On its face, the Faustian legend would seem to be ideal for black metal—the diabolism, the despair, the blasphemous incantations (Christopher Marlowe’s play ‘Doctor Faustus’ is shocking when you consider that it was published in the early 1600s, about 200 years prior to Goethe’s ‘Faust’—how did he get away with that stuff!?)—yet it deals with other human desires, yearnings and failings as well. It’s not an altogether unrelentingly dark message.
We’re obviously dealing with high-concept stuff. It’s evident that Agalloch is both aware of the scope and up to the task: as their Bandcamp page says of “Faustian Echoes”, ‘Reaching over twenty minutes, “Faustian Echoes” is the longest song Agalloch have ever written.’ Happily, ambition meets execution on this release.
“Faustian Echoes” just plain has a lot to like: the majestic guitar melody in the latter half of the sixth minute, the many well-chosen-and-placed samples of cinematic dialogue (from a film adaptation of Goethe’s play) that make this release a cousin of a sort to Graf Orlock’s oeuvre and judicious use of good old black metal aggression when it best serves the composition and the drama. Even though it clocks in at 21:34, as I became familiar with the various sections through repeated listening I kept being surprised that the climactic ending dialogue was recurring already.
The music displays a triumphant yet hopeful sadness that’s ultimately about human existence itself. (One could say the same thing about the source material.) Tragedy is part and parcel not only of the individual human life but of history as well; so we come full circle to black metal itself, which is full of examples of introspection and expansion alike. It’s Gotterdammerung and solipsism in one genre.
Faust doesn’t just make his infamous Teufelspakt; he is saved from suicide at one point by Easter bells; he attempts to rescue his beloved; his story ends with the possibility of redemption remaining. Melodically, “Faustian Echoes” expresses similar light through the shades of black metal distortion and rasped vocals at moments, yet its final notes are suitably tragic and resigned—befitting not only what we commonly see in the legend of ‘Faust’ but perhaps in our own experiences as well.