Agalloch
The Serpent and the Sphere


2.0
poor

Review

by Kyle Ward STAFF
May 11th, 2014 | 577 replies


Release Date: 05/13/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Planting a seed of doubt

There is a colossal amount of construction going on within the tunes of The Serpent & the Sphere, as the instruments time and again revisit the drive to create massive atmosphere and big soundscapes. The problem is, however, that Agalloch did not seem to recognize the importance or even the existence of this insatiable appetite for larger emotion, and rather fumble around with conceptually soaked songwriting kindling that can never light the whole track ablaze. It was, in a much smaller and more localized way, an issue on Marrow of the Spirit, but with The Serpent & the Sphere it feels like the album is consumed by this volatile mix of songwriting laziness, far-reaching pretension, and plain old lack of ideas. There are plenty of riffs, just most of them aren't very good, and even in more lumbering numbers like the ever-building “The Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” there is, in a way, a sense of movement, but a distinctly circular one. Once the track slips back into silence it never really took us on any tangible journey, but instead felt content with treading the same path and returning at once to the point from whence it came. That’s the nature of Agalloch’s songwriting on The Serpent & the Sphere, a distinctly uneventful romp through some dim musical passageways that show little creative flavor or emotional color.

It is true that tracks like “The Astral Dialogue” or “Celestial Effigy” do depart from this cyclical hemorrhaging, with the former especially being a ripping, heavy affair that is instantly the most memorable piece on the entire record simply because the track is constantly re-inventing itself. Rather than learning from past successes, where perpetual tempo shifts, stylistic variation, emotional depth, or even a slight showing of instrumental flair led Agalloch to release at the very least 3 masterpieces, they opt to throw it all away in favor of an approach that focuses on balls-deep simplicity and monotone atmosphere. You can see the attempt to mimic the success of “The Hawthorne Passage” in “Plateau of the Ages”, but instead of being filled with mournful acoustics and wayward melodies we are instead left with a 12-minute instrumental nearly devoid of dynamics. Riffs swell in and fade out during the build, and by the time the guitars rise above the muddy production it is no surprise that it all comes to crescendo in no bombastic fashion through the implementation of a simple, wailing guitar line that is neither complex nor emotional. It’s the equivalent of musical blue balls, and it happens repeatedly throughout The Serpent & the Sphere, where the instruments beg to be released and crave for a moment of true Agalloch creativity, but the band stubbornly and frustratingly never allow them the songwriting breadth to do so.

The result is an album that is being asphyxiated by an extremely strong hand, and that proves to be the death of it all. Even when Nathanaël Larochette of Musk Ox is allowed to let his self-composed and performed acoustic interludes rain some atmosphere on the album, it is all stolen away by counterparts that refuse to accent them. The dancing strings prove less effective when they are coupled next to Agalloch’s suffocated acoustic guitars which are swallowed in the mix rather than left to breathe with ample space. When drawing parallels between the acoustic work on The Mantle or their neofolk EP The White the steel and nylon string acoustic guitars sound so much more alive and far more radiant, rather than a simple afterthought or attempt to inject some form of emotion into otherwise barren tracks. Even the drumming is less aggressive, and given Agalloch’s recent enjoyment of loud drum mixes it all sounds benign or worse: swallowed. Only on “The Astral Dialogue” do they pack any punch, thundering below the bellowing, doomy melodies with perfection. That’s par for the course on The Serpent & the Sphere, though, with Agalloch seemingly unaware that their compositions sound not like the band that released any of their first three albums, or even the band that released Marrow of the Spirit. It is Agalloch sounding like the multitudes of acts that attempted to capture the magic of their very unique sound, only to make it obvious that they didn’t have the songwriting talent to do so.

