Rating:
8.3
Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere
13 May 2014


01. Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation
02. (Serpens Caput)
03. The Astral Dialogue
04. Dark Matter Gods
05. Celestial Effigy
06. Cor Serpentis (The Sphere)
07. Vales Beyond Dimension
08. Plateau Of The Ages
09. (Serpens Cauda)
10. Omega Serpentis [Japanese bonus]
11. Sigma Serpentis [Japanese bonus]


Agalloch have never favoured doom as forcefully as they have on The Serpent & The Sphere. So blatantly delivered, it would appear that this new resolve has completely shattered their ability and will to instil the expected level of atmosphere in their fifth full-length effort. But appearances can be deceiving.

Neofolk really has no better representative within metal than Agalloch, their definitive album The Mantle being the finest of its kind, whatever that "kind" may be as it occupies something of its own explorative niche. Their texturally cohesive yet stylistically amorphous sound is one which is fundamentally situated within atmospheric and modern recreation of folk music, without directly borrowing instrumentation from any given tradition in particular. This is achieved by way of a unique and centrally formative blend of metal's darker of elements, around which the use of acoustic and natural sound effects are arranged. The combination is usually worked in wondrous ways and lends a naturally dark mood throughout their music set into an audibly tangible environment. To be truthful the core of their sound is particularly puzzling to identify, a clear mark of the band's strong sense of self-distinction external to generics; most distinctively black, doom and obviously folk metal are the primary elements under their repertoire, as well as the particularly intriguing inclusion of post-rock. No doubt that's the reason many would label their music as "post-black" metal.

Essentially how this comes to play in The Serpent & The Sphere is that this album has less to do with neofolk instrumentation and atmosphere, and more to do with the repetition and generally slow shaping riffs of doom metal, but all with an obvious melodic inflection that frequently pulls the song writing out from any structural miring which some might label as "monotonous" or, more simply, "boring". The consistently heavy delivery and tendency for repetition in the metal finds the band holding securely to this approach, above all others. Black and, to a lesser extent, folk metal inspired guitar lines slither beneath and rise above the surface and pull the all encompassing doom aesthetic along at varied pacing. The wraith-like whispers and rasps from vocalist John Haughm require extra emphasis when used alongside the heavy guitar presence and doom bolstered melodies, and his alternation of delivery accommodates the changes appropriately. The cleans have been left to the wayside of this record, which is an unfortunate occurrence as they really have accentuated the atmosphere in the past, but then atmosphere doesn't seem to be as much of a priority here as it once was.

Under "normal" circumstances the use of acoustic would be starkly obvious, and used in such a prominent way so as to construct the natural environs within which Agalloch usually create atmosphere, topped off with such natural sound effects as the flowing water or the movements of wind. There is a certain stifling to the atmospheric aspect of this record, in comparison with prior efforts, and this may present all kinds of problems to fans of this band's music. However, and any disconcertion aside, the band are clearly adamant about one thing; the avoidance of retreading old ground and thus erring their recognition as a band that continually reinvents their sound.

Perhaps to a fault. The Serpent & The Sphere is blunt in its simple yet focused approach, and arguably more reliant on style than substance. However, the substance itself is deceptively varied throughout, despite the dominating throng of doom laden riffs and melodies. The tremolos of black metal in "Vales Beyond Dimension" can take their place in a differing form to establish a stronger and more structurally obvious post-metal presence in the midsection of the following "Plateau Of The Ages", a repetitious affair overlaid with that same blanket of doom. On the other hand, you've got the staggeringly more direct and doom breaching velocity of "The Astral Dialogue" which strikes with meteoric impact, or the bass churned "Dark Matter Gods" with appropriately acquired folk rhythmic drums.

One feature which is particularly relevant but not immediately obvious is the bass work. The well placed bass finds its way effectively within the mix, sounding audible yet buried and granting grit to the generally melodic song structures. The three shorter pieces titled "(Serpens Caput)," "Cor Serpentis (The Sphere)" and "(Serpens Cauda)," are acoustic works performed and written by folk guitarist Nathanaël Larochette, and are used as moments of clear contrast in their arrangement amongst the riff based delivery of the majority of the album.

