I’d like to share a little story that makes me chuckle, especially every time an Agalloch album is released. I was having a conversation with a person online once, and was asked “Why do you like music that celebrates evil and satanism?” “Because gospel music is boring,” I said sarcastically, but I quickly responded back with a better-thought-out answer: “Thinking that every song and every metal band is about satanism is a stereotype. Are there some bands that sing about satanism? Yes, but other bands sing about politics and historic events, and some bands, like Gojira, are environmentalists. Agalloch have songs that are reflective of life in the Pacific Northwest, dominated by several mountain ranges and extensive forests.” The response I received back almost made me fall out of my chair: “So, you listen to tree-hugger music?”
Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Agalloch, but a little late to their party. It was only when numerous websites awarded Agalloch‘s last album, 2010’s “Marrow of Spirit,” Album of the Year honors that I jumped on the bandwagon and absorbed the band’s past albums and EPs. I can easily say Agalloch has been in the top five bands I listen to for the last four years. If not for the invention of headphones, I think my family would have broken the iPod by now. So to say I was excited when I found out that the band was releasing their fifth full length album this year is putting it mildly. In the back of my mind, however, I always worry when my favorite bands release new material. Will it capture my attention and be worthy to take its rightful place along side the other Agalloch albums and EPs that are in heavy listening rotation? The answer, a resounding yes!
Formed in 1995 in Portland, Oregon, the band consists of guitarist and vocalist John Haughm; guitarist, piano and keyboardist Don Anderson; bassist Jason William Walton; and drummer Aesop Dekker, with guest acoustic guitarist Nathanael Larochette.
Now, when I’m sitting around my house with my iPod on shuffle and an Agalloch song pops up, 9 times out of 10 I’ll skip it. Now that is not a bad thing. I do it because I like to hear Agalloch albums in their entirety. They mostly play out like a movie in my mind’s eye. “The Serpent and the Sphere,” I can happily say, is no different. Agalloch continues their tradition of transitioning genres with ease. One moment I am laid back listening to the slow atmospheric building of opening track ‘Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation,’ only to be abruptly rocked by the doom and death metal riffs of ‘The Astral Dialogue,’ then the terrifying fierceness of the black metal driven ‘Dark Matter Gods’ and ‘Celestial Effigy.’ There are three beautiful, softer acoustic driven tracks that span across beginning, middle and the end of the album, ‘Serpens Caput,’ ‘Cor Serpentis (the sphere)’ and ‘Serpens Cauda.’ The track that shines for me so far on the album is ‘Plateau of the Ages.’ It is a twelve minute instrumental juggernaut that shows off Agalloch‘s skills to perfection. The one thing that is missing is the clean vocals of John Haughm. Throughout the rest of the album he switches back and forth between hair raising guttural vocals and faint whispers.
Overall, Agalloch has constructed a solid album in “The Serpent and The Sphere.” The band continues to take me back to a time in my teenage years when I spent many snowy winter days out in the forest with my Dad cutting firewood for the harsh Michigan temperatures. If Agalloch was around back in those days, this album would have been played over and over on my Walkman.