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Beautiful, but incredibly overrated - 65%

Sean16, May 1st, 2006

Credit has to be given where it’s due, so I’ll give credit to Agalloch for having created, with their two full-length albums to date, something somehow unique in metal history. This band’s work is indeed slightly hard to describe more precisely than by the utterly generic name of “atmospheric metal”. These slow, majestic, epic tracks, with a strong emphasis on acoustic elements and “natural” sound samples, can’t certainly fully qualify as doom metal, and even sometimes can't qualify as metal, but if it’s not metal, what is it then? Folk music this isn’t really either, even if this album, like the previous one Pale Folklore, is dedicated to the glorification of nature and native North-American culture. No, once again Agalloch music has no real equivalent.

But let’s face it, this doesn’t prevent this album from being overall particularly EASY.

Creating his own style is one thing but writing creative, surprising and attention-catching songs is another, and that’s where The Mantle fails in my opinion. This album gets old very, very quickly. Once the first moment of surprise and amazement at the external beauty of the music is gone, one begins to realize that the band actually always use the same formula all throughout these nine LONG tracks: the atmospheric, sometimes doom-ish electric guitar / bass guitar / drums background, on top of which is stuck the overwhelming acoustic guitar and sometimes the vocals – though this album exhibits huge instrumental parts, four tracks, almost half of the album, being indeed totally instrumental. Add to this a slight touch of keyboards and the aforementioned sound landscapes, and you don’t really have much more to know.

The occasional vocals sound less aggressive than on Pale Folklore, consisting this time mostly in clean singing, while the vocal lines don’t really differ from one song to another, and above all seem to surprisingly lack of any passion, except maybe in You Were But A ghost in my Arms, when Haughm wonderfully spits his curse, following a long soloing part, in what may be the peak of the album – I damn this oak! And I damn her sorrow! I damn these oaken corridors, that bear the ghosts of those I’ve thrown away! – The song, alongside I Am the Wooden Doors, is easily the best here, being precisely livelier, more aggressive and to sum up more memorable than anything else.

The remaining tracks are just dragging on, for the most part. Granted, there can be occasional variations inside the songs, particularly in the epic In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion, but the overall SOUND remains terribly identical, what I can’t really explain, though I suspect the acoustic guitar from being mainly responsible for it. Add to this the fact that some parts are shamelessly repeated all along this release, the best example being the instrumental The Lodge which is a carbon copy of the intro of And The Great Cold Death Of the Earth, including the wailing contrabass, and you’ll begin to understand that the record suffers from intense monotony syndrome. Of course, you can pick almost every part of it and you’ll hear the same majestic, beautiful and appeasing atmospheric music, but the problem is, you’ll precisely hear the SAME music: same tempo, same vocals, same acoustic guitar, what makes this work almost impossible to listen to from the beginning to the end without falling asleep.

Pale Folklore, without being an ultimate masterpiece, was superior to this release because of the more inspired songwriting, the occasional touch of female vocals which added some variety to the songs and overall the more striking style (though the band has never been and, I guess, will never be renowned for its raging aggressiveness). If you want to be introduced to Agalloch, you’re advised to get that one instead.

Highlights: I Am the Wooden Doors, You Were But a Ghost in my Arms