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 Agalloch - The Mantle

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Axe
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PostSubject: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 4:58 am


Over the past few years, Agalloch has been a name you've heard time and time again on the forum. Hell, you'll probably hear about them on any site that has anything to do with metal. Opinions are varied on their music, and I think that really comes down to what listeners are trying to get out of their music. For a typical metalhead who is looking for high energy and aggressive music, Agalloch might seem like a boring band playing boring music. There are moments of aggression and moments of high energy, but Agalloch is and always has been a band about atmosphere, emotion and fresh ideas.

The Mantle is the sophomore full-length from Agalloch, and it is a force to be reckoned with. I would even venture so far to say that it got the ball rolling on this whole folk and post-metal craze that's been picking up steam over the last few years. There were of course some older groups (see: Ulver) that pioneered this style, but Agalloch really brought it into the spotlight, and largely with the Mantle. But why is this album revered by so many?

The progression of the album is the first thing to note. Most tracks lead into the next in a way that feels pretty natural, and even the ones that don't flow well enough with their ideas. It's a glorious ebb and flow of nature-centric music that conjures images of a long walk through a forest landscape, just as the ice and snow is melting from a long and terrible winter. It's refreshing, but at the same time strange and almost sorcerous. The contemplative mindset of being surrounded by nature is there, but not without the untamed essence of the wild and the feeling of solitude that would accompany that long, long walk. It absolutely flows as well or better than many film scores.

That is one of the big reasons the Mantle is great as an album, but the music itself is not to be downplayed. While I would almost always rather listen to it start to finish, each track holds up with fresh ideas and exciting sub-progression. The blend of neofolk, post-rock, doom metal and even a touch of black metal gives the Mantle a completely unique sound. While not as unique today as it would have been a decade ago (if I was actually a music fan back then,) at the time it was almost a completely new sound. It of course took cues from albums like Bergtatt from Ulver, but it was a beast all it's own. Each track (except for the smaller interlude tracks) twists and shapes itself in a natural way, offer stark contrasts in sound and feeling. So not only is there an overarching rise and fall on the album, but there are individual hills and valleys on each song. In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion, for example, is a long epic that twists up the main theme in a few different ways, and never feels boring or monotonous even though it's a whopping fourteen minutes long, with change.

Oftentimes you can find interviews and such talking about the production of the album, and how long it took. It was completely worth the work they put into it. It has a very clean production, but without sounding so overproduced that it no longer feels organic. It probably has some of the best production value I've heard on a metal album, it is rough around the edges when it needs to be, but still allows every note to be crystal clear. I can't think of anything about the production that I would change, it is delightfully mixed and mastered.

The Mantle still stands as Agalloch's opus, and probably my favorite record of all time. I can revisit it after not listening for awhile and still be blown away by it's beauty, it's wildness and it's honesty. It doesn't pull any punches and still inspires contemplation, years after I first heard it. While Agalloch is still making wonderful material, they wll never be able to achieve quite what they achieved with the Mantle. It is truly a classic, both for metal and music in general.

Standout tracks:
It's hard to pick, because the album should pretty much always be played whole, but
In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion, The Lodge, Odal, You Were But a Ghost In My Arms, The Hawthorne Passage

Perfection!
5/5

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 10:26 am

Great review, agree with pretty much all points. Pretty unreal album. Back in the day when we did a Metal's Best Song did Shadow of Our Pale Companion win?

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 1:50 pm

great review. i actually own this and i love the album. but i have to say, the vocals give off a pretentious vibe to me at points which is one thing that kind of puts me off occasionally. that and the occasional sloppiness/ meandering melodies that sounded like they didn't know where to end were initially bothering me as well. those things may be a positive for some people though. always thought those things, but learned to ignore it for the most part. i was actually listening to it this past week. this would be a 4/5 for me

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 2:24 pm

LOR wrote:
the vocals give off a pretentious vibe to me at points which is one thing that kind of puts me off occasionally.

If it's the only real flaw I can find with The Mantle, it's Haughm's self-insertion as part vocalist, part poet. His prose isn't particularly bad or anything - quite the opposite, the theme throughout the album is very well done - but the delivery seems so... art rock? Call me the resident John Haughm clean vocal hater, I guess.

He's an excellent guitarist and I'm not sure I follow with LOR's assertion that the track compositions are meandering so much as they are long, which isn't "wrong" for the type of music they're doing. They knew exactly their intention by creating this album with its long, winding passages and its inexorable dance with the theme of the end of the modern world. When I heard Faustian Echoes.... well, yes, I can definitely call that meandering and off-putting, dare I suggest their career at the head of the nature-infused progressive black metal scene has ended.

Terrific review, Axe, would read again

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 3:14 pm

Gwonam wrote:
LOR wrote:
the vocals give off a pretentious vibe to me at points which is one thing that kind of puts me off occasionally.

If it's the only real flaw I can find with The Mantle, it's Haughm's self-insertion as part vocalist, part poet. His prose isn't particularly bad or anything - quite the opposite, the theme throughout the album is very well done - but the delivery seems so... art rock? Call me the resident John Haughm clean vocal hater, I guess.

