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AGALLOCH - The Mantle - CD - The End Records

review by: Tom Orgad

Agalloch's debut album, Pale Folklore, had deservingly been one of the most acclaimed and appreciated releases of '99, presenting a highly impressive, complete piece of somber, wintry art, an impious raging creation of an exasperated, desperate cry at the face of our merciless world. Since then, the band released one MCD of covers/unreleased tracks (reviewed in Maelstrom issue #6 - Roberto), and here comes their highly expected second full-length album.

The most notable aspect about The Mantle is Agalloch's apparent spiritual and mental evolvement. As their debut release perfectly symbolized a grievous winter, their current release reveals a progression (not by the seasons' chronological order, though), now brilliantly reflecting the feeling of a ponderous autumn. Sadness and melancholy still maintain their existence in the world of Agalloch, but yet, something has clearly changed.

It seems that the bands members are in the midst of a certain maturing process; amongst the original youngling frustration and rather abstract, simplistic feeling of melancholic anger, appears a more compromised, settled approach, in a way forcedly accepting the unbearable situation of human existence, making an attempt of expanding the methods of thinking, adapting ways of dealing with the gloomy state of mind, trying to trace the longed matter of transferring their present being to a dimension beyond time, to capture the elusive ideas of immortality, of consistence, of God. As reflected in the lyrics, the band members appear to have a partial success in their quest, possibly finding the justification for existence in the sublime harmony and beauty of nature, in the, even if short and fragile, temporary, casual maintenance of life.

Incorporating their previous dark metal atmosphere, based on anguished shrieks and fast picked droning soundscapes of entrancing distorted phrases, elements which stand for the yet present agonized feelings, this creation involves incredibly produced, rather dominant acoustic guitars, clean (and quite charming vocals), adjoined in slower, calmer, thoughtful tempos; the tears have dried, the blind salty eyes slowly open up, seeking, and somehow finding, in the beautiful, surrounding environment, the utopian yearned-for meaning.

Just as on Agalloch's debut album, The Mantle's grandeur doesn't spring from the compositions, which are rather similar and slowly developing, not to say stagnant. This album won't appeal to those seeking bombastic melodies and grandiose polyphonic explosions. The greatness of this American trio stems from their ability to define a unique, powerful emotional state, and condense its vastness into the shape of a musical creation. On that matter, this effort is a great progressive continuation of its predecessor, leaving us all impatiently waiting to see which following moods are they yet to explore.

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Agalloch's two previous albums were really great, but the band seemed to have this knack for blowing an emotion or atmosphere that was carefully crafted with some atrocious vocal. Pale Folklore is a moody, beautiful piece of what people like to call "folk metal," which is a term to describe melodic metal that progresses really slowly and features primarily acoustic guitars.

Plainly, the vocals on Pale Folklore just suck, and they get really bad in a few cases. The raspy vocal thing that Agalloch was going for on this album was both limp and out of place, with the cheesy clean vocals being embarrassing. Fortunately, the wispy, calming majesty of the music is more than enough to save the album. Vocally, things were improved on on the MCD, Of Wind, Stone and Pillor, which features some excellent variety of moods. Check out the review in Maelstrom's previous issues.

So, would Agalloch commit the same error on their new album? Thankfully not. The vocals on The Mantle are much more sparse, which is in itself ideal for the kind of music that Agalloch plays, but the quality of the vocals has been improved on a hundred fold. The harsh vocals sit well. As harsh vocals, they are relaxed and not silly like before. The clean vocals are harmonious and pleasant, and somehow make me think of Brit pop every time I hear them.

The main thing that The Mantle has to offer Tom pretty much summarized in his review: spellbinding, slowly developing melody lines that are spread out from track to track to create songs that are 20+ minutes. The reflective, soothing breakdowns that the band explores in their work, and on The Mantle in particular, are some of my favorites ever in this style.

Around the middle tracks of the album, Agalloch lapses into a style that is obviously heavily influenced - sometimes perhaps too much so - by Ulver. The beginning of track four is of the same construction as the beginning of Ulver's Bergtatt. The acoustic change in the same track sounds like the lone acoustic break of Nattens Madrigal. Track five has the same approach as that track on Bergtatt with the minimal percussive element that sounds like a polished stone being hit against a piece of marble. You get the same sound used in the same way. You even get a different recording of somebody running through the snow, just like on Bergtatt.

So that's kind of ridiculous, and it gets annoying the more times you listen to the album, but it's really doesn't detract from the triumphant whole of the work. And even though when listening to the way the compositions around the clean vocals I often feel compelled to sing the chorus to "The Cross on the Wall" from the Agalloch's cover of Sol Invictus' song on the previous MCD, the style stands as a welcome signature of this band.

I've always liked Agalloch and was hoping that they'd be able to tie up some of their most glaring loose ends. With The Mantle the band has made its overall finest work, one that is certainly going to be on my list for albums of the year and will perhaps endure as one of my favorite albums ever.



All related articles (interviews, live, from the vault)
Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor (issue No 5)  
AGALLOCH (issue No 14)  



(.-A)  (A-B)  (C-D)  (D-DU)  (E-G)  (G-I)  (I-K)  (K-KO)  (L-M)  (N-R)  (S-ST)  (T-V)  (V-Z)


Through the Cra

The Mantle


Behind Silence

Erasing Mankind


Another Dying S

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