The acoustic rarely surfaces noticeably elsewhere, save in "The Astral Dialogue" or in some heightening strums in the introductory ascension to the midsection of "Plateau Of The Ages." An Agalloch characteristic is the interspersing of said acoustic, which doesn't occur here as the tracks are distinctively differentiated between those of meatier riff driven packages and the album's three acoustic pieces. As a result there is less to this album than usual that can be called neofolk or, indeed, folk metal.

The atmosphere Agalloch have created with The Serpent & The Sphere is a rather different one. It's not nearly as immersive as you would expect, and comes across as second best to the metallic drive and heavy direction which dominates the record. The theme is indicative of the change; Agalloch have harnessed particular elements of their sound and projected them in a familiar yet distinctly forward way. This album adds yet another unique representation of their sound to their varied discography.

Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Production: 9


Band profile: Agalloch
Album: The Serpent & The Sphere


 



Written on 13.05.2014 by
R'Vannith
R'Vannith enjoys music, he's hoping you do too.
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Alex Fenger - 13.05.2014 at 16:34  
Really damn good review. I don't necessarily agree with all of it (I seem to love this album quite a bit more than you), but you pretty much explained it perfectly. Nicely done
Apothecary - 13.05.2014 at 16:50  
Lot of words here dude! But in depth and to the point, as usual

I have yet to listen to it in full, got about halfway through the other day before I had to run errands, but from what I heard so far, it's a bit of a love/hate relationship, I'd probably give it a 7 for the moment. Indeed, the music does feel more heavy and monotonous, and that goes a long way towards (as you suggested) diminishing the more atmospheric, all-encompassing sound that's become their trademark. I appreciate the band for consistently re-inventing themselves, but one of the biggest things that's making it hard for me to enjoy this is the lack of clean vocals, and those whispers just don't really capture the power of delivery that The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain tracks had. Guess the best way to enjoy this one is to just try to go into it without any set expectations. I've learned that doing so is a good way to piss yourself off with bands that are always changing their sound.
Dima - 13.05.2014 at 17:13  
Written by Apothecary on 13.05.2014 at 16:50

Lot of words here dude! But in depth and to the point, as usual

I have yet to listen to it in full, got about halfway through the other day before I had to run errands, but from what I heard so far, it's a bit of a love/hate relationship, I'd probably give it a 7 for the moment. Indeed, the music does feel more heavy and monotonous, and that goes a long way towards (as you suggested) diminishing the more atmospheric, all-encompassing sound that's become their trademark. I appreciate the band for consistently re-inventing themselves, but one of the biggest things that's making it hard for me to enjoy this is the lack of clean vocals, and those whispers just don't really capture the power of delivery that The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain tracks had. Guess the best way to enjoy this one is to just try to go into it without any set expectations. I've learned that doing so is a good way to piss yourself off with bands that are always changing their sound.


Having positive expectations is a good way to end up crestfallen.

Also nice review!
R'Vannith - 13.05.2014 at 18:24  
Thanks for the kind words guys.

Written by Apothecary on 13.05.2014 at 16:50

Lot of words here dude! But in depth and to the point, as usual


I think I did rant on a bit, but hopefully it gets my point across.

And I'd agree, it's always a good thing to minimise expectations, and just let the music do its work, for better or worse.
Cynic Metalhead - 13.05.2014 at 20:36  
Good review.

Will be checking out disc soon.
Erik M. - 13.05.2014 at 22:02  
Very good review, albeit a bit on the long side.

As I already said multiple times, this album is a slight disappointment to me, as I expected a masterpiece like Ashes Against the Grain and The Mantle. Oh, and I incline to agree with your review score, more or less.

