Review Summary: A complex album that seems almost too easy to enjoy.
Simplified complexity is the only way I can begin to describe Agalloch. They seem to understand, better than any other band, what they are trying to accomplish with their music. Agalloch manage to create and hold a bleak atmosphere, while progressing through nine incredible songs that all seem to flow perfectly. What's more impressive is that they accomplish this while playing music that accompanies the atmosphere, rather than trying to fit in synths that add an “Atmospheric Dynamic.”
The Mantle has a deep and epic feel to it. Layered instruments and vocals, slow burning songs that each subtly change the feeling of the music, and incredible song climaxes. The best example of their songwriting talent lies in the song, “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion.” A nice buildup beginning around the 10:20 mark leads to crashing drums, layers of instruments increasing volume, and peaking with a single sweep that transitions the song back to dissonant beauty.
The use of acoustic and clean guitars on this album is among some of the best in the genre. The acoustic guitars are rich and full, helping the album to retain a dark and folky feel. They are almost always present underneath the rest of the music, whether it's slowly strummed chords or articulately picked passages. The use of these tones allows for the leads, electric or acoustic, to really be heard in a different light and it makes the album seem more raw and real.
Part of the difficulty that lies in analyzing Agalloch is singling out the instruments among the layers and layers of music. Because of this, it me quite a while to really come to appreciate the drumming on this album. After many, many listens I can say that I have such incredible respect for the drumming behind this record. There is not one defined drumming style throughout the album. Upon singling out the drums you will be greeted with great metal chops, fantastic cymbal work, and fantastic understanding of how to play with the music and create such a dark atmosphere.
While the instrumentation is fantastic, and takes up a large portion of the album, John Haughm's vocals should not be overlooked. His snarls are unique, his cleans almost sound as if they are their own instrument, and his knowledge of how to use each aspect of his vocal talents really makes this album. They are never over, or underdone, and always fit what is going on in the song.
This album is unique, and unlike anything else in my collection. It's ambitious and complex, yet it's not a strenuous listen. Sure it's long, but it flows so easily that you won't notice. The atmosphere created at the beginning of the album remains present throughout, and doesn't grow tiresome. The instrumentation remains restrained and fitting to the feel of the album, and helps retain a rustic, folky feel to an incredible metal record. The Mantle is unlike any record I own, and while Agalloch may seem like an intimidating band, this album is worth the time.