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
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
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.