Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore)

Sunday, 4th May 2014
Rating: 10/10

In short, The Serpent & the Sphere delivers everything a fan or casual listener alike could want in an Agalloch release. The extensive use of woodsy themes, acoustics galore (though here often provided by a spectacular outside party), celestial themes and tinges of black metal and post-rock both with equal aplomb. In longer form, the album is at once something of a snowstorm of reflective flashes of Agalloch’s past, every era finding ways to seethe from nuanced corners throughout. At the same time, however, there’s something finally very now, very new, and very Agalloch about this album. A concept album with a concept that goes beyond what can be justified here but can be reduced to the circular nature of the universe and thus likely existence, it’s the kind of eternal material the band has worked with throughout the career and shouldn’t really shock anyone who is familiar with the band.

What is shocking, whether on the first listen or the seventeenth, is how sharp and clear the production is. Initial single “Celestial Effigy” and its myriad of twists and moods showcased a deeper surprise, a clarity that, especially with the purposeful rawness of Marrow of the Spirit and Faustian Echoes, is enthralling. This echoes throughout, whether on the funeral march of opener “Birth andd Death of the Pillars of Creation” and its slow burning and mournful murk or on any of the three acoustic pieces, provided by Musk Ox’s Nathanaël Larochette (and they’re all gorgeous).

Moods and manners run plentiful, speaking to memories of all previous releases without the real need to pull particular instances. Moments of quiet repose, moments of fury, moments of colossal beauty gliding along delay-soaked guitar and walls of blastbeats. In truth, it’s all here and more. Late album stand out and 12 minute indulgence “Plateau of the Ages” is, in many regards, exactly that. A cascading walk through a landscape that functions as the band’s essence distilled into a single moving essence, epic and ridiculous. When the dust finally settles on the closing acoustic piece “(serpens cauda)” there’s scarcely a moment to think before you’re ready to begin the journey all over again.

It’s been a long three and a half years and perhaps more than ever before the wait has, unlike almost any album before, worth it. There are pieces of the past, present, and an ever evolving future in constant revolution around one another throughout the length of The Serpent & the Sphere. It’s incredibly brisk despite its hour length and is still revealing new nuances with each listen. Agalloch is a stacked band on a ridiculously stacked label and has dropped a monster on an already ridiculous year. Indulge it, embrace its ethos, love it. The Serpent & the Sphere is here.

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