Album: The Serpent & the Sphere
Released: May 13th 2014
Label: Profound Lore Records
Score: 7/9 Hammers
If you’ve heard of Agalloch, you’ll probably have mixed feelings regarding the news of a new album. While they produced a brilliant collection of albums in the early 2000s (and how fucking weird is it that that’s a time period I can reference?) their most recent offering, “Faustian Echoes”, was a 21 minute EP That skimmed right over epic and into unwieldy, like a dragon that’s been feasting on misled dwarves so long he can’t keep the mithril vests down long enough to breath fire. No history of impressive power can distract from a shitty present.
Thankfully then, It seems that “Faustian Echoes” was just that, A distant and faded shout from the past, and a harbinger for something far bigger; a thick glob of dragon phlegm before a mighty roar. And “The Serpent & the Sphere” is that roar. And it’s grand enough to make up for the formers’ shortcomings, and remind me why I was disappointed in the first place.
In the past Agalloch have been distinctly experimental, their various albums wandering through the fields of Death, Doom, and Black Metal, and while that’s still present here, it’s been weaved masterfully into something both refreshing and familiar, but with a folk-metal underpinning that gives the whole thing a shape and a texture that’s consistent and enjoyable. For a moment I tried to think of an earlier album it’s most like, and despite an obvious closeness with 1999’s “Pale Folklore” I’m tempted to take the pretentious way out and just say all of them. It’s the bastard son of a thousand experiments, taking the lessons from each and forgetting the mistakes. There are moments of grand, sincere rumination interspersed with direct rock-metal ballads and, fucking alarmingly, neither feels out of place. Together the two complement each other to heights rarely seen. It’s serpents and Satan, not women and apples.
Focus, though, has to be given to the fantastically named “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”. Clocking in at just over ten minutes long, it’s the album’s first and second longest song (I know. I just… I know), and a fantastically gradual sweeping thing that builds and builds to a crescendo that spends about 9 minutes being just about to happen, and then suddenly the song’s over and you’re not sure when it happened, but you’re damn sure something did. It’s a cross between tantric sex and getting mugged by hobbits in the lobby of the Hard Rock Cafe.
And it feels right at home on an album where the whole thing feels like an OST for a movie too awesome to exist.
And if you’d like to take a moment to look at when huge collections of big ideas drown in their own ambition, check out “Bound by Flame”. It’s shit.
(Authors Note; Originally this review contained the line “wandering through the fields of Death, Nu and Black Metal” which, on refection, was a fucking silly thing to say. It stems from a me mistakenly crediting Alagoch with a Nu-ish masterpiece whose name currently escapes me, but, as it turns out, pretty obviously wasn’t them.
This note is both a thank you for the guys who helped me spot this mistake, and a monument to my fuckup.
Because here at Hollywood metal we don’t try to sweep mistakes under the rug, but we do preserve the interesting ones. Partially for openness and credibility, but mostly because we find our fuckups as funny as you do)