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A Masterpiece of Artistic Expression - 97%

Nokturnal_Wrath, February 21st, 2014

It seems to me that many people are listening to The Mantle for the completely wrong reasons. This isn’t an album full of intense metallic fury nor is it an album you can headbang the hell out of, this is a highly atmospheric, poetic album that requires a lot of patience and an open mind to fully appreciate the scope of The Mantle.

Clocking in at over 1 hour long, The Mantle is not an album for the ADHD sufferers, there’s a lot of repetition throughout the album, with the band settling on an idea for a few minutes before transitioning to the next. The album is a whole is quite slow paced, with very little tempo changes, much of the music is based around a single idea that is expanded upon throughout the album continues. To tag The Mantle in one specific genre serves as nothing more to constrict it, although flashes of other bands may be found in a purely influential dimension, the aura of Agalloch’s music is intoxicatingly unique. In its simplest sense, The Mantle is a fusion of neofolk, black metal and post rock, with all of the ideas being a prominent force but each used in perfect duality. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar segments running throughout the album which brings the neofolk into fruition, and although the folk label might conjure images of drunken people playing violins and flutes around a campsite, Agalloch’s folk influences comes through in the atmosphere it conjures which is not dissimilar from that of Empyrium’s early work.

The Mantle is an album that is enjoyable primarily because of the atmosphere, although much of the music is simplistic, at times even minimalistic; the atmosphere Agalloch conjures is so utterly evocative that is impossible to not get lost within. From the cold melancholy of You Were But a Ghost in My Arms to the ethereal beauty of Odal, Agalloch deliver atmosphere in spades. What really strikes me about The Mantle is that even though each track is similar on a musical dimension, the moods and tones are wholly different between each track. To me it appears that Agalloch have laid down the tone they want for the album and each track expands upon that tone in different ideas. There are folk influenced tracks, tracks with a high post rock vibe and straight up black metal tracks. Although musical complexity is not what Agalloch have set out to achieve, emotional and atmospheric complexity is something that Agalloch are able to perfectly employ.

The musical aspect of The Mantle is something that listeners will be familiar with if they have already heard other black metal/neofolk hybrids such as the aforementioned Empyrium, the core of the music isn’t wholly original but Agalloch have carved their own unique identity within the scene. There’s a large focus placed upon the acoustic guitars, with each track making prominent use of them to the point that they lead the music. The use of electric guitars is generally kept as a musical backdrop, adding more depth and weight to the music whilst letting the acoustic guitars take center stage. The most striking usage of the acoustics is the track In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion, where the electric guitar serves similar to a bass guitar rather than an actual melodic instrument, thus allowing the acoustic guitar to take center. Other tracks such as I Am the Wooden Doors and the aforementioned You Were But a Ghost in My Arms place more focus on the electric guitars whilst still retaining the use of acoustics. These are the most lively, aggressive tracks on the album with John Haugm presenting a particularly venomous vocal performance.

Despite the length of the album, The Mantle is a rather easy album to digest. There’s not much metal fury here, much of the music is very calm, comfortable with only the odd flashes of a more metal inspired passion. And although the languid nature of this music might turn off some people, I find the tired, worn out delivery to work incredibly well within the context of the music. With The Mantle Agalloch have shown their audience that they are able to change the sound of their music from album to album whilst still retaining the atmosphere and beauty of the one that came before. The much greater use of acoustics adds more depth and subdued beauty than what was presented on Pale Folklore, and although the music seems less determined than the bands debut, the atmospheric intensity is equal, if not superior to said album. Although the changes are small, they are significant, crafting a very different album from its predecessor. Even though the core of the bands sound has remained concise, the tones and atmospheres presented differ drastically from Pale Folklore and thus succeed in creating a very worthy follow up. Recommended.