The fact that this album is much less atmospheric than their previous albums, as well as the lack of clean vocals, are things I dislike about it. The immersive atmosphere that they're known for isn't really present here. Or maybe it is, but it isn't sucking me in like AAtG and The Mantle do. It all sounds a bit more monotonous and heavy (like Che already said). Then again, only 6 spins so far, so will be spinning it quite a few times to judge it properly.
UnknownCheese - 14.05.2014 at 00:07  
Haven't heard Faustian Echoes, but that one aside this album is their worst by a landslide. Everything about it just comes off as tired. It's not that the album is bad, it just lacks any sort of atmosphere and the band sounds like their on autopilot.
Ozman - 14.05.2014 at 01:57  
Sorry but this is not a good review since it is way too long. 500 words max it should have been. And that would have sufficed.
Teravolt_Danny - 14.05.2014 at 02:08  
Written by Ozman on 14.05.2014 at 01:57

Sorry but this is not a good review since it is way too long. 500 words max it should have been. And that would have sufficed.


The ultimate authority on everything has spoken. Everyone stop commenting, now. Especially if you disagree.
Troy Killjoy - 14.05.2014 at 02:13  
All sarcasm aside, I actually agree with Marcel. I don't think it's a bad review, but it's almost twice as long as the maximum word length. I don't even think Rozz managed that.

But you did manage to describe the album very well. I haven't listened to it yet but I feel like I know exactly what I'm in for based on your review.
deadone - 14.05.2014 at 02:22  
I think it's a very well written review but could've done with some condensing.
titmo71 - 14.05.2014 at 02:31  
Not sure about all the negative hubbub, but me likey this one alot, and I for one am glad they didn't pad this album out with "atmospheric" parts. I'm very tired of listening to babblin' brooks and chirping birds...get to the music already!
Opethian - 14.05.2014 at 02:33  
What i love about Reviews is that its someones Genuine opinions and Thoughts. Nice review i just ordered this last night. I forgot all about this release. Im hoping for something stronger this time around
Draven Edge - 14.05.2014 at 22:37  
Well....Agalloch has become one of my favorite bands over the last few years, I look forward to their new material, they are one of the few bands I can think of that haven't created material I 'didn't' like. That's rare...even some of my lifelong favorites like King Diamond and Megadeth have produced material that makes me cringe. I enjoy all Agalloch's material and this album is no different. A lot of people (apparently) didn't enjoy Faustian Echoes, but I thought it too was excellent. I think if you like Agalloch's material, you'll appreciate this release.
I'm glad we live in Agallochean times.....
Ace Frawley - 15.05.2014 at 05:59  
Review was much too long, but appreciate it anyway.
-DC-002- - 15.05.2014 at 09:27  
I agree on the length being a bit long but it was fun to read and defined the album well. Shows good appreciation for the music and language as well. The album is a good one...
Daniell - 15.05.2014 at 15:02  
Written by Ace Frawley on 15.05.2014 at 05:59

Review was much too long, but appreciate it anyway.


Do you avoid certain books because they're too long?
Ace Frawley - 16.05.2014 at 13:16  
Written by Daniell on 15.05.2014 at 15:02

Written by Ace Frawley on 15.05.2014 at 05:59

Review was much too long, but appreciate it anyway.


Do you avoid certain books because they're too long?


Yes, yes I do.
Daniell - 16.05.2014 at 14:09  
Written by Ace Frawley on 16.05.2014 at 13:16

Yes, yes I do.


Seriously? I feel for you.
Demonic Tutor - 17.05.2014 at 05:27  
Great review, I - for one - didn't mind the length at all. It's an Agalloch album, lots to talk about. I respect that. Congrats on a 100 reviews by the way. Keep writing
Ace Frawley - 17.05.2014 at 06:43  
Written by Daniell on 16.05.2014 at 14:09

Written by Ace Frawley on 16.05.2014 at 13:16

Yes, yes I do.


Seriously? I feel for you.


Yep, but don't feel sorry for me mate. I've got a very busy life. Reading big books isn't something I have time for with a 2 1/2 year old who demands a lot of attention and a busy job. I used to have much more time when I was younger to indulge my reading. I still read every day though.
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 16:59  
Written by Ozman on 14.05.2014 at 01:57

Sorry but this is not a good review since it is way too long. 500 words max it should have been. And that would have sufficed.


It is too long, but it describes the album very well and it's well-written. So it's still a good review I'd say.

