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Peaceful torrent of sorrow and desolation - 96%

HealthySonicDiet, December 23rd, 2003

The Mantle, Agalloch's second full-length release on The End Records, is a truly unique release. Think old-school black metal rasps mixed with folkish guitars a la Suidakra and ambient clean vocals a la Akerfeldt without drugs. Ah, don't sue me for saying that! It's just an expression. I don't know if Akerfeldt does drugs or not.

Anyway, the overall song structures of this album are comparable to Opeth in their smoky acoustic brilliance, but of course Agalloch doesn't mix in death growls. Calling this album metal, even, is stretching things a little since distortion is slim to none and the general aggression is virtually non-existent. What Agalloch does instead is delve the listener into dark pagan merry-go-round soundscapes that whisk the listener into an otherwordly state, becoming one with the music. Like Bjork and Sigur Ros, Agalloch is an excellent band to sleep to. This is not saying that they are a boring band. Quite the contrary. They are quite exciting, but not in the conventional, ass-kicking metal way. It's the stark beauty and otherwordliness that's so exciting about this band, and this album in particular- the way the music isn't just music anymore, but a transcendence into altered states of unconsciousness. The Mantle isn't an album that is meant to be listened to for only a few tracks. It's one of those albums that should be experienced as a whole to get the full effect of it. If you have a burned version of the album, but burned the tracks in the wrong order, it will have a deleterious effect on you as well.

The Mantle consists of arguably some of the most beautiful music in the world. Aficionados of melodic metal with clean vocals will be taken aback when the singer breaks out into a muffled black metal rasp, but I doubt that it will affect them enough to make them stop wanting to listen to it. The 'black metal rasps' of the singer are not evil or foreboding in any way, but rather pleasantly folkish and paganistic, hearkening back to ancient times. What these vocals do is in fact enhance the ambient beauty of the CD, lurking seemingly in the background but still maintaining a strong presence.
Something that does bother me a bit about the album is that there is a lack of aggression and the long songs aren't quite as progressive as preferred.

Agalloch's music isn't supposed to be aggressive, but it would be nice to have some aggressive sections mixed here and there. Whether it would sound good or not is debatable, but I think it might work. Agalloch's acoustic guitar tone is heavenly and is in the vein of Suidakra and In Flames, although perhaps better. What distinguishes this album from many other metal albums is that the acoustic guitar is used almost exclusively. There'a a bit of electronic sound to the guitars during choice sections on the opening track and during certain verses, but otherwise it's very scarce. The true highlight of the album would undoubtedly be track 9, Desolation Song. It's replete with a nonchalant acoustic guitar melody, an accordion, and mystical whispered vocals, which vary in intensity. Lyrically, it is about the poison of love and other related topics. Ah, such a great, moving song. It's so beautiful it may bring you to tears. If I had to sum this album up in one word, it would be BEAUTIFUL. This isn't something I listen to very often at all, but I still highly respect it.