Like a massive-antlered stag glimpsed amidst a wintry landscape, Agalloch albums have always been breathtaking, elusive and hard to pin down. Emerging from hibernation every four years on average, the Portland, Oregon quartet have never once disappointed with their unique brand of post rock, black metal and neo-folk, and fifth opus The Serpent and the Sphere (Profound Lore) looks set to continue their elegant and ever-evolving legacy.
Based around an astral premise as opposed to the spiritual themes of 2010 predecessor Marrow of the Spirit, The Serpent and the Sphere has a more refined construct this time around with nine tracks clocking in at around about an hour, three of them being brief neo-folk instrumentals composed by guest musician Nathanael Larochette of Musk Ox. His presence is a mystery given that the band are no stranger to this type of acoustic passage, but you will hear no complaints as they fit like sturdy oaks, anchoring the album steadfastly amidst a surging sea of progressive elements.
From the gradually building urgency of the eleven minute opener ‘Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation’ which ascends ever higher with the threat of release so near yet so far, to the classy melodic black metal of ‘The Astral Dialogue’ to the soaring, shimmering post metal of equally lengthy ‘Plateau of the Ages’, there is something here to delight all fans and ensnare many a newcomer. The playing is constantly thoughtful and skilled, the production clear as the driven snow and every element of Agalloch’s soul-stirring repertoire, save for John Haugm’s solemn clean vocals are present and correct.
A spiritual journey that you will want to experience over and over again, The Serpent and the Sphere has something for everyone, and is something everyone should experience.