One the more surprising band break-ups in the underground metal world occurred in 2016 when Agalloch split. By combining elements folk metal, black metal and doom, the band had gained a sizable cult following over its 21 years, but when founder and singer-guitarist John Haughm dissolved the group, guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton and drummer Aesop Dekker were left high-and-dry. The three quickly vowed to continue playing with one another, though, and joined up with Aaron John Gregory, vocalist-guitarist the on-hiatus avant-garde post-rock collective Giant Squid to create Khorada.
Walton says the three remaining Agalloch members never thought about not continuing and started discussions within days the dissolution their former band. “AJ had been a friend for a long time, and the three us admired his artistry greatly, so he was an obvious contender,” Walton tells Billboard. “We had a couple other people in mind to approach, but after we sat on it for a while, AJ was the obvious choice.”
Those expecting another doomy, post-metal band in the vein Agalloch will need to adjust their assumptions. While Khorada shares some the same fbeat instrumentation as Giant Squid -- including cello and trumpet -- the best way to listen to Khorada’s debut, Salt (out July 20 on Prophecy Productions), is by not comparing it with any its members’ former projects.
“I personally had zero interest in playing music similar to Agalloch,” says Gregory. “It would have been fraudulent for me to do so. I loved Agalloch, obviously; they were fantastic. But I barely listen to anything else remotely close to black metal or neo-folk. That music isn't my area expertise, let alone listening preference. If the intentions these three guys were to continue the sound and aesthetic Agalloch, I would have been the last person they would have chosen to fill the position singer-guitarist.”
Billboard is exclusively streaming Salt in its entirety. Listen below:
Other than “not Agalloch or Giant Squid,” it’s hard to describe Salt. Tempo-wise, some songs, like “Glacial Gold,” qualify as doom, but there are also blast beats on “Seasons Salt,” a weapon never employed by Giant Squid and infrequently used by Agalloch. Gregory’s clean, impassioned vocals bring to mind Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman, and tracks like album closer “Ossify” sound more like post-punk than anything expected from the bandmembers’ pairing. Even if it’s not a punk rock album, it was that genre that inspired the band's debut. “Horrible times ten produce very powerful art, so that gave us a something to rally against,” says Gregory. “This context also helped inspire our sound, as such a vocal resistance should be powerful, loud and angry.”
Over the record’s seven tracks, all but two which top seven minutes, Khorada crafted a unique introduction that should find itself atop quite a few “best 2018” lists come late November. Lyrically, many the lyrics refer to nature, but not in the pagan or nautical sense, like the members’ former bands. Instead, they touch on decay, erosion, cannibalism and destruction. And those “horrible times” that Gregory says inspired the album refers to President Donald Trump.
“We believe our country has been hijacked by a despicable human being who has surrounded himself with equally disgusting sycophants who are more than eager to enact a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-environmental, pro-prit nationalist agenda,” he says. “I have to raise two daughters in this world. So does Jason. Aesop also has a son who is just now starting college, and Don is a college pressor who is seeing the effects this administration on his students … As a far-left, socialist, liberal, business-owning environmentalist, educator and parent, I'm terrified by what I'm seeing take place.”
Pointing to the current uproar over migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border and Trump siding with Russian president Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies about whether Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he continues, “These are realities that the entire country is aware and a majority which feels are abhorrent. But yet, we feel powerless to do anything about it other than protest in the streets, write esoteric metal albums reflecting on how shitty this all is and then vote when the time comes.”
Gregory says that the song that best defines Khorada is “Seasons Salt,” mainly because it was the first one the group recorded. “As our musical identity became clearer and clearer, we continued making major edits and changes to ‘Seasons Salt’ all the way to the final mixing stage,” he says. “It wasn't because it didn't sound right, but rather, it was all jelling so well that it would inspire us to try more and more ideas, some which I feel were pretty brave as far as compositional choices go. It became the perfect culmination what all us bring to the table in this band and a exhibition how our sometimes vastly different approaches to songwriting can still combine into a piece music that feels — at least to me personally — like it came from a band that had already been playing music together for years.”