The Angry Scotsman
The masters of atmospheric metal are back with their latest release.
"The Serpent & the Sphere" feels like a continuation of "Ashes Against the Grain" in that Agalloch continues to drift from their black metal tendencies, (even if they were always tempered with folk and prog) with more focus on black metal aesthetics, atmosphere and song writing. While Haughm's classic raw, gravely rasps remain, there are very few blast beats to be found, and indeed the overall album has a less intense pace and feel to it. The songs are mid paced and far more subdued than their last album, "Marrow of the Spirit". In fact, I'd say "The Serpent & the Sphere" is more subdued than their overall body of work, which has never been a stranger to tremolo picked guitar work, or bludgeoning. Not to say these aspects are absent, (there's even some good ol double bass chain drumming) but there just seems to be "less" of everything, if that makes sense. A more sparse, less heavy feel to the music. Certainly less intensity, and even more acoustic/light guitar. The balance between light, melodic passages and heavy, raw passages seems to have tipped definitively towards the former.
The tone of the music itself is cleaner and lighter than "Marrow of the Spirit", which admittedly took a bit of adjustment..I am used to Agalloch loud, buzzing, fuzzy guitar noise. My natural inclination upon first hearing this is "flat" or "lacking power" but of course it just is different sounding. I personally applaud the band for the lighter style.
This is perhaps not unexpected, as Agalloch was moving progressively in this direction until they released Marrow. So maybe the style is what we should have expected, is it successful?
The songwriting as solid as ever. Textured, layered guitar work with riffs and melodies to die for, (even if they are lesser on this album than previous) and songs that move like a river, drifting but not without direction. There are a few other minor changes, such as more prominent bass, and a smidge "more" to the drumming than is typical. The songs are shorter than usual, and this album has a continuous flow to it, with segue pieces to connect the songs elegantly.
So overall, another solid, (if unspectacular) output from Agalloch, and as we know solid from them is better than most other bands could hope for. I will be sure to give this album many listens over the near future, and like all their other albums I'm sure this album will grow on me more and more.
Three and a Half Stars