Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Record Label: Profound Lore
Consider for a second just how long Agalloch have been around. The Portland metal outfit has been a band since 1995, and even though they've only put out five proper full lengths up to this point, each of them is big and powerful enough to give off the impression that these guys are seasoned veterans in the genre, and in all reality they really are. So when I say that their fifth full length, The Serpent & The Sphere, finds the band slipping into a bit of a comfort zone, that's meant to come off as a compliment. Never before has comfort sounded so massive, and Agalloch prove that there's value in refining areas you've already explored.
Much of The Serpent & The Sphere does little to stray from the neofolk, progressive black and doom metal hybrid they've come to perfect over the years. What it does give us is a whole new batch of Agalloch songs, each one full with their own twists and turns that aim to keep the listener on the edge of their seat as the sonic bursts of energy threaten to tear these songs apart at the seams. The 10-minute opener “Birth and Death of the Pillars” gently lures you in before crashing down and making way for the dense atmospheres that nearly swallow you whole. These long, drawn out builds and releases are the kinds of songs that Agalloch excel at, with the album highlight “Plateau of the Ages” closing things out with an epic that comes complete with blistering guitar riffs and aggressive solos that carry the song into the upper echelon of Agalloch's discography.
Another thing that Agalloch pulls off astonishingly well here is the use of purely acoustic interludes that give breaks between the more brash tracks. “(Sirens Caput),” “Cor Serpentis (The Sphere),” and “(Serpens Cauda)” appear at the beginning, middle, and end respectively, with each acoustic performance carrying over themes from the last, giving a real sense of unity and cohesion to the rest of the record. Things are never too quiet for too long though, and these songs all pale in comparison in terms of length to the rest of the record. The shortest song here is the 5-minute “The Astral Dialogue,” and even then the doom infused rocker doesn't let up even once, stretching it's heavy riffs on and on into increasingly volatile blast beats. These guys are no strangers of heavy, and here they tend to go all out more often than not. Still, songs like “Vales Beyond Dimension” show a good amount of restraint when it immediately pulls back from a strong build up toward the end before once again blowing up in your face.
Again, much of what you find here could be easily found on Marrow of the Spirit, which may still stand as Agalloch's strongest work, but The Serpent & The Sphere has enough flashes of fresh ideas and perfect refinements of old ones to make it stand out in an already extremely notable discography. Given the rise in popularity these guys have steadily garnered over the last few years, it would be no surprise if The Serpent & The Sphere starts to expand their fan base even further, and it has all of the right things going for it to make anyone even slightly interested in metal sit up and take notice.
I guess I just never noticed them being posted about here before. I'm not too surprised, you guys have been doing an increasingly better job of covering worthwhile black metal. Band is awesome, keep up the good work.