Plateau of the AgesIf you're not familiar with Agalloch, you could rightly be called metal-illiterate. They are one of a handful of bands in the course of metal's four decades and change who have, truly, altered the landscape. More than likely you are familiar with them, and you already have your opinions on them. If those opinions are negative, then disregard and move on, because The Serpent & the Sphere doesn't do anything radically different. Instead, it highlights what the band does well.
It is, as usual, an expertly crafted piece of cinematic neo-folk/black metal in the Cascadian style. Whatever black metal piques the curiosity of the mainstream and the Pitchfork crowd, Agalloch once again put to shame. It's tough to sunbathe when you're under a shadow as large as "Dark Matter Gods."
"Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" begins the record with an expansive blend of acoustic and electric elements, slow and grand as always. "Celestial Effigy" is exactly what we expected, and could be as "typical" an Agalloch song as you'll find. "Vales Beyond Dimension" reminds us just how intimate the band can be, and not just in the whispered vocals.
Throw in the not-unexpected, short acoustic tracks, and there really isn't much different going on here, save for one thing. "The Astral Dialogue" may be the closest to a "hit" Agalloch have ever recorded. It's really wonderful. Everything they've ever recorded is wonderful.
The bad news is, it seems the band has plateaued. The good news is, they began the plateau at rarefied heights. There are great bands that have never recorded an album as good as Agalloch's worst.
The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars