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Agalloch The Serpent & the Sphere album cover
3.67 | 102 ratings | 8 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 2014

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation (10:28)
2. (Serpens Caput) (3:06)
3. The Astral Dialogue (5:11)
4. Dark Matter Gods (8:35)
5. Celestial Effigy (6:59)
6. Cor Serpentis (The Sphere) (2:58)
7. Vales Beyond Dimension (6:48)
8. Plateau of the Ages (12:26)
9. (Serpens Cauda) (3:12)

Total Time 59:43

Line-up / Musicians

- John Haughm / vocals, electric & acoustic guitars
- Don Anderson / electric & classical guitars, backing vocals
- Jason William Walton / bass
- Aesop Dekker / drums & percussion

- Nathanaël Larochette / classical guitar (2,6,9)

Releases information

Artwork: Mark Thompson with John Haughm (art direction & design)

CD Profound Lore Records ‎- PFL 133 (2014, Canada)
CD Eisenwald Tonschmiede ‎- Eisen083 (2014, Germany)

Thanks to mbzr48 for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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AGALLOCH The Serpent & the Sphere ratings distribution

(102 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (21%)
Collectors/fans only (13%)
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)

AGALLOCH The Serpent & the Sphere reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by JJLehto
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

Review by Conor Fynes
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.

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.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars One of my co-workers who I give a ride to and from work asked me the other day if i'd heard of AGALLOCH. Well the answer was yes and he went on and on about them. He's a Death Metal fan and said he's ordered all of their music. It was this album that got his attention so I thought it was high time I reviewed it. This is AGALLOCH's fifth studio album and the majority feel it's also the fifth best, yet many of those including Conor and Jonas feel it's still a 4 star recording. For my taste this isn't just barely 4 stars but closer to 4.5 stars, i've enjoyed the hell out of this one. By the way these guys have released a studio album every four years without fail.

"Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation" is a good rainy day tune with those depressing guitar leads and the overall sound. We get an acoustic guitar intro that lasts over a minute before the heaviness arrives. Strummed guitar only before 3 minutes but then it kicks into gear once again. Vocals after 4 1/2 minutes and they will come and go in this mid-paced doomy track. "(Serpens Caput)" is a 3 minute track of acoustic guitar melodies along with some atmosphere. "The Astral Dialogue" is heavy with some fast paced drumming before a minute. Vocals join in and then we get guitar only 2 1/2 minutes in. Cool. It then kicks back in. "Dark Matter Gods" is a top three tune for me. The sound is almost brighter here and uptempo as the vocals come and go. There's some amazing moments in this one including the sound 6 minutes in and a minute later. So good!

"Celestial Effigy" is another top three track for me. The drums, bass and guitar all sound incredible here. Vocals before 2 minutes and check out the atmosphere after 3 minutes which is almost mellotron-like. It then picks up again. "Cor Serpentis(The Sphere)" is a pleasant acoustic guitar driven piece at around 3 minutes in length. "Vales beyond Dimension" builds nicely but then it settles and the vocals join in around 1 1/2 minutes. Spoken words too a minute later in this melancholic piece, especially the guitar leads. "Plateau Of The Ages" is my final top three. This is the longest song at around 12 1/2 minutes. Atmosphere to open as the electric guitar is picked. It turns heavier 2 minutes in as some excellent guitar solos come and go over top. There's even some Post-Rock styled guitar 4 1/2 minutes in that lasts for some time. Love the guitar throughout this one. Tribal-like drumming 9 1/2 minutes in and they are kicking ass 11 minutes in. "(Serpens Cauda)" ends the album as we get acoustic guitar and atmosphere leading the way, the guitar is beautiful I must say.

Another solid album from these boys who have in my opinion been very consistent throughout their career. Great album!

