Album Review: Agalloch -The Serpent & The Sphere

At this point, I don’t think anyone would fault Agalloch if they decided to simply rest on their laurels. After all, their discography has been so consistently excellent that if the band were to just phone one in and make Pale Folklore: Part II, few people would probably mind. This is a band with absolutely nothing left to prove, especially after 2010’s nearly universally lauded Marrow of the Spirit. After listening to the Portland-based quartet’s latest album The Serpent & The Sphere, however, it would seem that no one told this to John Haughm and company, because they’ve somehow managed to top themselves yet again; from first note to last, The Serpent & The Sphere is the best thing Agalloch have ever done.

Part of what makes TS&TS so successful is that it really sounds so little like Marrow of the Spirit. That album was epic, with only one song (not counting the instrumental opener) clocking in at (barely) under ten minutes. It also featured some of the most furious, blastbeat-driven black metal of Agalloch’s entire catalog. Only two songs on The Serpent & The Sphere crack the ten minute mark, making the album as a whole much more immediate; generally, I find it takes several listens for an Agalloch record to fully reveal itself, but The Serpent & The Sphere grabs you from the very first note without sacrificing any of the intricate songwriting the band is known for.

Aside from Haughm’s trademark rasps, it’s also probably their least black-metal sounding album, with barely a blastbeat to be found. This isn’t to say that the band has pulled an Alcest and left metal completely behind. Instead, the album sounds doomier than anything they’ve done before. There’s a clear post-punk influence on many of the songs, and they even flirt with some of the Cure-flavored black metal that Krieg have perfected as of late. Haughm has also expanded his vocal style beyond the aforementioned rasps, giving the album a more dynamic feel.

This is normally the point in the review when I would highlight a track of two as standouts, but with The Serpent & The Sphere that’s just not possible. From the epic opening track to the classical guitar interludes to the shorter, more straightforward songs, this album is another masterpiece from a band that seems to produce nothing but masterpieces. This one is very likely going to be my album of the year. 

You can stream the The Serpent & The Sphere in its entirety below and download from Agalloch's Bandcamp page.