I do get the 500 max words "rule", but would you say there's also a minimum amount of words for a review? I've seen some of your reviews for example (Lords of Metal), which are pretty short usually. Don't get me wrong, I like shorter reviews more than longer ones in general, I'm just wondering if there's a rule of 100 words minimum per review or something. Btw, I was curious and actually counted the words for one review of yours (I deliberately picked a very short one ) and it was a little above 100 words, hence why I came up with that amount.
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 17:02  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 16:59

I do get the 500 max words "rule", but would you say there's also a minimum amount of words for a review?

I believe the MS rules state that reviews should be between 250 and 500 words.
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 17:06  
Written by !J.O.O.E.! on 17.05.2014 at 17:02

I believe the MS rules state that reviews should be between 250 and 500 words.


Ah I see. Thanks for clearing that up. That rule definitely doesn't apply to reviews on Lords of Metal, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure most of Marcel's (and Pim's, from Officium Triste) are under 250 words. But reading short reviews is something I'd do more easily than the longer ones, so for me it's actually a good thing most of the time. Then again, longer reviews are usually more detailed than the short ones.
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 17:08  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 17:06


Ah I see. Thanks for clearing that up. That rule definitely doesn't apply to reviews on Lords of Metal, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure most of Marcel's (and Pim's, from Officium Triste) are under 250 words. But reading short reviews is something I'd do more easily than the longer ones, so for me it's actually a good thing most of the time. Then again, longer reviews are usually more detailed than the short ones.

Compared to some reviews out there this Agalloch one is short. Some ramble on for paragraphs and paragraphs. Needless to say I don't read them (though I don't read any reviews anyway).
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 17:15  
Written by !J.O.O.E.! on 17.05.2014 at 17:08

Compared to some reviews out there this Agalloch one is short. Some ramble on for paragraphs and paragraphs. Needless to say I don't read them (though I don't read any reviews anyway).


I only read reviews of albums that I'm really interested in, and even then not always, so in reality I don't often read reviews. This one was an exception because this album was one of my most anticipated releases.
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 17:16  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 17:15


I only read reviews of albums that I'm really interested in, and even then not always, so in reality I don't often read reviews. This one was an exception because this album was one of my most anticipated releases.

I find listening to a song on youtube or bandcamp or whatever much more useful than a review. I guess I'm just not interested in other people's opinions when it comes to music.
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 17:19  
Written by !J.O.O.E.! on 17.05.2014 at 17:16

I find listening to a song on youtube or bandcamp or whatever much more useful than a review. I guess I'm just not interested in other people's opinions when it comes to music.


That's odd considering one of MS's purposes is to discuss music...
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 17:22  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 17:19


That's odd considering one of MS's purposes is to discuss music...

I find forum discussion quite different from reviews. A review is more like a concrete statement but entertainment oriented. Forums are better for idea exchange and actual discussion. So a more accurate way of putting it is that I'm just not interested in people's reviews.
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 17:24  
Written by !J.O.O.E.! on 17.05.2014 at 17:22

I find forum discussion quite different from reviews. A review is more like a concrete statement but entertainment oriented. Forums are better for idea exchange and actual discussion. So a more accurate way of putting it is that I'm just not interested in people's reviews.


Yeah, that makes sense. The statement of you not being interested in other people's opinions just sounded strange, but I get that you're not interested in reviews.
Cynic Metalhead - 17.05.2014 at 20:38  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 17:24

Written by !J.O.O.E.! on 17.05.2014 at 17:22

I find forum discussion quite different from reviews. A review is more like a concrete statement but entertainment oriented. Forums are better for idea exchange and actual discussion. So a more accurate way of putting it is that I'm just not interested in people's reviews.


Yeah, that makes sense. The statement of you not being interested in other people's opinions just sounded strange, but I get that you're not interested in reviews.


I think Joe is little bit ignorant there. His post came out be bit childish. Anyway, for me any kind of (intresting)discsussion anywhere becomes a good idea exchange and actual discussion. You don't need to nitpick any place for that. Be it review, Article, Forums, Facebook, hell even on Twitter sometimes or even any verbal volleys.

