Review Summary: an interesting idea and sound halted by odd structuring and lack of content, though still a worthy listen.
Lantlôs are one of the few exceptions in the "post-black" scene that actually do create their own style of music that is very distinct in both mood and sound. This album in particular harbors a much different sound to any of Lantlôs' previous albums and contemporaries, and the sound and ideas here are great - no questioning that. It's dark, dense but holds a very personal and endearing tone with a very interesting sound. If Nadja were to go darker and release a black metal album, it might sound a bit like this. But therein lies the reason it doesn't work as well as it should, because unlike Nadja albums, it doesn't stick around long enough to pull you in. It's 35 minutes but feels much shorter, and where albums not feeling their length is a good thing, there comes a line where it just feels like there's not enough and this album crossed it due to the album's weird pacing and the songs just never really starting.
But before I see any jokes about "and Neige sounds like an angel as always", let's clear this up - this couldn't be further from the truth. On Agape, he sounds more tortured than he ever has in his career - his screams being the highlight of the album. Some may miss the clean vocals that were in tracks like Pulse/Surreal from .neon, but I think it's a good thing that they've taken a back seat (though they do make an appearance in the last track, but very buried in the mix). It accentuates the darker tones of the album much more successfully, especially since Neige sounds so great here. No qualms with the vocals. Nor the production or instrumentation either, since they're nigh-on perfect too. The sound is dense, rich and full but never overwhelming and everything can be heard perfectly and exactly as they should be. The musicianship here and production are better than they've ever been in this band, especially since their last album sounded a little bit weak in comparison to this one.
But the album blunders when it comes to the weird pacing. It feels Herbst's sense of structuring has seriously suffered, and as a consequence many of the songs flow awkwardly or just feel as if entire sections are missing. For a 35 minute black metal album to spend more time being ambient than metal due to the inconsistent ordering of the track sections is just strange. Not only this but when we are in the more metallic sections, it spends most of its time being slow and heavily doom influenced. Which is great, doom metal is great, the idea behind this aesthetic being put into a doom context is great - but for barely half an hour it just doesn't hold up. You could say that if you didn't think of it as a black metal album you might appreciate it more, but if it's not that, what is it exactly? It harbours a sound that you're meant to get lost in but it's not around long enough to pull you in, because before you know it you're on the last track asking yourself where the rest of the album is.
But even if there were more tracks, the structuring of the longer songs are somewhat confusing. The first track for example starts with a distorted ambient introduction for a couple of minutes before entering a doom-laden section for a few minutes, then another ambient interlude, then a crushing doom section again and ending without really getting going. The next track, Bliss, is similar in structure whereby it just doesn't really go anywhere worth waiting for before ending. The two shorter tracks are pretty unmemorable and the last track is probably the best one on the album, but again, it barely comes to a conclusion, none of the compositions here do. I feel there's so much that was cut from this album in favour for slower, more intense sections and it just doesn't work for an album so short.
It's a shame because the sound is great and unique but the odd structuring of the album really lets it down. This could have potentially been Lantlôs' best album by quite a big margin but it turned out to probably be the worst. It's definitely worth a listen but I think most people will end up returning to the previous two albums far more than this one.
I know I will. :]