Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A Bleak Journey for Cloudy, Cold Days. - 96%

woeoftyrants, April 5th, 2007

While Agalloch's debut Pale Folklore certainly was a hard one to follow up, the Portland outfit pulled through without scathing by introducing several new elements into their signature melancholy, catatonic sound, and becoming all-around better writers and musicians. This album is a bit more experimental and progressive in nature, and forgoes some of the band's heavier terrain.

Unlike the nighttime winter feel of Pale Folklore, The Mantle introduces a more bitter, almost modern feel; fear not, though. The organic tendencies of the band are in even more full swing here than on the debut album, and it actually benefits the band since they're not redoing anything they've already accomplished. This "vibe" I speak of has a very detached feel that makes me think of bleak, cloudy days in small cities; this is illustrated clearly in the album's layout, which features various monochrome photos of downtown Portland's statues, and the members in natural settings of the city. It also shows a natural progression of the band, who have now introduced parts of their personal lives into the music. "The Hawthorne Passage" uses various soundclips of cars passing over a bridge and Native American language, while "The Lodge" uses recorded samples of a person traversing through heavy snow. Haughm's lyrics have grown more introspective, and focus on nature and mankind's relation to it more than before. Feelings of loss and desolation are still rampant though, as illustrated on "You Were But a Ghost in My Arms," which is one of the few tracks that keeps the formula of the debut album fully intact.

So, other than the atmosphere, what's so different about this album? Pretty much everything. The majority of Haughm's vocals are now clean, and he has an excellent voice. In a way, it's almost monotone and deadpan, but soothing and emotional at the same time. It takes some getting used to, but "...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth" and "You Were But a Ghost in My Arms" are some of Haughm's best performances yet. Many ranges of clean vocals are used, and even layered in a tasteful way. His other vocal style used is still seen frequently, and sounds clearer and more bitter than that of the first album.

The guitars are now an entity of their own in the music; no more of the Katatonia influence is prevalent, and the post-rock sheen has now blossomed into a main aspect of the band's sound. Acoustic guitars, either strummed or plucked, serve a major role here; rather than the occasional flirtation with folk music, the gloomy acoustics serve as a purveyor of recurring themes. The opening instrumental features a line that is repeated not just in several songs, but well through the album's duration for a wholesome and emotionally draining experience. Strummed chords often resonate behind clean or distorted electric guitars as a background instrument. Also, the electric guitars have progressed healthily since the debut, are more sophisticated, and now serve as a canvas for atmospheric experiments. Various riffs and solos are soaked in effects that bring the grey feel of the album to fruition, though it's usually along the lines of reverb or echo to give the music a more distant feel. It could be the wailing, painful solos in "In the Shadow of Pale Companion," which features one hell of a sweep at the 12-minute mark. Or maybe it's the familiar feel of shimmery clean arpeggios, as seen on "Odal." Regardless, there's a new artistic edge at work here with the guitar department.

Alongside natural artistic progressions, there are also new elements to the sound here. There are many bristly, rusty mandolins to speak of, mainly in "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion" and the harrowing acoustic closer, "A Desolation Song." Other odd little experimental tidbits come in: an ancient-sounding hand bell on "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion," doom-impending brass on "...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth," electronically programmed percussion and bells, and a deep, barely detectable contra bass and ebow throughout many of the compositions. Everything melds together in a vast artistic scope that lets The Mantle stand apart from anything else in this corner of music.

Production has improved superbly since Pale Folklore, thankfully. With the intricate scope of this music, it would be impossible for this album to succeed without a clear, crystalline, and organic production. This is especially noticeable with the drums, which seem to have more power behind them, thanks to deep toms and a pounding snare sound. The experimental touches jump out at the listener, and there's plenty of ear candy to be found on subsequent listens.

Some things from the debut still remain intact, though; mainly the sense of wholeness given off by the flow of the album, since every song leads to the next by means of ambience and soundscapes. There are still some damn good heavy moments though, especially "I am the Wooden Doors," which would fit perfectly on the band's debut with its mid-paced double bass, dark romantic lyrics, and folkish acoustic breaks ala Ulver. Nothing comes off in a rehashed way, though; it's all fresh and full of vibrancy.

While certainly different than the debut album, undoubtedly "lighter," and not as immediately likeable, The Mantle stands as one of the best metal-related albums to emerge in recent years. You owe it to yourself to at least give this album a chance.