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The Serpent & The Sphere

4.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

In the years since their inception in 1997, Pacific Northwest band Agalloch has slowly risen to prominence as one of America s best and most distinct metal exports, amassing an obsessive cult following of diehard fans in the process. Incorporating myriad influences, the group draws from many sub-genres dark metal, progressive, black metal, neo-folk, post-metal to establish a new standard, a sound wholly their own. Following early releases, Agalloch garnered widespread critical acclaim with their 2010 opus (and Profound Lore debut) Marrow of the Spirit, one of the most celebrated metal albums of that year. Expansive touring and exposure to packed and sold-out venues across North America and abroad saw the band take their career to the next level, attracting even more awareness and recognition. With their new album looming on the horizon, the group is poised to add another masterpiece to their impeccable repertoire. If Marrow of the Spirit was the apocalyptic unraveling of the mortal coil, then The Serpent & The Sphere is the cosmic aftermath whereby new dimensions and planes of existence are revealed and explored. The most atmospheric and progressive Agalloch release to date, the vibe is dark, expansive and otherworldly. The Serpent & The Sphere features the production and mixing expertise of Billy Anderson (Neurosis, Sleep, Swans, High On Fire); Canadian neo-folk musician Nathanaël Larochette of Musk Ox adds to the album s acoustic interludes.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 13, 2014)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Profound Lore
  • ASIN: B00J0YAEXA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,355 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Hill TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 13, 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
If you're anything like me, you think the release of a new Agalloch album should be a national holiday. New full-lengths don't come too often, and when they do, they're pretty much genius. If any of their albums got a less-than-overwhelming response, it was the last one, "Marrow of the Spirit." That one had a more metal approach than any of their material since 1997's "From Which of This Oak," with more frequent black metal vocals and even blast beats, which was new for Agalloch. The folk and alt-rock sections also seemed more basic in places, not quite as lush as on the previous albums. I personally love "Marrow" as much as anything the band has done, but it took longer than usual for some to fully embrace it. This new album, I believe, will instantly please anyone who's ever been an Agalloch fan. "The Serpent and the Sphere" combines elements of all four of their previous albums, but mostly the first three. Many times throughout the CD, I hear parts that remind me of "Pale Folklore" and "The Mantle," but probably more so than the other two, "Ashes Against the Grain."

Every song here is broad and sweeping in scope, presenting beautifully crisp alt-rock guitar licks intertwined with folk and various styles of metal, with the exception of the three enchanting, elegant acoustic pieces sprinkled into the mix. "Serpent" offers some of the most fun Agalloch songs to listen to in many years, bringing a fair amount of the rocking-out from the first two albums back into their sound, with plenty of brooding doom metal to up the ante. They even play some of the melodic black metal akin to their earliest material on "The Astral Dialogue" and in a few other spots.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I am glad to see that many other reviewers here and elsewhere seem to be truly enjoying this album, but I simply am not able to. I have tried and tried, and I have waited to review this album for a long time hoping that it would click, but it has not. I think that each previous Agalloch full length was a masterpiece, but I am simply finding it difficult to return to this album - I have to make myself do it, and that's not good. I think that they tried some new ideas here, using more subtle crescendos, rhythms similar to Tool in some places, and a more nuanced approach. For years, people have compared Agalloch to Opeth, even though there were few similarities, in my opinion. On this album, actually, The Astral Dialog sort of evokes the Moor to me, intentionally or unintentionally. So they have tried to mix it up a bit, which should be a good thing, but I simply cannot seem to be able to focus on the music and stay engaged throughout the listening, even if I am fully devoted to this album without any distractions.

Also, those interludes do not do much for me at all. They are not the reason that I am giving this album three stars, but they are not helping either. I think that they are very nice pieces, but I think that it might have worked better if they have incorporated some of them as pieces of longer songs.

In the end, I am giving this album three stars (and not two or one), because I realize that some of my disappointment stems from Agalloch setting such a high standard with their previous albums.
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Format: Audio CD
With every Agalloch album I am again astonished how much potential this band has. John Haughm has one of the most character-laden, remarkable voices in the Black Metal genre. Musically, the band plays enormously atmospheric and a song can easily span an entire arc from calmly clean melodic harmonies to powerful metal chords and back. And yet they manage to never sound mainstream.

So far so good. On the downside, like all their albums before, unfortunately, also this release suffers a little bit from the fact that the band really does not exactly have the most excellent musicians. Little technical mistakes here and there, though never catastrophic, are many enough in number to become annoying for a musically apt listener. This might not matter much if you prefer Darkthrone-like LoFi Black Metal, but I feel Agalloch have always held themselves to a different standard with a more brilliant sound and try to play the genre at a different level. Another reviewer praised the "perfectionism" of this release. My biggest problem with it is the absence thereof.

Another point is that I feel many songs have substantial and unnecessary overlength. Perhaps this results from the band liking a certain part so much that they decide to play it in a loop of 100 times where 16 times would have been enough. When jamming this is not a problem and even live this might work, but it is suboptimal on an album. Take track 2 (serpens caput) as example: A wonderful beautiful melody! But where does it go? It plays for almost 3 minutes without any significant development as a repetetive loop, and with every repetition the theme gets a little bit less exciting. Sad because the melody is really nice and could have flourished if presented in an appropriate context instead of standing by itself.
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