Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere

Agalloch_The_SerpFour years after their last full-length Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch have returned, carrying on their backs a record that takes the best moments of their earlier discography and uses them as the foundation upon which their development continues. Press play and, when opening track ‘Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation’ begins, you will be greeted with the contemplative expanse of The Mantle, replete with that familiar emotional depth and neo-folk focus. As you reach ‘The Astral Dialogue’, as elsewhere on the album, you’ll note that the rhythmic gallop of Pale Folklore holds sway over The Serpent & The Sphere‘s pacing, here firmed up significantly by Aesop Dekker’s memorable tom- and cymbal-work, and general time-keeping mastery. The album’s clean, clear production recalls Ashes Against the Grain, that clarity now fired further with deeper frequencies in the mastering and the omnipresent place in the mix of Jason William Walton’s bass, rounding the sound off with a pervasive warmth.

So what has changed? Concept, and a voice of blackness. Conceptually, these Portland natives have not only lyrically left the confines of Earth concerns for literary influences, but with The Serpent & The Sphere, have also sloughed off their mortal coil, coming face-to-face with the universe’s end:

I have peeled away layers of my humanity
No longer a being, the core of entity
For each layer reveals the key to the gates of the multiverse
…the macrocosm has revealed itself as a towering serpent spire…

And a propulsive force takes Agalloch (and you, by extension) to a place outside of all that is, and that force is John Haughm’s voice. His throat’s bilious, venomous quality lords over the instrumentation, leaving no doubt that beneath all the folk, post-rock, and doom, it is the demonic black metal influence on The Serpent & The Sphere‘s vocal performance lending urgency to celestial themes already trodden by full-on ‘space’ or ‘cosmic’ black metal bands. His new-found energy, coupled with moments of slow riff-dissonance (as on ‘Vales Beyond Dimension’), help to balance the hefty amounts of melodic guitar lines that have become the bands hallmark.

Now if Agalloch, as a band, hasn’t yet secured a spot amongst your collection already, it’s unlikely that The Serpent & The Sphere will convince you to do so, as these songs remain the pure, unfettered extrapolation of four musicians finely honing their art, without upending that which has brought them to the level they thrive in today. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you give this album it’s due diligence, for The Serpent & The Sphere represents what care, thought, skill, and attention to detail can mean for a metal album. And that is greatness. -Jim

Profound Lore

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~ by cliftonium on May 21, 2014.

One Response to “Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere”

  1. I can but agree, from my first two listens. Long-term sucker for this band, and I’m most definitely not disappointed. This is an album full of beauty and riches, which I have a feeling I’ll be enjoying more and more as time goes by. Will I ever prefer it to ‘The Mantle’? Don’t know, that album was when I first discovered Agalloch and it has a special place in my heart . Just need to see them live one day (have not yet managed to).

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