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THE SERPENT & THE SPHERE

Agalloch

Experimental/Post Metal


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Agalloch The Serpent & The Sphere album cover
3.68 | 45 ratings | 3 reviews | 12% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection


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Studio Album, released in 2014

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation
2. (Serpens Caput)
3. The Astral Dialogue
4. Dark Matter Gods
5. Celestial Effigy
6. Cor Serpentis (the Sphere)
7. Vales Beyond Dimension
8. Plateau of the Ages
9. (Serpens Cauda)

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- John Haughm / Vocals, Guitar
- Don Anderson / Guitars, Piano
- Aesop Dekker / Drums
- Jason William Walton / Bass
With:
- Nathanaël Larochette / guitar

Releases information

Label: Profound Lore Records
May 13, 2014 (NA), May 19, 2014 (in Europe via Eisenwald and in Japan via Daymare)

Thanks to mbzr48 for the addition
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AGALLOCH The Serpent & The Sphere ratings distribution


3.68
(45 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(12%)
12%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(40%)
40%
Good, but non-essential (23%)
23%
Collectors/fans only (16%)
16%
Poor. Only for completionists (9%)
9%

AGALLOCH The Serpent & The Sphere reviews


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by JJLehto
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The masters of atmospheric metal are back with their latest release.

"The Serpent & the Sphere" feels like a continuation of "Ashes Against the Grain" in that Agalloch continues to drift from their black metal tendencies, (even if they were always tempered with folk and prog) with more focus on black metal aesthetics, atmosphere and song writing. While Haughm's classic raw, gravely rasps remain, there are very few blast beats to be found, and indeed the overall album has a less intense pace and feel to it. The songs are mid paced and far more subdued than their last album, "Marrow of the Spirit". In fact, I'd say "The Serpent & the Sphere" is more subdued than their overall body of work, which has never been a stranger to tremolo picked guitar work, or bludgeoning. Not to say these aspects are absent, (there's even some good ol double bass chain drumming) but there just seems to be "less" of everything, if that makes sense. A more sparse, less heavy feel to the music. Certainly less intensity, and even more acoustic/light guitar. The balance between light, melodic passages and heavy, raw passages seems to have tipped definitively towards the former.

The tone of the music itself is cleaner and lighter than "Marrow of the Spirit", which admittedly took a bit of adjustment..I am used to Agalloch loud, buzzing, fuzzy guitar noise. My natural inclination upon first hearing this is "flat" or "lacking power" but of course it just is different sounding. I personally applaud the band for the lighter style.

This is perhaps not unexpected, as Agalloch was moving progressively in this direction until they released Marrow. So maybe the style is what we should have expected, is it successful?

Of course.

The songwriting as solid as ever. Textured, layered guitar work with riffs and melodies to die for, (even if they are lesser on this album than previous) and songs that move like a river, drifting but not without direction. There are a few other minor changes, such as more prominent bass, and a smidge "more" to the drumming than is typical. The songs are shorter than usual, and this album has a continuous flow to it, with segue pieces to connect the songs elegantly.

So overall, another solid, (if unspectacular) output from Agalloch, and as we know solid from them is better than most other bands could hope for. I will be sure to give this album many listens over the near future, and like all their other albums I'm sure this album will grow on me more and more.

Four Stars

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Send comments to JJLehto (BETA) | Report this review (#1175008) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review by Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'The Serpent & The Sphere' - Agalloch (71/100)

Agalloch is the uncommon result of an uncompromising vision and style. Though they've never let themselves be bound to one sound, their identity is strong and distinctive, even in the wake of recent imitators. With each album, Agalloch seemed to have found the perfect balance between staying true to one's own aesthetic, and shifting the style to the point where each album felt like a new journey. With that in mind, it's not surprising Agalloch have made such waves. Particularly in recent years, their momentum has snowballed to the extent where they're now one of the most talked-about bands in extreme music. Their second and third albums- The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain- remain two of my best-loved albums ever.

With the unbearably high expectations that would no doubt arise with a new Agalloch record, I'm not altogether sure whether I could have listened to The Serpent & The Sphere without some sort of disappointment laying in wait. Agalloch's latest album is easily the least impression in their career thus far, but it yet stands as an impressive contribution to what is fast-becoming one of the best discographies in metal.

Similarly to the impression I had with 2010's Marrow of the Spirit, rather than renovate their entire style, The Serpent & The Sphere feels like a conscious consolidation of elements they previously innovated. The Ulver-esque black metal of Pale Folklore is arguably most prominent, with The Mantle's folk displays and Ashes Against the Grain's post-metal leanings filling out the rest of their palette. Taking the fourth album into account as well, The Serpent & The Sphere enjoys the distinct analog production of Marrow of the Spirit. All put together, you have an album that retains the rich quality and atmosphere of Agalloch, without so much of the identity I'd associate with their individual albums. Then again, Marrow of the Spirit also suffered this criticism, and I still consider it a masterpiece unto its own.

