Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere
Label: Profound Lore Records
Reviewer: Tarek - 2014-05-29
When I look to the calendar I can't believe that four long years have passed since the American Blackened Folk Metal masters AGALLOCH released their previous "Marrow of the Spirit", and the moment I got my hands on their fifth full-length album "The Serpent & the Sphere", all these years were wiped of my mind. I got back to the last riff I heard in "To Drown", whose marching drum line and sea sounds still echoes in my mind. Between these two albums, AGALLOCH had a very unique experiment entitled "Faustian Echoes", which is a twenty minute one track EP of pure epicness that reflected with the 2010 album much loyalty to the older blackened roots of the band, unlike "Ashes Against the Grain" or the "White" EP, which left me in great anticipation for their next creation and as always, they never fail the surprise me.
The story starts with a 10-minute masterpiece "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" taking off - in the first half of it - with a doomy guitar harmonization over a marching drum line and choirs, combined with Haughm's agonizing vocals before his shivering scream, marking the beginning of the world creation and a more melodic guitar solo and industrial sound effects, which echoes to the first interlude "Serpens Caput".
Our next step in the journey in "The Astral Dialogue" shows an acute detour towards a more aggressive blackened aspect of the album, with faster alternative picking riffs and a more intense drumming and harsh vocals that will get you drown in the story. And that attitude continues in "Dark Matter Gods", which begins with an amazing bass and drum riff, then shows many ups and downs along the track, with many slow breaks leading to fast verses and vise versa, with alot of misleading ascension in tempos and sudden break downs after it to keep you waiting for the next riff.
That mixture becomes understandable once you follow the story reflecting nihilism & chaos, and ending this play with one of the album's best solos, paving the path to “Celestial Effigy”, which they choose to pre-release before the album and they choose well because it shows great guitar arpeggios and lead lines balancing between many styles, from the folk roots to the Black Metal ones to even some clearly Rock touches in the guitar work!!!
And as always, these guys give me some of my most joyful moments reading their well written lyrics and living the spheres they create record after record and this verse simply describes AGALLOCH and almost all their music, the sound of the darkest yet the most mystical places ever.
"There is a voice deep in the darkest places
calling... haunting me...
Where no light bears a shadowed
Where no time escapes unhallowed"
This amazing journey comes to an end with one of AGALLOCH most interesting tracks ever, a thirteen-minute instrumental that carried alot of their heritage, with some new twists as Post Rock and Experimental influence there can't be missed with grieving lead line marking the end of the road, playing on Rock tones on some times and doomy chords in other places and giving birth to a more interesting sound, telling this record probably won't be the last of AGALLOCH amazing ability bouncing between sounds and genres, yet they always show how able they are to come out perfect and maintain a solid well manufactured product.
Between these main tracks of the album, we see that the folk influence has grown once again, courtesy of Nathanaël Larochette, guitarist of the Ontario based Neo-Folk group MUSK OX, who contributed to the album by three acoustic interludes which were absolutely magnificent and took me back to the old picture this band created in my mind, which was still their biggest achievement in my eyes, because they succeeded in drawing a little bit different image in their fans head about winter and nature from the cold dead ice deserts reflected by the Scandinavian bands, but a rather this mysterious endless forests that is so horrifying and charming at the same time.
The record also shows a comeback to regular instruments as guitars and normal percussion, not like "Marrow of the Spirit", which showed many orchestral elements and sound effects, but they come back this time with much meaner heavier thick rhythmic guitars sound than ever having Don Anderson special signature on them, combined with "Aesop Dekker" drum lines, who was without doubt the hero of the album, as they continue establishing a more mature unique style and sound to their music, and Dekker seems to be having a great deal with this growth and in shaping their musical direction, through the seven years he has been with the band, through his vision and lines where he dances between straight forward furious Black Metal-directed percussion, to a Folky sentimental and even Jazzy at some times sound.
Although John Haughm deprived us from his clean vocals which I absolutely love since "The Mantle", his harsh shivering snaky screams and creepy whispers gave me more than what I was asking for, and the only down aspect was the mixing, that shaded many parts to a vague ambiguous whispers and without that it would have been one of John's best acts ever. This mixing problem continues to affect the lead guitar lines, burying it sometimes under the effects and rhythmic sound.
AGALLOCH seems fresh, unprecedented and never became tired of their long 20 years musical journey and they are still capable of coming up with new ideas and composing great music, reshaping the boundaries of music record after record. My own advice to every metal-fan out there, is to go outside the world in a clear sky night and take one hour of his time to join AGALLOCH along this spiritual journey through the creation of this Cosmic play, guided by our ancestors' vision and wisdom, revealing your very own layers of existence, mind and soul.