Review by siLLy puPPy
3 stars AGALLOCH pretty much dominated the American metal scene for the first decade of the 2000's as they cranked out not only one or two but four outstanding classics that showcased their idiosyncratic visionary fusion of black and doom metal with dark neofolk, post rock and ritual ambient music. Add to that, several EPs distinct from their full-length canon and numerous tours that took them around the world. And not only did they deliver the goods on each of their albums, but they steadily ratcheted up new aspects of their sound which made them quite popular by the time their fourth album 'Marrow Of The Spirit' hit the world in 2010. It seemed the band would continue the trend forever. Not so fast.

Following the single tracked EP 'Faustian Echoes' which not only displayed AGALLOCH's longest track of their career but also their heaviest that utilized the fullest effects of black metal riffing only intermittently punctuated by dark folk interludes to provide a soft canvass for the poetic prose to be recited. Two years later the band would release their fifth and final album as fate would have it. THE SERPENT & THE SPHERE offered another slice of the dramatic melding of the folk and metal that fans had come to expect so well. The band continues the same lineup as 'Marrow' with Aesop Dekkecontinuing his drumming duties but this one contains a guest appearance of Nathana'l Larochetter who plays acoustic guitar.

THE SERPENT & THE SPHERE pretty much continues the AGALLOCH signature sound however for once in their career, this one seems to have lost all inspiration and as a result sound like an AGALLOCH by-the-numbers type of album. It contains nine tracks with two extending past the ten minute mark however where previously albums soared and took you on left turns after building up crescendoes of folk and metal glory, SERPENT seems to slither down a one way path. Once again the band builds long repetitive riffs that continue to grow in speed and volume utilizing the raspy shrieked vocal effect and distorted guitar atmospheric layering that offers the desired doom and gloom and all that. But something is seriously missing here.

Firstly, the riffs and melodies are rather flat. There is not one track on here that keeps my attention and not one that demands my returned listening. This happened upon first listen but in order to review this i've spun it numerous times and unlike the other four albums that made me want to listen to them over and over, this one makes wanna take it out and put in, you got it, one of the other four albums! This one seems to completely lack that magical mojo and spirit that made AGALLOCH albums so great. It seems the magic wasn't isn't the riffing, the post-rock build-ups, the black metal outbursts or any of the describable ingredients. It was in the epic compositional constructs that cleverly tied it all together.

It really seems AGALLOCH lost the passion and burned out and apparently that's exactly what happened since the band broke up two years later. There is nothing bad about this one per se but in all honesty, there is nothing great either and since it's AGALLOCH, well, ok doesn't cut the mustard. This is by far their worst album in my world. I'm glad they called it quits having realized the game is over and pumping out mediocrity for time immemorial would only tarnish their past glories. After the breakup, John Haughm would form a new band called Pillorian, Don Anderson, Jason William Walton and Aesop Dekker would begin Kh'rada. While it's never a glad day when a legendary band calls it quits, personally i'd much rather see a band do so than litter the market with bland lifeless locust shells of their past.

Latest members reviews

4 stars If it weren't for a fairly disappointing album opener and a few slower moments, this would be yet another five-star Agalloch album for me. Truthfully, I feel that The Serpent and the Sphere might just be Agalloch's most sophisticated and mature release to date, and not just because it happens to be ... (read more)

Report this review (#1532247) | Posted by The Progmatist | Wednesday, February 24, 2016 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Agalloch's 'The Serpent And The Sphere' is the fifth full length album from the Portland based experimental metal band, and it finds the band stuttering and struggling for creativity. It pains me to describe this record in such a way. Agalloch have long been a firm favourite of mine, their fir ... (read more)

Report this review (#1433557) | Posted by AndyJ | Thursday, July 2, 2015 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The kings of naturalistic metal are back, 4 years after ''Marrow of the spirit'' and the new album holds no surprises. The band still walks on the same musical road they alone created and defined 12 years ago with ''The Mantle''. Same ingredients: springing from black metal, sorrowful slow tempo met ... (read more)

Report this review (#1175174) | Posted by Aldebaran_Well | Wednesday, May 14, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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