That is what makes The Serpent & the Sphere the most un-Agalloch album they have ever made. Only “Celestial Effigy” sounds like a traditional Agalloch tune, with the rest forming some avant-garde mishmash of awkward structures, forgotten crescendos, and painfully dreary riffing. Part of what brought this band such a striking sound was their ability to nuance riffs in a way that hides the fact that the band is not nearly the most technical act out there. Technicality was not necessary when the songwriting was so masterful, but with The Serpent & the Sphere there is neither technicality nor compositional prowess. That leaves the album as a muddy, one-dimensional plod that reveals all it has to offer by the time the third track has concluded. “Dark Matter Gods” and “Vales Beyond Dimension” could even be called filler given their inability to add anything noteworthy to the album’s already thin repertoire of tricks, and by the time an hour has passed and the album finally exits the only truly spectacular moments happened almost a half hour ago.

The concept behind The Serpent & the Sphere could have proven to be a prosperous place to begin with, especially in the hands of a band that have proven they know a thing or two about executing on an idea and bringing visions to life in aural form, but those visions never even begin to take shape here. It is a resounding flop for a band so used to being without fault at all. Many will claim the album to be subtle, that it will take time to plant its roots and grow into something sturdy and lasting, but I claim the opposite. The seed was never planted in first place, and was not given to opportunity to root itself and become another The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain. No, that seed was washed down the river along with the dynamics, wonderful melodies, heartfelt emotion, airy clean vocals, unexpected songwriting twists, and truly innovative thinking that Agalloch let wash away during the creation of The Serpent & the Sphere.




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user ratings (358)
Chart.
3.4
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

and there we have it

Jacquibim
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


15203 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

So it begins.

Digging: Blaspherian - Upon The Throne of Eternal Blasphemous Death

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


6560 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Been waiting for this review for a few days now, looking forward to reading it. The rating looks almost correct so that's good.

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16131 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"a distinctly uneventful romp through some dim musical passageways that show little creative flavor or emotional color."

pretty much sums it up

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

can't wait to see how this thread is gonna go

http://i.imgur.com/5c5I4Y5.gif

Greyvy
May 11th 2014


5090 Comments


Been waiting for this review for a few days now, looking forward to reading it. The rating looks almost correct so that's good.


you say that as if your rating is the correct one

Digging: Various Artists - Nippon Girls - Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova

oltnabrick
May 11th 2014


31552 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

fuck this band and every one who love 'em

Digging: Chief Keef - Nobody

fromtheinside
May 11th 2014


19148 Comments


damn, that first paragraph. i grew to love marrow and didn't find it anywhere near as lazy as you did but damn....... a second straight 2 from you :/

Digging: Bolt Thrower - ...For Victory

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


6560 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I was just casually almost agreeing with the rating, Greyvy, don't read too deep into my comment lol

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Marrow is a 2.5, markedly better than this. Faustian Echoes was a 3.5 though, I really enjoyed that.

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


6560 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

The problem is, however, that Agalloch did not seem to recognize the importance or even the
existence of this insatiable appetite for larger emotion, and rather fumble around with conceptually
soaked songwriting kindling that can never light the whole track ablaze. It was, in a much smaller and
more localized way, an issue on Marrow of the Spirit


Hmmm, I didn't get that impression at all on Marrow. Love that album, actually.

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

As I said, it was more localized to individual sections of a song rather than whole songs, for the
most part. "To Drown" is a huge culprit though.

fromtheinside
May 11th 2014


19148 Comments


i thought marrow succeeded at what it was trying to accomplish. its bare bones approach and
questionable production aside, it was a nice detour from the usual agalloch. this just sounds
like failed experimentation though which has me worried

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


6560 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

As I said, it was more localized to individual sections of a song rather than whole songs, for
the most part. "To Drown" is a huge culprit though.


Ok, I can see that. I suppose "To Drown" is kind of too self-indulgent for its own good, but it never
dragged like the songs on this album.

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

marrow was very obviously an agalloch album, this one is not so obvious

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

also let's talk about how poor that clean guitar solo is in the first track

fromtheinside
May 11th 2014


19148 Comments


gonna jam this tonight. i hope you're wrong!!! i mean, the single released wasn't that bad

fromtheinside
May 11th 2014


19148 Comments


but if it's one of the highlights.......................................................................................................

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16478 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

it's the second best song

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16131 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

interesting you mention the technicality aspect, i really enjoy some of their stuff and it always struck me as pretty basic but yes you are right it didnt matter because the songs were so good



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