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Chapter II: The Mantle - 100%

BlackMetal213, June 7th, 2016

Another magnificent album from the Portland, Oregon band Agalloch. Released in 2002, three years following their debut full-length "Pale Folklore", "The Mantle" was the finest album these dudes managed to produce throughout their 21 years of existence. It stands as a testament to what Agalloch was: a band that blended influences from many genres ranging from black metal, folk metal, doom metal, post-rock, ambient, etc etc. This list goes on. They were one of the most unique bands to ever exist. You really can't classify Agalloch into any one genre because their sound is just so vast.

It is no secret that "The Mantle" is considered by many to be the best Agalloch album. Originally, "Pale Folklore" was my album of choice but over the years, my opinion changed. There seems to be a much heavier emphasis on acoustic guitars here, even more than we experienced with the previous album. The intro track "A Celebration for the Death of Man..." focuses on instrumental acoustic strumming with a distorted guitar that provides feedback every now and then. This is one of 4 instrumental tracks total on this 9 track album. This strumming seems to appear quite a few times, identically, throughout other songs. This is notable towards the end of "...and the Great Cold Death of the Earth". Sometimes, recycling riffs and notes can work in the favor of the band and album, and this is a good example of such. The acoustic guitars is what drives "The Mantle" forward in progression. The final track "A Desolation Song" is a purely acoustic number with very melancholic lyrics, as its title may indicate. Let's take a passage from this song:

"Here I sit at the fire
Liquor's bitter flames warm my languid soul
Here I drink alone and remember
A graven life, the stain of her memory
In this cup, love's poison
For love is the poison of life
Tip the cup, feed the fire,
And forget about useless fucking hope"

The sad, mournful lyrics such as these are the main themes and ideals we read within the lyrics. This album is probably Agalloch's most mellow release but this certainly is not a negative thing. It's clear to be enjoyed and adored by many aside from myself. Why? Because it's brilliant and beautiful, why else?!

So yes, most of this album is softer and almost soothing, however, there are definitely metallic moments as well. As calming and soft as this album is, it is still a metal album with numerous influences from different genres. "I Am the Wooden Doors" is the heaviest song on the album and while it's not "brutal" or whatever, it's still crushing in comparison to "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion". Another heavier number would be "You Were but a Ghost in My Arms" although it's not as heavy as the aforementioned track. Agalloch does not need to write heavy music to be effective with their atmosphere, as they have managed to prove again and again. They even use some non-traditional instruements at times, such as the very unique deer skull in "The Lodge", which they incorporated by hitting it with sticks. This created a very unique and easily remembered sound of clicking that you can't really get elsewhere.

Vocals are fairly similar to those we heard on "Pale Folklore". There are harsh vocals here as well but they seem to be lesser in quantity. The quality, however, has increased a little bit. I feel John's rasp has improved here and sounds more dreary and desolate than before. He possesses this whisper-like quality that sounds more haunting and eerie than it would had he used traditional black metal screams. His clean vocals are a bit better here and sound even more sorrowful than before. "Life is a clay urn on the mantle..." Whenever I hear him sing that passage on "...and the Great Cold Death of the Earth", I get chills. The same chills I got the first time I heard it. Not many bands can manage to do this the way Agalloch did.

"The Mantle" was definitely Agalloch's strongest release, even if it was one of their softest in overall sound. It is beautiful and I listen to it very often. It is one of my go-to albums, no matter what mood I am in, but it really helps console and comfort me when I find myself in a dark place. This is pure beauty in the art form of music and I honestly could not imagine my life without it, as cliché as that may sound. This is a perfect example of something that the hype around it, actually makes sense and is educated.