Ah, Agalloch. One of maybe a handful of noteworthy American black metal bands, and arguably the most influential. If we were to trace back the roots of the current crop of “hipster” black metal, it would lead directly to this album, The Mantle. Released in 2002, it features all of the trademarks of modern atmospheric black metal: long songs, outside influences, almost unrecognizable as black metal. To understand why it’s such a prevalent form of modern black metal, it seems best to go back to the beginning here.
The Mantle is not a bad album by any means. It has excellent musicianship and songwriting, and manages to retain a black metal foundation while still experimenting with traditional folk stylings without becoming folk metal. A perfect example of this is the track “I am the Wooden Doors.” If you try to tell me that opening riff isn’t black metal, you’re a liar. It hits all the notes of black metal, but it makes itself stand out where it’s its own identity.
The tracks on this album are very long. Average runtime seems to be about 11 minutes, which is such a big thing in modern atmospheric black metal, you can definitely see the clear influence. They’re not boring songs though, if that makes any sense. They’re long enough that they can fully flesh out any ideas they introduce before the song expires; something I think the modern crop of bands missed out on. It seems like such an obvious thing to do when you notice it, but few bands today seem to realize how to. Damn shame.
The Mantle isn’t a bad album at all, and for being nearly 16 years old it’s aged surprisingly well. It’s a bit long for my taste, but that’s more of a personal problem than an actual qualm against the album. I just think that the album is damned a little, in my eyes, for its obvious influence on the subpar breed of bands that spawned in its wake. Which is a real shame because it’s actually a good album, especially at this time of year.
I give The Mantle an average 3/5.
Check it out here.