Agalloch - _The Serpent & the Sphere_
(Profound Lore Records, 2014)
by: Mark Dolson (9.5 out of 10)
"If a sparrow comes before his window, it is not enough that the poet regard the sparrow with something of a tolerant, half-amused liberality; feeling pleasantly and generously disposed to the sparrow is not active sympathy. He must not only become that sparrow, but he must work with it; and there must be an Einfühlung, as it were, as well as an Einfüllung, so that he can "take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel". By such an imaginative and sympathetic Einfühlung, the poet will grasp the truth of the creature as the analytical mind may not."

(W. J. Bate 1939: 44)

Each time I listen to the new Agalloch, I'm reminded of what Bate -- quoted above -- had to say about the poet John Keats' approach to poetry. What Bate is saying is that Keats engaged in a process of "becoming" with his poetic object, i..e., that which he sought to describe earnestly and honestly. Becoming. What a simple term, eh? But what does it mean in this context? Well, to me, becoming is a process -- one marked by a transformation, a movement, a shaking free of determinants, categories, etc. Listening to Agalloch is a form of becoming -- well, as I see it anyway, that's not quite what I'm aiming to describe here. While the band is constantly engaged in becoming, or perhaps, several becomings at once with their music (they aren't black metal, they aren't "grey metal", they aren't really anything but an ever unfolding interpretation of dark, atmospheric metal) it's their vision, their inspiration, their fund of creativity that I'm aiming at here.

Alright, on with it then: what is it? What is this fund from which they seem to draw endless creative becomings and transformations from? Without knowing the members personally at all, I can only comment on my interpretation of their music; which, in turn, is an interpretation of an endless force of becoming. And that is nature, the cosmos, and the mystery and longing they create in our relationship with them and each other. For nature, it is its calm and violent beauty; its terror and ugliness; its secrets and quiet insecurities (man made of course); its confidence and stability, but also its paradoxical moodiness, and the mercurial force through which it relates itself to us, the humans. And the cosmos, in its all encompassing canopy overhead -- wrapping us all up in a force of being and non-being that disregards both us and our ideas that it contains some form of god as its condition of possibility.

Our interpretations of nature and the cosmos, too, have long captivated us, what, with such philosophical explanations as "the sublime": the idea that nature overflows many of our interpretive strategies to wrest some form of certainty from it; some sort of stable idea of what it means to us. Of course, though, nature always seems to defy our tactics to grasp its essence, its being. Nature is always sidestepping us as it's in a process of constant becoming -- think of the seasons, storms, growth, decay, melting, freezing, and the volatility of death and life, and the bursts of colour and shades of grey that happen in between. At any rate, I feel that Agalloch have, through each album, have attempted to grasp some form of truth of nature through their music, working with it (sort of like Keats), and closely trying to align themselves as much as possible to it through their own process of becoming...

I sometimes like to think of waves as the perfect metaphor for the process of becoming: they fold, they swirl, they crash, they surge, they ripple, they pour forth and they contract from their surging vortices. In a word, really, waves are constantly changing; they're becoming. And this constant change, to bring it back to this review, is what I feel Agalloch draw on for their approach, both lyrically and musically. Agalloch are the sonic interpretation (a metallic one, of course) of nature and its endless becomings. I'm going to try and bypass my seemingly formulaic review style here and purposely not talk about production, vocals, riffs, musicianship, etc. I will say this, though: listening to the new Agalloch is a continuation of all of their albums and EPs.

_The Serpent & the Sphere_ is an expansive listen, forcing one to wander through open-ended soundscapes, characterized more of expansion than contraction. Such expansion, though, does have its limits in that the vocals (mostly grim and raspy) seem paired back a little bit compared to the band's other releases. There's quiet, contemplative melody and there's heavy, violent outbreaks shot through with the pulsing rumble of the bass guitar. All of this is backed by the sometimes frail and sometimes determined tremolo picking that has become one of Agalloch's trademark styles. There's that characteristic, bouncing and meandering clean guitar tone, too, accompanied by acoustic interludes (courtesy of Nathanaël Larochette from Musk Ox) and several other more "organic" instruments -- all of which, taken together, make for a highly textured and diverse affair.

I'll leave here: if you can stand outside in nature -- in a forest perhaps, at the edge of the ocean, or wherever -- and look at all of the growth, decay and life that characterizes such a place, and be moved by it to the point where you can just get lost in it, then listen to and absorb the new Agalloch. Whether you like metal, post-metal, or any other kind of musical style, I'm sure you'll be able to draw some sort of worth from it. It's a moving experience, and one worth having again and again and again.


(article published 30/5/2014)

12/8/2010 J Carbon 8.5 Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit
8/12/2006 P Azevedo 9 Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain
10/19/2004 Q Kalis 5.5 Agalloch - The Grey
9/1/2002 A McKay 9.5 Agalloch - The Mantle
8/12/2001 B Meloon 7 Agalloch - Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor
7/7/1999 B Meloon 9 Agalloch - Pale Folklore
3/28/2011 J Carbon Agalloch / Worm Ouroboros / Vindensang / Aeriel Ruin The Gods in Ruins
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