Review by Jack on August 14, 2002.
This is a pretty solid record; there is no doubt about it. Agalloch are very accomplished musicians, who have some pretty fine ideas for songs and melodies. “The Mantle” is their latest effort and comes riding along and ultimately having to live up to the high quality ‘The End Records’ name that bands like Winds, Arcturus and Virgin Black have recently pushed into the metal stratosphere. Normally speaking, if you like one of The End Records’ bands, it is probably a safe bet you could really get into other The End Records bands and have some real fun in record stores piling up CD after CD. Agalloch, however may be an outfit who just slightly dampen the high standard of The End Records with “The Mantle”. It is not a meager album though, Agalloch this time around just lack a little spark and a little fire that could ignite them and turn “The Mantle” into a great record.
Thus to my problem with “The Mantle”. Creativity. Agalloch have a good formula going for the tracks on “The Mantle”, and I truly am a believer of the acoustic guitars to bring melody to songs and create a bit of diversity, but not to the extent that Agalloch bring on “The Mantle”. The winding acoustic passages on tracks such as ‘The Hawthorne Passage’ and ‘The Lodge’, for example could perhaps use a little bit of spice to up the tempo from pedestrian and subsequently make for a more interesting listen. Agalloch seem content to ponder and soak up their musical deluge of acoustics without really challenging themselves to bring out more thought and clarity to create something with a bit more substance.
That being said there are some great moments on “The Mantle”, the non instrumental tracks are really a shining feature of the album (funny that, eh? Usually a weak instrumental track makes no difference to an album, but in Agalloch’s case there are 4 instrumentals, which may be construed as half a good album). The vocals give Agalloch another dimension and through the clean and harsh vocals of Haughm they are able to create some inspired and ‘interesting’ songs. Pity this is not a consistent effort.
Some folks may say I am being harsh on Agalloch, but I say I hate to see talented wasted, which Agalloch have in abundance. “The Mantle” is recommended for any fan of Agalloch’s past work or fans of folk/rock.
Bottom Line: “The Mantle” seems to be only half full of dynamic songwriting and half full of monotone instrumental acoustic pieces. This could spell doom for less accomplished artists, but Agalloch is far from that category and succeed with “The Mantle” to an extent.
Categorical Rating Breakdown
Rating: 7.2 out of 10