Saying you don't give a damn about someone's reviews is fine but you can't just knock it off revieww section from forums. Forums has their own taste.
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 20:44  
I don't know what Cynic is going on about. If I don't want to read reviews because I don't find them useful or entertaining then that's my business. Nothing to do with ignorance. It's far easier to start a discussion elsewhere in the forum for me because it's a neutral ground about the music, not about a specific opinion on that music. I also never even implied that reviews should be removed so again, I have no idea what you're on about. You're putting words in my mouth.
Erik M. - 17.05.2014 at 20:54  
I agree with/understand what Joe said, but saying "I guess I'm just not interested in other people's opinions when it comes to music" was wrong since you meant specifically reviews.
!J.O.O.E.! - 17.05.2014 at 20:55  
Written by Erik M. on 17.05.2014 at 20:54

I agree with/understand what Joe said, but saying "I guess I'm just not interested in other people's opinions when it comes to music" was wrong since you meant specifically reviews.

Yeah that was a poor choice of words. Though I genuinely don't really care about people's reviews, so there is an element of truth there
Reverend X - 19.05.2014 at 03:50  
Does anyone have tried listening to atmospheric black with a downers in their system?

Wow. Agalloch provides you the best adventure to the dark forest.
I'm their new fan right now.
deadone - 19.05.2014 at 04:26  
Written by Ace Frawley on 17.05.2014 at 06:43

I have time for with a 2 1/2 year old who demands a lot of attention and a busy job. I used to have much more time when I was younger to indulge my reading. I still read every day though.



Totally relate. Small children tend to put a brake on a lot of hobbies.

I used to be an avid reader but just can't be bothered right now as life is mainly paid work/house work/look after kid.
deadone - 19.05.2014 at 04:33  
Written by Cynic Metalhead on 17.05.2014 at 20:38


. Anyway, for me any kind of (intresting)discsussion anywhere becomes a good idea exchange and actual discussion. You don't need to nitpick any place for that. Be it review, Article, Forums, Facebook, hell even on Twitter sometimes or even any verbal volleys.

Saying you don't give a damn about someone's reviews is fine but you can't just knock it off revieww section from forums. Forums has their own taste.



I think the reviews themselves act as a catalyst for discussion.

Also not giving a damn about someone's reviews also implies not giving a damn about people's opinions in general. After all a review is effectively an opinion.

Hence what's the point of discussing if one doesn't care about other people's opinions? In that instance one is merely putting their own belief across with no intention to discuss. (Yeah, I do this sometimes and so do certain other people on this forum).
!J.O.O.E.! - 19.05.2014 at 14:41  
Written by deadone on 19.05.2014 at 04:33

I think the reviews themselves act as a catalyst for discussion.

Also not giving a damn about someone's reviews also implies not giving a damn about people's opinions in general. After all a review is effectively an opinion.

Hence what's the point of discussing if one doesn't care about other people's opinions? In that instance one is merely putting their own belief across with no intention to discuss. (Yeah, I do this sometimes and so do certain other people on this forum).

Yes, it may imply that I don't care about people's opinion but you know, I am the 8th highest commenter on Metal Storm so clearly I'm doing something right if I'm still here and interacting with people (hell, I've only ever been blocked by one person who couldn't hack it). It's an oversimplification to prematurely conclude that I'm here just to talk at people based on the fact I don't read reviews. The simple reason is that I know my own tastes extremely well and have a system of discovering music for myself and reviews just aren't a useful component of that system. In any light there's far more to forums than people trying to convince others to listen to something they like. I long since stopped using MS for music discovery, bar the odd suggestions from someone I know has tastes that coincide with my own (again, infinitely more useful than a review off a random). Album and the general forum threads are much better discussion areas than reviews I find and the interesting topics are to be found there. Personal preference dude. There are no rules anywhere, social or otherwise, that say I have to read reviews, but if you want to continue believing in a limited and rather sanctimonious fallacy then that's your personal preference. Aye.
theembryo - 20.05.2014 at 09:31  
I am of firm belief that this is a masterpiece release. Besides Avatarium's this is a personal favourite, brilliant Atmospheric Black Metal. Bravo to the PNW Band, and to R'Vannith for a good review!
no one - 23.05.2014 at 11:50  
Hmm, that was a nice friday evening read
greg_lecter - 28.05.2014 at 22:19  
Requires a couple of listens, but I love it!

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