Agalloch: The mantle
18/09/09 || Smalley
Finally, it’s time to give an Agalloch album the score it deserves, instead of wussing out like the other staffers did! But seriously, I’m a really big fan of these guys, and think even their worst album, which is what I consider “The mantle” to be, is amazing. Through their unique brand of folk metal, Agalloch manages to just totally grip me, leaving me unable to think of anything else as I listen, since they not only write great music, but music that energizes my imagination and inspires my emotions as well (wishy-washy as that sounds, it’s the truth). Yes, good old headbanging stuff is cool too, but I just can’t get the same feeling from rocking out to Slayer that I can with Agalloch. I know there’s a long path ahead of me now to try to expand on all the lofty sort of shit in this intro, but I’m ready to do that, so let’s get going!
Album intro “A celebration for the death of man” feels like a funeral procession for well, man, with its dignified acoustic guitar, subtle synth work in the background, and dab of rough electric guitar as well, adding a slight, welcome grittiness. Nice stuff, and a smooth lead-in to the sprawling “In the shadow of our pale companion”, which has greater interaction between the acoustic and electric playing (strength in synergy!), and some absolutely beautiful musical passages for us to enjoy. But, the singing… I suppose John Haughm’s mild growl/bland clean vox fit the despair-filled lyrics, and I can tolerate his style, but I can’t say I enjoy it anywhere on this album. Oh well, at least everything else in Agalloch’s performance here is flawless, and though “shadow” lasts nearly fifteen minutes, it’s extremely engaging all the way, never boring (very much the opposite).
Instrumental “Odal” begins with a nature sample (a trick Agalloch will use again), the sound of a whipping cold wind. A melancholic guitar line slowly comes in and replaces that sample, and is soon joined by other, similarly solemn instruments (including a piano near song’s end), all combining to give a feeling of sorrow and desolation to the track, much more than that wind sample could ever hope to. Beautiful, haunting stuff. “I am the wooden doors” dramatically picks up the pace from there, with extremely lively drumming by Haughm and catchy, almost joyful(!)-sounding guitar work. Those two factors make “doors” my very favorite track on “mantle”, but I can’t forget to praise the awesome, all-acoustic interlude halfway through; sure, Agalloch practically stole it from “Nattens madrigal”, but it’s just so catchy! Yet another great song on an album bursting with them.
“The lodge” is another instrumental, one anchored by melodic acoustic strumming and the deep bellow of a cello, and nothing but a steady crack, created by Haughm striking the skull of a deer (did I mention that these guys like nature?), to serve as percussion. A great song to just relax to, and while I know “relaxing” isn’t a word any metal band’s supposed to be, that’s just another way Agalloch separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
“You were but a ghost in my arms” is another long, melancholy journey, with my very favorite lyrics on the album: “Like snowfall, you cried a silent storm/No tears stain this dust in my hands/But from this ashen gray, her voice… whispers my name”. Read it all yourself to get the full effect. Anyway, instrumental “The Hawthorne passage” makes a good companion piece to “ghost”, it being another long, musical trek, with a particularly awesome transition about halfway through (you’ll know it when hear it) to boot. Lots of stuff going on in these two tracks, but all of it good, and while they don’t leave as big an impression as some of the previous songs (no deer skull percussion or acoustic interludes or what have you), they remain still strong efforts from the band.
“…And the great cold death of the earth” takes “mantle” into its closing section, with the return of that awesome cello playing, vivid lyrics about Earth and everything on it coming to an end, and a kick-ass acoustic solo (you read right!) as well. “A desolation song” finally gives this album an appropriately low-key end, with more pleasing acoustic soloing, and the best use of accordion outside of Weird Al Yankovic. The track ends with the music fading out, another chilly wind sample coming in, and a lone acoustic guitar playing for a bit (well, that and one final strike of the deer skull). Once again am I reminded of an Ulver album here, but Agalloch does their homaging too well for me to start getting miffed at ‘em.
And with that, the album’s finally over. I wish I could keep adding stuff to this review, putting in more and more little details and comments about the music, but not every GD reader is into Agalloch, and I’d use up the patience of even the Agalloch fanatics if I keep going, so I hope what I put in was enough to get people interested in this great album. There’s no real way I can convey in words all the mental and emotional effects “The mantle” has on me, so I’ll just hope people take my word for it, and give this incredible accomplishment in aural depression its fair shot.
- Released: 2002
- Label: The End
- Website: www.agalloch.org
- John Haughm: vocals, guitar, drums
- Don Anderson: guitar
- Jason William Walton: bass
- 01. A Celebration For The Death Of Man
- 02. In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion
- 03. Odal
- 04. I Am The Wooden Doors
- 05. The Lodge
- 06. You Were But A Ghost In My Arms
- 07. The Hawthorne Passage
- 08. …And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth
- 09. A Desolation Song