Although a cellist may seem like a peculiar choice for a metal bill, the evening’s opening duties were given to the L.A.-based Alison Chesley, who goes by the stage name Helen Money. However, Chesley is not your average cello player. Her heavy musical pedigree is strong, as she is a session player at the legendary Steve Albini’s studio. She has recorded with the likes of Russian Circles and Anthrax, while also cutting an album with Jarboe of the band Swans.
By running her cello through a variety of effects pedals, Chesley turned the normally soaring string instrument into a destructive tool. She tore away at the neck with her bow, conjuring skrawnking screeches and warbling drones. However, the volume of this attack was decidedly lackluster thanks to some sound issues, and the sets’ more serene moments were drowned out by loud members of the crowd. Despite Chesley pointing this annoyance out several times, it persisted until right before her final track when a concertgoer at the front turned around and screamed for everyone to “Shut the fuck up!”
Victoria’s a weird city for touring metal. We don’t get many larger bands, and when we do, it’s always a little odd to see an act that normally plays ballrooms crammed into a nightclub or events spaces with low ceilings and sticky floors. Frequently a venue for poetry readings, community dances, and quirky theatre performances, the Victoria Event Centre suited Agalloch surprisingly well, with their billowing fog machines and serpentine backdrop turning the normally unassuming space into a hellish metal paradise. Starting their set with tremolo guitar and rumbling bass drums of “Astral Dialogue,” a choice cut from last year’s critically acclaimed The Serpent and the Sphere, the set proved to explore almost everything in the band’s sonic bag of tricks.
For someone not particularly versed in the group’s discography, it could be easy to have no idea when a song stopped and a new one began, with single songs carrying as many musical ideas as some bands would put in a whole EP. However, it’s obvious that it’s not just compositional eclecticism for the sake of eclecticism: every little moving part serves a purpose, with all of the different sections linked by seamless transitions. However, when the band decided to lock into a single motif and lay into it for minutes on end, such as on the hypnotizing “Limbs,” it proved to be equally compelling.
With groups like Deafheaven and Alcest finding recent success both in and outside the metal sphere by combining elements of black metal with the more gorgeous sounds of post-rock and shoegaze, it was enlightening to witness a group perform a similar combination that was synthesized over a decade earlier. While Agalloch may not be the most abrasive black metal band, the prettiest post-rock band, the brutalist death metal band, or the most introspective folk band, they sure put together a recipe of all four worth tasting.