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Two bands — Black Breath and Agalloch — prove that being metal hardly means following the same old formula

click to enlarge Agalloch
  • Agalloch
If, at present, you aren’t drowning in a collection of 180-gram, Mausoleum Records vinyl re-issues and cavorting around town in a Canadian tuxedo (y’know, the cut-off-denim-over-leather-jacket combo), you likely think all heavy metal is cut from the same cloth.

That dude at the other side of the bar might be in a near-unconscious, PBR-induced haze and have a Gates of Hell scene etched on his jean jacket, but there’s actually a highly refined ear underneath that mess. He’ll wake up tomorrow in the back of a ’73 Pinto with “Slayer” carved into his arm, but the music he loves — heavy metal — spans a broad sonic scope. Two examples from his record collection, Black Breath and Agalloch, drop into Spokane this week. They’re not the typical hesher stuff you’re thinking of.

Both are from cities not far from here: Agalloch hails from Portland, probably the city with the healthiest arts scene in North America. Portland’s diversity makes it perfect for any experimenting, post-anything metal band. And Black Breath is from Seattle which, of course, will forever be known as ground-zero for grunge: a dumbed-down take on metal played by guys ashamed that they love Black Sabbath. When it comes to being metal, however, Black Breath has no shame.

Both Agalloch and Black Breath — perhaps because of their Northwest roots — bring a different perspective on what it means to be metal in 2012.

Quiet Riot

Starting as an oddball black metal band in 1995, Agalloch has constantly nudged the goalposts, injecting folk, post-rock, doom and ambient into its sound. Having just released their latest EP, Faustian Echoes, in late June, it’s obvious this band doesn’t sit still as they continue to pickpocket myriad genres while retaining their original integrity. Today, Agalloch remain hugely popular and are one of the few black metal turncoats still accepted by the often-elitist metal underground.

Black Breath — a very different band — has a similar outlook. They love Swedish death metal, but love filtering it through the outer reaches of crusty thrash and D-beat hardcore to create their potent riffage. They make obscenely excessive use of Boss HM-2 pedals and Ampeg V-4 and Peavey VTM amps — accoutrements on the same level as necessary to thrash metal as silicone and collagen are for ladies in the porn industry.

How Metal Are They?

Just take a look at these photos. If all of Black Breath’s hair and through-the-ringer denim doesn’t kill your neighbors’ lawn and turn their swimming pool water black, what will? Agalloch, on the other hand, look about as serious as a heart attack as they belie every cliché Heavy Metal Parking Lot unearthed. Witness them live and note how their most animated member, guitarist Don Anderson, looks and moves like he’s summoning the ghosts of some Ebullition-signed, ’90s screamo band. When non-metal folk think metal, an image that’s conjured is of the black-clad, socially awkward loner spending hours alone in his/her room doing lord knows what. We’d bet that individual is listening to Agalloch.

But Black Breath attempts a metal three-peat with their new album, Sentenced to Life. When asked about the cover art, Black Breath guitarist Eric Wallace said, “How do we make a cover that encompasses Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, Judas Priest’s British Steel and Black Flag’s Damaged?”

Black Breath with The Drip, Losing Skin, La Muerte Viva • Fri, July 13, at 8 pm • Carr’s Corner • 230 S. Washington St. • $6 • 21+ • 474-1731

Agalloch with Taurus and 8 Bells • Sat, July 14, at 7 pm • A Club • 416 W Sprague Ave. • $10 • All-ages • aclubspokane.com • 624-3629

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