Review Summary: Mostly devoid of passion and emotional depth, Agalloch's latest outing fails to deliver any sense of feeling or satisfaction despite some moments of greatness.
When it comes to progression and maturity, every band proves to be different, with some bands releasing some of their best work in their younger days. Agalloch exists as one of those bands because of how they released three masterful albums in a row which is quite admirable and difficult to accomplish. Pale Folklore
was an exceptional debut with its black metal/progressive metal vibe, but The Mantle
is where the band truly came into their own. Boasting undeniably imaginative music with a unique combination of post metal, black metal and folk. It was atmospheric metal at its finest and the record truly made the listener realize the epitome of what music as an art is meant to accomplish: make us feel. Ashes Against the Grain
continued the consistency in a much heavier light, but nonetheless capitalized on making yet another evocative masterpiece just like its predecessor. However, Marrow of the Spirit
was where the band began to falter and their latest outing, The Serpent and the Sphere
, only continues the trend to a greater extent. In interviews, the band has expressed how recently when they record they are never in the same room with each other due to living in long distance locations and their other jobs. Unfortunately, this lack of unification really shows here with songs that often drag and the band’s worst production yet.
Right from the start, the album begins to drag with “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” recycling the same string of simplistic, unimaginative guitar riffs over and over again. The pace of the song is way too slow for its own good and immediately loses the listener. Lots of the emotional depth and substance that made albums like The Mantle
and Ashes Against the Grain
gets lost in the indulgent repetition and song lengths that fool the listener into thinking that there will be any sense of progression, but no dice. “Plateau of the Ages” exists as another offender with nearly nothing going on in the track to justify its nearly twelve and a half minute song length. The beginning buildup of the track is dragged out way too long and the payoff proves to be nothing short of disappointing. Songs this long need to have the proper “oomph” so to speak with instrumentals that take us places and a vibe that truly brings the emotions, but “Plateau of the Ages” sadly doesn't deliver in that regard. Instead, the listener gets a weightless waste of time filled with shamefully boring guitar riffs, drumming and bass that get lost in the mix, and a complete lack of John Haughm’s fantastic vocals. These two songs mentioned here the worst the record has to offer and seriously compel the listener to skip them.
Unfortunately, the band also plagued The Serpent and the Sphere
with some of their worst production yet. Songs like “Celestial Effigy” and “Dark Matter Gods” seem to center themselves around John’s trademark sinister whispers as well as well done guitar work, but with these center pieces comes a price to pay. The common trend with this album is that the bass work and drumming gets lost in the mix. With the exception of some occasional flashes of brilliance, Aesop Dekker’s drumming either acts as being extremely uninspired or is way too low in the mix. His drumming simply has no weight for it to even appreciate for most of the record. However, with Jason William Walton’s bass there exists another problem. The deep sound of the bass proves to be nothing short of muddy and within the overall sound of Agalloch, this simply does not work and only manages to jar the listener.
Thankfully, out of all of the actual songs on The Serpent and the Sphere
, “The Astral Dialogue” delivers in every regard and offers the album’s most engaging work. Aesop finally gets a chance to shine here with some truly compelling percussion as well as memorable guitar work that stays in your head for days without end. In addition to this being a masterful song, Nathanaël Larochette of Musk Ox adds in his two sense with some pleasant acoustic guitar work in the three interludes. His folky acoustic guitar gives the album a quick taste of emotional depth and atmosphere just when the listener will think it’s completely devoid of it.
It’s a true shame that four years after they released an album that somewhat dragged, we get yet another one that drags to an even greater extent. Gone are the truly wonderful, evocative combination of folk and black metal of The Mantle
and the heaviness of Ashes Against the Grain
that actually made us feel in addition to having an exhilarating atmosphere. Whether or not the band has lost all of their luster has yet to be determined due to how incredible “The Astral Dialogue” was, but their song writing talent definitely should be called into question with their fifth outing. The tedious moments heavily outweigh the somewhat abundant moments that could be called great. Though it has its fair share of greatness, The Serpent and the Sphere
is mostly devoid of passion and is one of the biggest misfires of the year.