Jex Thoth/Agalloch @ Irving Plaza

MANHATTAN, NY—Vocalist Jessica Toth started out in a band called Totem in 2005 in Slab City, California. After two years and one EP, the band evolved into Jex Thoth, which became Toth’s new name as well as the band’s new name, and relocated to Madison, Wisconsin. Jex Thoth released its second album, Blood Moon Rise, in 2013.

At Irving Plaza opening for Agalloch, Jex Thoth opened with the ambient “To Bury” from the current album. Bathed in darkness, with only silhouettes to be seen, the vocalist walked center stage wearing a long cape over a black dress and seemed to hold a small fire in the palm of one hand. As she sang brooding, hypnotic vocals, the band played thudding, slow-burning doom metal. As the band jammed, she moved like a small flame, often covering her face with her long hair. She sang mysterious lyrics clearly with a soulful angst, the guitarist played thick, clear and fluid leads, and the organist played full-sounding rides on the keys like Deep Purple’s Jon Lord. As the band alternated between droning riffs and sparkling leads, the singer repeatedly played with matches, at one point walking through the audience holding lit incense. The dense music was often slow and heavy, but as the music began to get interesting, the singer became a distraction, particularly because the stage was too dark for the audience to really view the musicians. Jex Thoth is a promising band seeking its path.

One can wonder if a rock band truly exists when it seldom performs live and its albums are released in four-year intervals. Agalloch formed in 1995 in Portland, Oregon, and have released five albums, the most recent being the recent The Serpent & The Sphere, a concept album meditating the nature of creation and the substance of the universe. Agalloch presently consists of John Haughm on vocals and guitar, Don Anderson on guitar, Jason William Walton on bass and Aesop Dekker on drums.

As it has done at every show since its debut, Agalloch began the concert at Irving Plaza with Haughm lighting incense at the foot of the stage. A moment of centering was accompanied by “(serpens caput),” a mesmerizing goth-folk guitar instrumental from the band’s current album, searing through the venue’s speakers. Fog filled the stage and back lighting left the figures on stage looking like silhouettes (this continued throughout the show, such that much of the audience never clearly saw the musicians’ faces). Moments later, the band launched into “The Astral Dialogue,” a dense, dramatic epic also from the band’s current album, complete with growling vocals, progressive arrangements, clean and scorching guitar riffs and double bass drumming. Unlike typical metal shows, however, the band’s music had movement that wrapped around passages of sludgy gothic doom, meditative shoegaze ambience and folk metal. Even when the music was slow, it roared. There was usually enough of a backbeat to keep the headbangers busy, but enough diversity in the music to keep progressive music lovers enthralled. The fantastical lyrics opened and closed many songs, but these extended compositions were primarily instrumental. Throughout the performance, Agallach’s musicianship remained tight and flawless. It was a shame that we could hardly see the band.