Album is a good addition, but has an underwhelming conclusion

Christopher Reitwiesner, Staff Writer

Portland based blackened folk band Agalloch return with their fifth and final album, The Serpent and the Sphere. Following 2010’s critically acclaimed Marrow of the Spirit I was very eager to see where Agalloch’s creative diligence would take them next, The Serpent and the Sphere is a comfortable addition into their discography, but an underwhelming conclusion to one of metal’s most beloved bands. Incorporating smaller elements of almost every previous project for better, and some cases for worse.

The first track; “The Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” is not only one of the longest tracks, with a run-time of 10 minutes, but also the best track on the album. Starting off with light, clean guitars, then exploding into a slow, doom metal esk song accompanied by acoustic guitars, and powerful, clean production; the cleanest production heard from Agalloch to date. Even if you were to listen to this track alone, I guarantee that you would feel that you have witnessed a complete experience. This crossfades into the first of three acoustic interludes written by Nathanaël Larochette, “(Serpens Caput)” a short, but very pretty piece that serves as an excellent transition from “The Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” and into “The Astral Dialogue”, another great track, and in contrast to its two predecessors, this one is filled with throttling guitars, blast beats, high and low screaming, all elements that make up a great black metal song, but with bearable and crisp production.

“Dark Matter Gods” is the next track on our list, I do think this is where the album starts to fall off a little bit, at least in my opinion. Coming in at around eight minutes, the first half of this track I find extremely forgettable, with a riff that is just patronizingly simple and that almost feels incomplete. The intent for this is that it gets built upon as the song progresses, but even the final result is underwhelming. It must be noted, however, around the five minute mark I do think it is an excellent, but very brief part of the track that almost seems like a call back to one of their previous records; Ashes against the Grain. Overall this one did not thrill me that much, in fact I think you are better off skipping this one.

The last actual song on this album is “Plateau of the Ages” an instrumental piece that also happens to be the longest track on the album with a runtime of around 12 minutes. I personally enjoy this track, it leans more into Aglallochs atmospheric and ambient sides akin to “Black Lake Niðstång” off of Marrow of the Spirit. If you’re into long, atmospheric and ambient tracks I do think you will enjoy this, it has the trademark grand solos that instantly put imagery in your head, as well as the doom metalesk riffs addressed earlier in the record, all around a good track, but tailored for a specific audience.

The final track on this record is the third of the acoustic trilogy “(Serpens Cauda)” and in a way does seem like a
send off, not just for the record, but the band itself a quiet and gorgeous conclusion to one of metal’s most respected and loved bands. The Serpent and the Sphere is a good album, but it’s an average Agalloch album, in the context of everything this band has been able to write and put out I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that this is the conclusion we were given.