May 2014)
So tomorrow is the day when we’ll be making the trek west to Ohio, because Agalloch‘s tour will be hitting Cleveland. (Read all the details of that tour right here. I’ve been pretty excited about this for a while — I may only have discovered the band within the past few years, but quickly I found their style of vast, atmosphere-infused black/folk metal to be right up my alley. I enjoyed all the songs I’d heard (on Pandora or wherever) from their earlier albums like The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain, so I thought I had a general idea of what this band was about, and I thought I knew basically what to expect from the upcoming show.
But no, honestly I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what happened when — partly out of curiosity, partly to get familiar with some of their newer stuff — I headed over to the Agalloch Bandcamp page and hit PLAY on their recently-released album The Serpent & the Sphere. I found myself instantly blown away by what I was hearing, a reaction that continued throughout the next fifty-nine minutes or so, through the conclusion of all nine tracks. I decided right then, even though this year isn’t even halfway over yet, that I find it unlikely I’ll hear anything better than this in 2014.
I hadn’t even really planned on writing this, but this was just one of those rare occasions where something caught my attention and spoke to me so much, I felt like I had to make sure other people knew about this record too.
Earlier this week I wrote about the current Agalloch North American tour, which began last night. In that post, I made mention of the fact that when the tour hits Ottawa on the third of July, the band would be joined by an acoustic group called Musk Ox. Led by guitarist Nathanaël Larochette (who contributed some interlude music to the recently-released Agalloch album The Serpent & the Sphere), and also consisting of cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and violinist Evan Runge, this instrumental trio has just released an album of their own, earlier this week.
The second full-length album under the Musk Ox name, Woodfall is the first to feature this particular line-up (the 2007 self-titled release was exclusively a solo project featuring Larochette on all instruments). This new album contains one continuous piece of music (over an hour in length), which was composed by Larochette and Weinroth-Browne. The larger piece is broken into five named sections; three of these (part 1 “Earthrise,” part 2 “Windswept,” and part 4 “Above the Clouds”) run around ten minutes long, while the other two (part 3 “Arcanum” and part 5 “Serenade the Constellations”) each exceed seventeen. On the whole, I find Woodfall fascinating for both its beauty and its simplicity, and I suspect many of you out there will feel the same way.
The Agalloch “Serpens in Cvlmination” Tour Begins its Trek Across North America
Last month, Portlandian atmospheric black/doom/folk band Agalloch released The Serpent & the Sphere, their fifth full-length over the past fifteen years (and the second on Profound Lore). In support of this new album, the band is heading out all across North America — starting tomorrow night (Wednesday, 18 June 2014) and running for about three weeks. On various dates of the tour, they will be joined by Obsidian Tongue, Vex, Jex Thoth, Thrones, and — for one lucky city — Musk Ox, the folk trio led by guitarist Nathanaël Larochette, who wrote and performed several interludes on The Serpent & the Sphere.
Personally, I’ll be making the trip out to Cleveland for the show this coming Saturday, and really excited since it’ll be my first time seeing Agalloch. See below for the full list of dates…