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Agalloch- The Mantle (Album Review)

Updated on August 17, 2012
The artwork for "The Mantle".
The artwork for "The Mantle". | Source

Album: The Mantle

Artist: Agalloch

Year: 2002

Score: 77/100

“Monotonous, Yet Pleasing”

Agalloch is a band I can tolerate in small to moderate doses. Their style of atmospheric metal music is enjoyable, yet it doesn’t shift or change very much. Their riffs, especially after their debut album, generally run and blur together. Perhaps this is part of their appeal to most people, I don’t know. Having already written a review for their first album, “Pale Folklore”, I decided to continue on with their discography. “The Mantle” is Agalloch’s second release, and probably my second favorite of theirs. There are many good songs, but also some misses. When compared to the debut, this album is even more relaxing and less harsh. Judging by my score, it’s easy to see that I don’t think this album is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nevertheless, there are gems worth listening to.

The song "You Were But a Ghost In My Arms".

Instrumentally, “The Mantle” is very much like its predecessor. There are many acoustic and clean passages, and lots of droning black metal-ish guitar riffs. The main difference is that the softer parts are found in greater quantities, sometimes even dominating the songs. It seems that both acoustic and clean electric guitars are used (mostly acoustic, though), which adds to the variation a little bit. However, nearly all of the softer parts sound the same. They even sound like the heavy portions of the album, which is not something I find enjoyable. On “Pale Folklore”, there was much more distinction and contrast between soft and heavy which worked a lot better for the band. I do, however, have to compliment the band on their guitar solos on “The Mantle”. They suit the songs a lot better than the solos on “Pale Folklore”. Even if they do sound awkward and disrupting at times, they flow so much better than on the past album. The vocals are a mixture of black metal shrieks and clean singing. The shrieks are good enough, but they’re more of the whispery variety of black metal vocals and lack some power. To be truthful, I really dislike most of the clean singing done on “The Mantle”. I suppose the vocals are intended to sound dreamy and atmospheric, but they don’t quite hit the mark for me. There’s no power, and honestly the singer (can’t recall his name at the moment) sounds awkward and even strange at times. Another weak spot is the drums. They’re not outwardly bad, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting that happens with them. Not even the drum intro to “I Am the Wooden Doors” is good. The bass is almost nonexistent, but it doesn’t really detract from the listening experience.

I’ve basically spent the last paragraph talking about how the instrumentation on the album is rather bland. While I stand by this, the layered and minimalistic style does work in some places. Four of the nine tracks are instrumentals. Two of these are excellent, but the two others come across as unnecessary. The rest of the tracks are also fairly similar. They almost all feature subtle shifts in dynamics, to the point where the listener almost doesn’t notice. There are a few great guitar harmonies, particularly in the songs “Odal” and “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion”. Additionally, most of the songs are long with two clocking in at over ten minutes. The most standout aspect of the album is the atmosphere that is conjured. It is very good, and much bleaker than “Pale Folklore”.

Speaking of the individual songs, I like most of them. However, it’s more that I enjoy certain pieces of the songs instead of the full effect. “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” is the first real track on the album, and it’s also the longest. There are some great guitar harmonies to be found, but there are also some misses in the song such as the lackluster clean vocals. It also runs for a little too long. About ten minutes into the song, I often find myself wishing that it was over. Not a good thing at all. “I Am the Wooden Doors” is better, but it features the same weak clean vocals. However, the harsh vocals in the song are actually pretty enjoyable. It’s a beautiful piece and probably one of my top favorites from the album. “Odal” is a beautiful instrumental with lots of hypnotic melodies. It too, is one of my favorites from the album and even from the band in general. “The Lodge” is honestly just a boring track, which only serves a purpose to me as background music. There is a weird drum sound going on, but the basis for the song is just an acoustic guitar riff. “You Were But A Ghost in My Arms” is my personal favorite from the album. It’s a very beautiful song, and one of the best that the band has ever put forth. I can honestly say that I wish the rest of the album was like this song. Everything just works so well, especially the changes and transitions.. “The Hawthorne Passage” is a great instrumental (mostly instrumental), very hypnotic. The acoustic parts are the best on the whole album, and the guitar soloing is actually good as well. This is another example of a song that flows really well. “…And the Great Cold Death of the Earth” has a gorgeous acoustic solo and is actually one of the few songs that doesn’t run for too long. But like some of the other songs, it has absolutely boring acoustic guitar work and painfully executed clean vocals. “A Desolation Song” is a boring number that seems overly praised to me. It’s an appropriate closer to the album, but definitely not a highlight.

Overall, I recommend “The Mantle” to Agalloch fans and maybe those who like atmospheric metal. It’s not what I would consider a great release, and it’s not as good as “Pale Folklore”. “The Mantle” is simply a bleak, atmospheric work that is worthy of the band who made it. I am not familiar with Agalloch’s latest album (“Marrow of the Spirit”), but this one is better than “Ashes Against the Grain”. Having said this, “The Mantle” is my second favorite Agalloch release. It’s quite enjoyable when in the right mood, but it gets tedious very quickly.

Best songs: “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion”, “Odal”, “I Am the Wooden Doors”, “You Were But a Ghost in My Arms”, “The Hawthorne Passage”, and “...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth”.

Worst songs: “The Lodge”, “A Celebration For the Death of Man”, “A Desolation Song”.

This review was originally posted at: http://theheavyreview.blogspot.com/2012/04/agalloch-mantle.html

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