Agalloch- The Serpent & The Sphere Review
By: Benjie Stewart
"Maturity is the ability to think, speak and act your feelings within the bounds of dignity. The measure of your maturity is how spiritual you become during the midst of your frustrations."
The new Agalloch album, The Serpent & The Sphere has been out since May. I have listened to it on different occasions, have sometimes avoided it, and have avoided reading other reviews wrote about it. Is it odd to say I feel pain when I hear the new Agalloch album? Could it be that this is the Agalloch album I relate to the most? There is a flow in the music and lyrics like I have never heard on an Agalloch album before. On the opening track "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation", the lines “Towers.../Deity forged architecture/Swirling in and out of form/Enveloped in the arms of dark matter/Towers...mercurial and flowing.../My work is done...”- these lyrics speak to me unlike anything I have heard or read by Agalloch. I have avoided going back to this album and avoided reviewing it because it is so hard to sum up in words what I am feeling when listening to The Serpent & The Sphere. Like the almighty Emperor from Norway, Agalloch are just untouchable. I know it is pure joy I feel along with the pain; I do think this was a more personal affair than previous Agalloch albums. It is similar to 2002's The Mantle in heart and manner but not even close to what that album is and still is. That is not a knock on the new album here, they are both two different universes; all Agalloch albums are different universes and multiverses. I view them all as hypothetical paintings of sorts, as an infinite landscape that is always changing and evolving. “Languages of the gods/spoken in sidereal tongue/Divinities of the stars/Illuminate in runes of man” from "The Astral Dialogue", makes it perfectly clear that Agalloch are on another plain, another journey far far away from humanity. For all the beauty in the lyrics, there is so much music to absorb and harbor here. The fabric widens, it withers, and the bulk of it leaves behind all, where that pain grows. Agalloch do sound more black metal today than they did starting out in 1995. The stench is more potent. Since 2010's Marrow of the Spirit and further on into 2012's Faustian Echoes EP they have morphed into this new Agalloch sound. It is a progression, a leap out of old skin that has been embodied with disease for too long. Every production Agalloch present is their own way of presenting their dark beautiful art to the listener. I won't touch on that, how can I? The album held me hostage for weeks! At almost sixty minutes of music to take in, you have to be in a certain mood and mindset to withstand all there is on The Serpent & The Sphere and for all that is Agalloch. “For each step; nihility, a paradox, an epoch, a quantum crevasse/Worlds are lost in my path”, from "Dark Matter Gods" is not based on land but based in the nothingness of the assorted universal patterns.
“I am compelled to dissolve
into the eternal unknown eidolon/A voice that leads to a world beyond a mere mortal's most profound dreams/Yet I know.../There is no turning back from here/There is no place for the undeserved/Gone are the relics!”, from "Celestial Effigy"
Time whispers to me with every step into this record. There I fall to the cold floor, caught between two energies, two entities, two paradoxes; I then remember time does not exist here in this compound.
“I have arrived at the corridor of infinity; the great hall where the ages are kept/Behind ancient ash and primordial iron/The past is a mirror...aeons exist in a myriad cast the vale before me; my own reflection” from "Vales Beyond Dimension"
Tears fall from a unknown source and blanket the earth. I think if we took the ability to think we would learn to know that unknown source and learn what there is to learn. It is all I can see, this luring teardrop dream. Human after hopeless human being tossed out, kicked to the curb, single file, where reality meets and the sword is sharpened. The album ends with two more instrumental pieces, "Plateau of the Ages" and the final song "(Serpens Cauda)". A strong and honest way to end the album.