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A Desolation Album. - 70%

Perplexed_Sjel, May 28th, 2008

Arguably one of the most celebrated bands that isn’t in the core of the mainstream, Agalloch have long since established themselves. Their name has been etched in stone forever more and will never be extinguished, no matter how good or bad the material of tomorrow is. The present state of the band is positive. Although there have been some complaints that Agalloch aren’t ‘metal enough’ to feature, the bands reputation is improving on an already solid foundations. ‘The Mantle’, along with the other Agalloch albums, is considered a great victory in the eyes of the modern listener. Why? It’s fusion of genres has not been done so well … Ever? May be so. The cries are that Agalloch have developed a highly experimental sound which is bound to produce some shocks every time a new record is released. This experimental sound is a risk that the band have chosen to take. There are those who will enjoy it for what it is and those who will ridicule it for not being what it should be.

The confusion over the genre of the band probably hasn’t helped boost the reputation of this Oregon outfit, but nevertheless, it still is steadily improving. All this despite the fact that Agalloch have been around for some time now, though it seems like yesterday that we were all being blown away by the mammoth sound of ‘Pale Folklore’ which produced one great noise of adoration and produced a following of people not usually common with metal bands, or bands associate with the genre that don’t step into the mainstream. I suppose, over time, Agalloch have become more and more mainstream. I, personally, don’t consider this a band thing. To me, Agalloch’s sound has always taken on a natural sort of progression, as opposed to a forced progression into completely the wrong direction. I could name a few examples of where that has occurred, but that wouldn’t be relevant.

Stepping into the limelight that being in the mainstream brings is, in itself, a risk. Why? Well, whilst the mainstream aspect of music is totally different to the underground, there are certain unwritten rules by which a band must follow. It goes without saying that the band must be loyal to the people who first supported them. Their music must stay ‘true’ to their support. Although progression is allowed and expression is applauded, the bands sound mustn’t stray into the grey zone, where so many bands fall into once they’ve broken into the big time. The grey zone is an area which signifies that the band have developed an uncanny ability to appeal to the masses based on what is popular at the time to the drones who buy anything and everything with some sort of gimmick.

Comparisons to Opeth, a mainstream band, are rife. You can’t hear the name of Agalloch without having it compared to the music of Opeth, whom I don’t rate anywhere near as highly as I do this band. Apparently, they have a similar taste for acoustics. Whilst both bands do happen to use them, that, to me, is where the comparisons begin and end. So, on with the Agalloch material, shall we? As previously stated, this particular Agalloch piece is littered with acoustics. The debut wasn’t as musically diverse as this, and that is truly saying something. Agalloch have always been about exploration in sound, but ‘The Mantle’ takes that to new levels. The acoustics are one part of it that indicates to me that Agalloch have made some serious efforts to change their style.

The changes applied to ‘The Mantle’ may be small, but they are significant. The acoustics add a beauty that the previous album, ‘Pale Folklore’ didn’t explore much. In a sense, you could compare the avant-gardé style of Agalloch to that of Norwegian legends, Ulver. Whilst Agalloch are yet to drain out all the aspects of their music which associate them to metal and begin to sound more like an electronica act, the bands do share some similarities. On the earliest Ulver albums, the music was fixated on the idea of creating beautiful, sweet sounding songs filled with acoustics and clean vocals.

‘The Mantle’ is beginning to show us, the audience, that Agalloch have the potential to drastically change their sound from one album to another. Although the sounds that Agalloch have conjured up here aren’t entirely different to that on previous albums, those small differences are decisive. The change in production, for example. ‘Pale Folklore’ graced us with a murkier sound, which suited the atmospherically diverse album. ‘The Mantle’ is more focused than the previous effort. It’s more conscientious towards it’s audience due to the fact that the songs are now played over a much clearer and cleaner production style. Whilst the music on ‘Pale Folklore’ was accessible, it is much more so here. The use of the synths can be appreciated more due to the clean approach. This new and fresh sound suit’s the clean vocals that accompany it. Whilst many people seem to have a problem with the vocals, I don’t. I like them. Whether we’re talking about the harsher vocals, or the clean one’s. I like them both. I believe they match the style fairly well.

Whether we’re tasting the sweet sounds of the acoustics, the vocals which are sung in a clean voice are capable of playing alongside the sound without any problems. Also, if we’re treated to the older Agalloch methods of double bass pedals and tremolo picked riffs, then the rasps suit that style superbly too. Although ‘The Mantle’ isn’t as good as the previous effort, it’s still a good album across all fronts. The bass is strong, producing a subtle sadness beneath the more awe inspiring lead guitars, which play a mixture of riffs. That includes twin riffs, which are well executed. The drums are dynamic enough to suit the needs as well. The majority of the aspects present on this album are good, especially the atmospheric nature of it, but there are too many filler tracks. Usually situated next to each other, it seems.