Whatever issues that may be had with The Serpent & The Sphere lay within the written material itself. The atmosphere remains as bold and vast, but in fusing their styles, the result is rather muddy and inconsistent. "The Astral Dialogue" and "Dark Matter Gods" pack a solid punch, but none of the individual songs have the memorable impact I may have taken for granted on earlier albums. In spite of coming off as weaker songwriters this time around, there are plenty of immaculate moments on The Serpent & The Sphere, precisely the sort of stuff that made them a favourite band of mine in the first place. "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" has a crushingly doomy feel, and while it lacks the dynamic impact of other slower Agalloch tunes (the masterful "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion" comes first to mind), it sets the stage with a bleak atmosphere that carries throughout the rest of the record. While "The Astral Dialogue" seems to run together with "Dark Matter Gods" on the album, it stands out to me as one of the album's best cuts, with biting riffs that recall Agalloch's labelmates in Hammers of Misfortune. Perhaps it proves a point, but the included interlude tracks provided by Musk Ox acoustic mastermind Nathaniel LaRochette are the best written, most evocative tracks on the album. On top of creating a satisfying 'bigger picture' for the album, the interludes co-exist beautifully with Agalloch's bleakly solipsistic aesthetic, to the point where I hope this is not the last we've heard from him on an Agalloch release.

While the material on The Serpent & The Sphere does not impress me nearly as much as their last three albums, I can safely say Agalloch have improved the practical execution of their material to the point of virtual perfection. With the help of producer Billy Anderson, The Serpent & The Sphere isn't just the best- sounding Agalloch have ever been- it's one of the best productions I have ever heard on a metal album period. Marrow of the Spirit played with analog grit in the wake of the overly polished Ashes Against the Grain but didn't nail it entirely. The Serpent & The Sphere enjoys a richly organic production that sometimes even outshines the music itself. It's one thing to have a polished big-budget production, but it takes some level of vision and genius to find the optimal warmth and frame for a band's sound. Aesop Dekker's drumwork is thick and heavy, the guitars sound rich, and Jason Walton's bass work is consistently audible for once. From a technical standpoint, The Serpent & The Sphere arguably succeeds beyond any other album I've heard this year. It's a shame I don't find myself quite so impressed with the music itself.

There was something beautifully poetic and captivating about the way Agalloch sought to capture the essence of nature in their lyrics and music. It's certainly a bold move for the band to have stepped away from the earthly to explore its astral counterpart, but Agalloch's wordier approach to the ethereal doesn't carry the same resonance. Even so, if anything defines The Serpent & The Sphere in the context of Agalloch's illustrious discography, it is this conceptual liberation from the worldly plane. While the music is still perfectly recognizable to what Agalloch have conjured in the past, it is conscious of this change; space electronic embellishments and oscillations virtually unheard of in their work come to bear whenever the atmosphere permits. The lyrics reveal more depth when they're read, and taken into context with the album's interlude-heavy structure and cover art featuring the ceaseless worm Ouroboros, there is plenty of depth and thought-provoking content available to anyone willing to search for it. Agalloch are none the less meticulous in their work, but their earthly aesthetics of yesteryear are preferable to the road they've taken.

While he retains the rare gift of having a distinctive black metal rasp, Haughm has limited himself to a small set of familiar snarls and brooding whispers. Where his plain (and appropriately sombre) clean vocals might have added variety on past albums, his almost entirely rasped delivery on The Serpent & The Sphere doesn't offer the impact I would expect to hear from him. Come to think of it, it's probably a significant reason why I've never been able to connect to the album's theme and lyrics. There's nothing wrong with his snarl in of itself (and I might not have even noted the lack of range in a lesser black metal act) but by the sixth time he falls back on his default moody whisper to elocute some declaration to the universe, it no longer feels as poignant or moving as it should be.

If anything's been proven to me in this experience, it's that being a fan can have its downsides. Were this the first Agalloch release I'd had the pleasure of hearing, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it more, but I'm certain that my lasting thoughts towards it wouldn't have been so critical. Perhaps the album needs a pair of fresh ears to enjoy to its fullest extent; the fact is that while Agalloch remains a powerfully resonant force with a gripping sense of style and atmosphere, they seem to be at the point where they have begun to rest on their laurels, at least when it comes to renovating their sound. The Serpent & The Sphere is a solid album for all intents and purposes, but for a band as breathtaking as Agalloch have been in the past, I was expecting more.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#1270386) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, September 05, 2014

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "The Serpent & the Sphere" is the 5th full-length studio album by US doom/black metal act Agalloch. The album was released through Profound Lore Records in May 2014. Itīs been 4 years since the release of "Marrow of the Spirit (2010)", but looking down over their discography that seems to be their regular release cycle for studio albums. Agalloch have however released the "Whitedivisiongrey (2011)" compilation and the "Faustian Echoes (2012)" EP to bridge the gap between the two studio albums.

The music on "The Serpent & the Sphere" pretty much continues down the atmospheric and epic doom/black metal path that the band also tread on "Marrow of the Spirit (2010)". Itīs a music style thatīs actually a bit hard to describe correctly as it also features elements of folk, goth, post rock, and progressive rock. The only "real" black metal trait in the music is the raspy and raw vocals, which are occasionally whispering instead. Otherwise this is predominantly heavy, atmospheric and epic extreme metal. Itīs very dynamic music with both grand massive sections and beautiful mellow acoustic moments.

The album features 9 tracks and a full playing time of 59:58 minutes. Thereīre everything from 3 to 5 minutes long tracks to tracks like "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" (which features an opening that screams My Dying Bride) and "Plateau of the Ages", that both exceed the 10 minutes mark. As something extraordinary Canadian neo-folk musician Nathanaël Larochette has written and performs some acoustic guitar pieces, that work as little breathers between the more metal oriented tracks.

"The Serpent & the Sphere" is a well produced album featuring a warm, heavy and organic sound, which suits the music well and overall itīs another high quality release by Agalloch. Itīs not their most creative release but itīs still adventurous and well played and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#1273570) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, September 09, 2014

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