He's an excellent guitarist and I'm not sure I follow with LOR's assertion that the track compositions are meandering so much as they are long, which isn't "wrong" for the type of music they're doing. They knew exactly their intention by creating this album with its long, winding passages and its inexorable dance with the theme of the end of the modern world. When I heard Faustian Echoes.... well, yes, I can definitely call that meandering and off-putting, dare I suggest their career at the head of the nature-infused progressive black metal scene has ended.

Terrific review, Axe, would read again

i didn't mean meandering as in long as I actually enjoy long pieces especially when its in the atmospheric vein like The Mantle. I was actually talking more about how melodic lines didn't know "where" to end not when. More specifically referring to note choices they decide to use on downbeats- occasionally they use something not within the chord, which isn't wrong- especially if they commit to it, but then it sounds like they wanted the next note in the sequence so they go to that one right after and it makes it feel to me like they just quickly hashed out some melodies without thinking about how they fit within the harmonic context. im sure some things were improvised so sometimes it makes sense in that regard. but its this which kind of gives me the sense of "meandering" because some lines seem to well...meander around target notes instead of actually hitting them. then again if it was on purpose, the suspensions and appoggiaturas just kind of add to the pretentiousness to me. in that atmospheric setting, i would call them uncalled for as discord in a relaxed reflective atmosphere...well sounds odd. i am also not speaking just about the guitar lines, anything with a lead melodic line, vocals included, does this at some point usually.

like to clarify that im not saying its an objectively bad thing, i'm sure it adds to the charm for a lot of people. "rawness" might be a word some would use. its just something that initially irked me. im actually pretty over it now. i think ive just accepted that its something they do.

your description of the "Art-rock" clean singing i think is pretty accurate. makes sense to me. its his delivery. it definitely sounds like he wrote the lyrics without the music in mind and then tried to fit them in somehow which makes for "different" phrasing. once again- not a bad thing, its just how I hear it but it adds to the "pretentiousness" factor for me. It actually might have been a big contributor to the "meanderingness" of some of the vocal lines as it forces the melody to over-extend occasionally which might make writing a consistent melody hard.

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 3:20 pm

Pale Folklore really did it right. Long enough to be progressive, short enough to be concise. That's rawness. The Mantle tries to break that, to resounding success. The Hawthorne Passage and the intro/outro duo riffs coming back into light with the rest of the album, and Odal all highlight very well constructed music, whereas the overall part of the epic In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion finds many of the faults you outlined.

Nevertheless, they're faults we've learned to love and I don't think anybody will argue that this record is anything but groundbreaking, if not rough around the edges. It just sucks it had to go after what may have been, alongside Ulver's Bergtatt, the origin of this genre of music.

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 7:59 pm

I agree with what Lor said about some of the meandering melodies and whatnot, but I do think that is part of the charm of the album. And sometimes, strange lines add some dissonance which not only throws off the listener but adds a big distinction. I think that helps with the album's theme struggle between light and dark. It's like the tension loosens, tightens, then loosens again and with these strange note choices it adds a spark of dissonance to an otherwise beautiful and clean sound. To me, that adds some of the biggest character to their style. But it is a very subjective thing, it is definitely something that has to be done correctly but I think they did achieve this.

Part of why I think this was completely a stylistic decision is the clear and concise melodies on other tracks. Odal, for example, just shimmers the whole way through, whereas on In the Shadow... you get those periods of strange lines and floaty melodies.



Thanks for reading and for the kind words guys, great discussion!

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Wed May 15, 2013 8:03 pm

I think I might be in the minority. My favourite album is Ashes Against the Grain. Its so calming and smooth. I also think "Not Unlike the Waves" might be my favourite song by them. The buildup is near perfect. It almost has a storyline to it beginning melo and progressing from there.

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Fri May 17, 2013 2:56 am

Ashes Against the Grain was a fantastic record, but honestly I think it's the weakest Agalloch release to date. It has a few gems, Falling Snow, Not Unlike the Waves and Fire Above, Ice Below are great tracks but I honestly didn't get into the Our Fortress Is Burning trilogy thing, although Bloodbirds is pretty good. Fire Above, Ice Below is also far too long. Where In the Shadow... warrants the length, to me it does drag on a bit. It could be 3/4 or 1/2 the length and it would be just fine. Limbs is also pretty great, but I guess the album doesn't seem very cohesive to me.

I guess even though I love all the tracks, at least to an extent, the album doesn't come together as well for me.

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Fri May 17, 2013 9:32 am

Limbs is one of my favourites on there but I will agree that the Fortress trilogy is the weakest part of the album. I think Limbs was the first Agalloch song I heard so that could help

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PostSubject: Re: Agalloch - The Mantle   Fri May 17, 2013 12:19 pm

I'm with byd on the Ashes assessment: Agalloch were finally shedding their skin and delving into what I believed to be the best record of their career. It was accessible, sprawling and meaningful, respectful of its origins and resplendent in design. It was Pale Folklore a decade later.

Limbs was also my first Agalloch song, but I have to disagree that the Fortress trilogy was the weakest part of the album! That spaghetti Western feel to the trilogy was straight up grim in every way imaginable. Anybody hear the additional Fortress song on vinyl, Scars of the Scattered Sky (Our Fortress Has Burned to the Ground)? It's all right. The production on it is pretty shitty... I can see why they nixed it on post-production and made it a B-side, but it has its moments

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