John Haughm creates haunted melodies and layered little interludes that offer the perfect counterpoint to the harsher and distorted elements.
Review by David Feltman
It’s been four years since Marrow of the Spirit, and little has changed for Agalloch’s fifth album. The band’s “folk metal” still blends massive progressive arrangements and black metal atmospherics. The music is as beautifully brooding and epically scoped as ever.
While the band’s sound hasn’t changed stylistically in its hiatus, the composition and pacing has matured substantially. Unlike Marrow, the tracks are smaller and more spaced out. The band is more willing to adjust tempo to regulate the flow of the album. Rather than assaulting fans with one 15-minute marathon of a song after another, Agalloch makes the songs more digestible. The band uses high-energy black metal blast beats in tracks like “(serpens caput)” and “The Astral Dialogue” to knock fans out of the gloomy haze of meandering monolithic track like “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation.” Likewise, the acoustic dirges offer breathing room between the snarling, angry bits, giving the album a nice balance.
Acoustic guitar is not what one might consider a particularly ”metal” instrument, but Guitarist/Vocalist John Haughm creates haunted melodies and layered little interludes that offer the perfect counterpoint to the harsher and distorted elements. Tracks like “Vales Beyond Dimension” and “Plateau of the Ages” perfectly distill everything exceptional about the band, bringing together both the light and heavy touches in a pensive behemoth compositions that effortlessly bridges one song to another. The instrumental “Plateau of the Ages is particularly dynamic, pairing itself down from grand orchestration to bare minimalism only to build itself back up again.
The Serpent & The Sphere offers as good a jumping on point for newcomers as The Mantle and Marrow of the Spirit. While Agalloch may not be offering anything substantially novel, the band has perfected all the elements that raised them to cult status.