Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere review

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Band: Agalloch
Album: The Serpent & The Sphere
Release date: 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.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Production: 9


Written on 13.05.2014 by R'Vannith enjoys music, he's hoping you do too.

Comments page 2 / 2

Comments: 39   Visited by: 629 users
17.05.2014 - 20:44
Account deleted
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.
17.05.2014 - 20:54
Erik M.
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.
17.05.2014 - 20:55
Account deleted
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
19.05.2014 - 03:50
Reverend X
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.
19.05.2014 - 14:41
Account deleted
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.
20.05.2014 - 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!
23.05.2014 - 11:50
no one
Account deleted
Hmm, that was a nice friday evening read
28.05.2014 - 22:19
Requires a couple of listens, but I love it!
21.08.2017 - 20:34
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
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.

Well in some way other people opinion can ruin all music, its what you should discover your self. Its how I always do.
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing

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