I can honestly say I am deeply disappointed that more people don’t know the name Agalloch. Agalloch is just one of those bands I wish I had found out about years sooner. Even with their debut full-length, they showed that they weren’t just another metal band. Combining elements of folk, doom, and progressive metal while maintaining an overall atmospheric black metal core, Agalloch strives to be something unique and can be enjoyed by any metal fan. This includes even listeners who may not be fans of black metal. With each full-length becoming favorites for many and myself included, I had very high expectations for Agalloch’s fifth full-length album “The Serpent & The Sphere”. Did “The Serpent & The Sphere” live up to these expectations? Or has Agalloch ran out of fresh ideas?
Upon hearing the first single, “Celestial Effigy”, I had enjoyed the single. I knew the new album would not overly disappoint me. However, at the same time I wasn’t overly excited like I thought I would be. Upon first listen to the album in whole, I can actually say I felt quite disappointed. The material presented was in no means poor. However, nothing quite caught my attention like certain songs did off previous albums such as “Limbs” or “Falling Snow” from “Ashes Against the Grain”. However, after a few more listens “The Serpent & The Sphere” did start to click with my ears and I did enjoy it more with each listen. It took me these few listens to truly appreciate “The Serpent & The Sphere” and how atmospheric it truly is. Even more so than the previous full-length effort “Marrow of the Spirit”.
This is not an album that you can just download to your iPod, put on shuffle, listen to a few songs, and then continue on with your day. To truly understand the depth of atmospheric music, you need to listen to the entire album from start to the end. This is where I feel a lot of listeners can go wrong with this style of music and why some may not understand this album as they would with some of Agalloch’s previous efforts. “The Serpent & The Sphere” proves to be Agalloch’s most atmospheric effort to date. While “The Mantle” contains a heavy winter or even a late fall atmosphere and “Marrow of the Spirit” seemed to be the perfect album on a cold and rainy day, “The Serpent & The Sphere” incorporates a different kind of atmosphere. The album feels mystical, mysterious, multi-dimensional, and the depth of this album seems to grow larger and larger with each listen. I’ve listened to this album several times and I can say I still don’t feel like I’m truly done understanding what it is all about.
“The Serpent & The Sphere” moves a little slower compared to other Agalloch releases. The lengthy and slow opener, “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” followed along with the shorter instrumental “(Serpens Caput)” do an effective job of setting the tone. The speed starts to pick up a little bit with the third track “The Astral Dialogue”. However, “Dark Matter Gods”, the fourth song, has to be the climax of the entire album with varying tempos, warm melodic leads, and an overall dynamic song structure . Following, the album falls into a slower pace again and closes with the eight and ninth track twelve “Plateau of the Ages”, a twelve and a half-minute instrumental, and the soothing acoustic outro “(Serpens Cauda)”. “The Serpent & The Sphere” finishes in at just under an hour, roughly matching the length of all other full-lengths from Agalloch.
“The Serpent & The Sphere” did please me as a fan and I love this record just as much as any other Agalloch release. However, there is one element that did slightly disappoint me. I’ve always been strongly impacted by the range of vocal-techniques used on Agalloch records. Dominantly listeners will hear black metal rasps. On some of Agalloch’s older material, listeners would also hear a large portion of clean vocals which I was quite a fan of myself. Not to mention, the 2010 effort “Marrow of the Spirit” had an enormous diversity of vocals, some of which left a dramatic impact on me. How could listeners forget the unique clean vocals on “The Watcher’s Monolith” that resemble the voice of an older man? Or the emotion-filled, tortured howls mid-way through “Black Lake Nidstang”? With these arguably experimental vocal techniques engaged in Agalloch’s most recent full-length, I had hoped to see just as much if not more in “The Serpent & The Sphere”. Sadly, I’m afraid there weren’t any vocal performances on this album that stood out to me and gave me chills like I had heard before. Not to mention, there are hardly even appearances of Agalloch’s signature cleans. I’m a big fan of how the black metal rasps have appeared before and I still am. Although the lack of varied vocal performances do not create a significant drawback on “The Serpent & The Sphere”, finishing touches with vocal styles other than rasps may have changed a great listen into something perceived as near-perfect if not flawless.
Overall, fans will not be disappointed by Agalloch’s fifth full-length “The Serpent & The Sphere”. The album may take more than one listen to grow on the listener, so don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t appeal to you upon first listen. The album provides a unique and mysterious atmosphere for listeners and is certainly not an album to be overlooked. “The Serpent & The Sphere” is yet another phenomenal record from Agalloch and is further evidence to prove that Agalloch is leading the way in American black metal and all black metal that dares to step away from black metal’s standard formula. Agalloch fans should buy “The Serpent & The Sphere” and listeners who have not heard of the group have some new music to check out pronto.
Check out the first single “Celestial Effigy” below!