Thursday, May 15, 2014

Agalloch - The Serpent and the Sphere (2014)
When I heard Agalloch were trying out a space theme rather than their traditional nature/winter theme, I was very excited. "Marrow of the Spirit" was great but it showed signs of a band aging and starting to run out of ideas. A change was indeed in order. Unfortunately though, it seems Agalloch's musical abilities were not up to par for this change. Much of this album feels tedious, repetitive, and downright boring. Take the opener "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" for example. It's probably the first time they've Agalloch have attempted a straight-up doom metal song and I have to applaud them for that but it could have been so much stronger by either cutting it in half or adding more variation. The song kinda plods along and I find it difficult to emotionally connect with it in any way. The same goes for "Plateau of the Ages." It's 12.5 minute long metal instrumental whose most interesting feature is perhaps the cool drum beat. Every time I listen to it I think about Agalloch's other metal instrumental, "The Hawthorne Passage,"and how much better it is. Then take "Dark Matter Gods." That song has so much potential but it far too repetitive and unnecessarily long to stand anywhere near Agalloch's best songs. On the plus side, you have "Vales Beyond Dimensions" which features an excellent dark, doomy lead melody that fits the space theme perfectly. Then there's the lead single "Celestial Effigy" which is the most dynamic, progressive track on the album. It's the kind of song that keeps your attention throughout. "Astral Dialogue" is not only one of the most aggressive songs Agalloch have penned, but it's also my favorite song on the album. It's a perfect blend of doom and black metal, and it features the unique songwriting the band are famous for, something sorely lacking elsewhere on "The Serpent and the Sphere." Another positive feature is the lyrics which are fantastic as ever. As for the acoustic interludes, they unfortunately all sound basically the same and are very stale and uninteresting. There is absolutely no comparison between them and the songs on "The White" EP or the glorious "Odal" on "The Mantle." Simply put, this is Agalloch's weakest album but it certainly does have a number of redeeming factors that make it worth listening to. You can hear the seeds of better songs throughout, but those better songs never materialize. If you're expecting something on the level of the first three albums then prepare to be disappointed. I suspect though that this one's a grower so my opinion might very well change later on.

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