Review Summary: It's a different kind of Agalloch album, but an excellent addition to their discography nonetheless
In my eyes, the first forty minutes of The Serpent and The Sphere
is a fine representation of what Agalloch are capable of accomplishing within their music. It isn’t until the album's final breaths that it really starts to lose some steam. Nevertheless, those final moments act as a sort of intermission for the listener following the sonic induced trance brought on by the first 6 tracks. They make up, quite simply, the most mesmerizing batch of songs I’ve heard in quite some time. However, it took me a a great deal of patience to reach this conclusion.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of The Serpent and The Sphere.
The 10-minute opener ‘Birth and Death of The Pillars of Creation’ seemed a little restrained by Agalloch’s standards, never quite evolving into anything extraordinary. However, the more you hear the song, the less this sentiment seems to have any truth. It becomes clear that Agalloch are just taking their time, and perhaps more so than ever before. Each time you hear the track, it seems to reveal something to the listener they may not have grasped before. Ironically, the song’s lack of repetition is what keeps it from standing out at first. That’s not to say they never repeat the same note, but the song never stays in the same place for too long before wandering into different territory.
There are several instrumental pieces throughout the album such as ‘(Serpens Caput)’ which is sandwiched between the opening track and the aggressive nature of ‘The Astral Dialogue.’ These interludes do a fantastic job of connecting very different sounding tracks, but also add a good deal of magic to the album. '(Serpens Caput)’ is one of the most gorgeous moments to be found, as Nathanael Larochette (Musk Ox) hones in on his skills as a musician to create sounds of crashing waves and crickets chirping behind the intricate guitar-work. What follows is what can best be described as the most in-your-face song on the entire album. ‘The Astral Dialogue’ is made complete with raspy snarls, exceptional drumming, and some of the heavier riffs I’ve heard on an Agalloch release. It’s rightfully earned its place as one of the most jaw-dropping moments on the album and is sure to be a fan favorite with some of the more intimidating growls that have ever escaped John Haughm’s mouth.
The rest of The Serpent and The Sphere
follows a similar path as the first three songs, always seeming to take its time, and the result is an absolute beast of an album. I may still be having a difficult time trying to digest and understand the last two tracks, but they’re in no way bad. Unlike previous songs, however, ‘Plateau of The Ages’ does feel a bit more tedious at times as it actually follows a similar song structure throughout. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly a well constructed tune that doesn’t hinder the overall experience too much. The Serpent and the Sphere
then comes to an end with the fitting ‘(Serphens Cauda)’ which offers a gentle, yet eerie conclusion to a satisfyingly complex album.
It’s too early to say where The Serpent and The Sphere
stands in Agalloch’s impressive discography, but it’s certainly another excellent effort from the Portland, OR metal veterans. It might seem trivial to label the album as a “grower” but it really seems to be the case in the band’s latest affair. The first time I heard “The Mantle” I was instantly hooked, and even though the same can’t be said about The Serpent and The Sphere
, it promises to have just as much lasting appeal as some of the band’s best work. It may not be their most immediate album, but something about it keeps you coming back for more.