The legends are true. The Serpent and the Sphere, the fifth full-length record from Portland, Oregon's blackened folk metal maestros Agalloch, is close to perfect. While the grandness of their vision and the beauty of their performance have always made Agalloch a keystone of the American black metal scene, it is with The Serpent and the Sphere that their vision has finally matched their execution.
Impossibly vast, the record engages with the very nature and fabric of the universe, both from a scientific and a spiritual sense, and especially where these two concepts meet, burrowing deep into the moments where reason fades into magic. For example, "Birth and Death and the Pillars of Creation" exists at the intersection of every creation myth and the nature of the big bang; the ferocious, doomy "Astral Dialogue" writhes and lashes, part vengeful god and part mad quasar. The sheer vastness of the album is mercifully broken up by a trio of instrumental, acoustic guitar tracks by Nathanaël Larochette of folk project Musk Ox, shining moments of delicacy that serve as both moments of respite and also as tributes to the serpens constellations: the head and tail of the snake and the sphere they form.
The Serpent and the Sphere constantly wrestles with the dual nature of the universe as something endless and yet with a beginning and an end, the linear vs. the cyclical, the unfathomable and yet still quantifiable. It also mirrors this conceptual struggle in its execution. As much as it is possible to describe the hissing whispers and supernova roars John Haughm's vocal performance, or the galactic wonder of Don Anderson's guitars, the sticky and celestial spirals of Jason Walton's bass lines, or the powerful alchemical engine of Aesop Dekker's drumming, together they form something greater: a massive, sublime universe unto itself.
Read about Agalloch's new album here. (Profound Lore)