Agalloch were a Folk Metal band that grew a lot of commercial and critical acclaim with this album The Mantle. I reviewed their follow up album Ashes Against the Grain (2007) and you can read that here. I said in that album review that it was my favorite album from Agalloch… but as I’m re-listening to The Mantle, that might change. Suffice it to say, this band is absolutely fantastic and one of my favorites.
A Celebration For The Death Of Man… starts the album instrumentally – heavy emphasis on the acoustic guitar and booming drums. What blows my damn mind is what comes next, the 15 minute long In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion. This has some of the most fascinating and unique musical ideas I’ve heard in a Metal song. It’s just an explosion of creativity and at no point feels like it treads on itself or wears thin. Lyrically it’s a nihilistic wrestle with faith and mortality. Much more direct than Ashes Against the Grain‘s abstract lyrics, and I can’t really decide which I like more. Odal is an instrumental interlude but it is far from sparse. The two guitars play off each other brilliantly to produce sounds that are only made when they play at the same time, their distortion and reverb making a unique noise. It also ends with a muddy thunderstorm of noise that it entered with, for some reason I find it’s a very soothing sound.
I Am The Wooden Doors explodes out of the gate with some very fast drums to get your blood boiling again. It’s just a completely solid Heavy Metal track to jump start the album again. The Lodge is another instrumental, with a very forward acoustic guitar and a noise, which I read earlier, that is the sound of John Haughm striking a deer skull… I don’t think it gets more Folk Metal than that. Speaking of which, it’s got much more of a Folk feel to this album than I expected, a lot more acoustic guitar on this album. The Hawthorne Passage is another instant favorite of mine, with samples taken from the films “The Seventh Seal” (1957) and “Fando And Lis” (1968) with some absolutely gorgeous instrumentation. Interviews have shown that that The Mantle is very film inspired, but I haven’t delved deep enough into the album to pull out any other connections. …And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth is absolutely stunning, with some of their best acoustic guitar playing with some larger instrumentation – horns and strings add to the grandiose sound as John Haughm bellows the chorus:
“Life is a clay urn on the mantle
And I am the fragments on the floor”
A Desolation Song completes the album, a very bitter and heartbroken song much like You Were But A Ghost In My Arms. This is another unique song on this album, featuring a very melancholy accordion and what sounds like a lute or mandolin. It’s the closest I’ve heard a Metal song get to a drinking song, and sounds perfect for what you would imagine. Depressing lyrics sung by Haughm are whispered/sung as if exhausted and he had just finished half a pack of cigarettes, and then it ends with one final tap of the deer skull. I love it.
I can’t believe I slept on this album so hard. I’ve been listening to Ashes Against the Grain exclusively since I first heard of this group, and I felt like I wasted a lot of time. Not that it’s a bad album, but that I underestimated how great The Mantle could be. In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion is simply genius. I will now listen to the rest of their discography in full to make sure I’m not missing out on ANYTHING. This is an incredible band, and I love their music. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.