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Review: Agalloch - The Mantle
The Mantle

Label: The End Records
Year released: 2002
Duration: 68:36
Tracks: 9
Genre: Folk Metal

Rating: 2.5/5

Review online: January 12, 2009
Reviewed by: Caspian
Readers Rating
The Mantle

Rated 4.08/5 (81.63%) (86 Votes)

I'm not entirely sure how to view this band; their latest album was painfully average, the fans are up there with Tool and Opeth fans in terms of annoyance and pretension and they've garnered a lot of fairly undeserved praise. Plus hipsters can't get enough of them. Despite that, though, they've always had a relatively unique sound -doesn't mean the band is good, but I've always felt that striving for uniqueness is admirable, regardless of the end result - and they seem to have a knack for catchy and well thought out arrangements, even if the results are sometimes fairly average (though Pale Folklore was decent enough). This one has some pretty good moments; some of the longer tunes are pulled off with aplomb. However Agalloch don't really manage to transcend themselves here, and while this is certainly better than the Coldplay love that's AAGT it's not particularly interesting.

Two things that the average listener will pick up straight away is that the guitarist needs to lay off the chorus effects and the vocalist needs to be replaced. Considering that the rest of the album has some rather polished production the clean guitars are really horrible; no bass and some really grating upper mid boost. Really thin and permanently irritating, basically. It's a strange problem that these guys have always had; it seems that they actually like this type of guitar tone, which to say the least is a very puzzling thing. Those who've heard Agalloch won't be all that surprised by the vocalist's sheer averageness; however his clean vocals sound a lot more pubescent than in the other releases, and his whisper/scream vocals.. Man. AIDS in audio format- and both occasionally get some use at the same time. I hear that dual scream/sing vocals have replaced water boarding and other various forms of torture in Guatanamo; far cheaper and a lot more effective.

Vocals and guitars aside this isn't too bad but suffers from the usual Agalloch-isms. Some of the tunes are pretty cool; "Pale Companion" is a really long tune that changes things up a fair bit; it's a pretty entertaining tune with some rather cool guitar lines. Indeed, it's actually a rather good song, and it's probably my favourite Agalloch tune. Lyrics are shit, though: I sat down by a river/And sat in reflection/Of what had to be done (Wow!!!). "Odal" is a pretty decent attempt at some post-rock, and "Wooden Doors" has some amusing and competent Bergtatt-ripping, though it's nowhere near as good as the original, and it's kinda sad that a 17 year old Garm sounds way manlier than the Agalloch vocalist. Yeah, some of this is pretty decent- the acoustic solo in "Great Cold Death..." is a real tasteful, melodic thing that many a band would love to have.

But the Agalloch-isms quickly suffocate any brilliance. For every relatively interesting bergtatt worship/post rock/epic track there are three typical Agalloch tunes. Folky and a bit doomy, maybe a pinch of melodic Black Metal, long and graceful, sure, but boring as all hell; it's well written but there's never any sort of cathartic element to it; the songs just come and go in a pleasant, vaguely-atmospheric haze. Put simply: boring, bland, blathering, babyshit (as in, of a consistently smooth texture, and made by people who are still breastfed).

There's a palpable lack of emotion throughout the whole thing; I'm not expecting the dude to get all screamy or anything but damn, does the vocalist- and every other band member- sound bored. I have a feeling that it may be due to over producing this (they might pull it off live, I dunno), but man, even the black album is more emotional than this album. No feeling at all. The arrangements don't help- competent but for the most part safe and boring. There's so many bits where you think that if only these guys were a bit more risky and dramatic- less stuff accompanying the acoustics, slightly heavier climaxes, better use of drums, a sense that these guys mean it- then it would be a great album.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a horrible album. It's better than Ashes..., and while it's only good in a few places it never gets bad or anything; it's just mostly spent being all inoffensive and pleasant. Good in a few spots + Not terribly offensive anywhere else = a decent enough rating. Can't really see any need for anyone to own this, though; those looking for the most inoffensive "metal" they can find will be better suited for Ashes Against the Grain, and everyone else would be advised to ignore this band and get Ulver's Bergtatt instead.

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