CMJ (8/16/02, p.26) - "...Loaded with lush, proggy soundscapes..."
Agalloch: John Haughm (vocals, acoustic, electric & 12-string guitars, percussion, chimes); Anderson (acoustic & electric guitars, piano); J. William W. (bass, cymbals).
Additional personnel: Ronn Chick (mandolin, synthesizer, bells); Ty Brubaker (accordion, contrabass); Danielle Norton (trombone).
Recorded between November 2001 & April 2002.
Agalloch's second album, The Mantle, is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over their first full-length, 1999's Pale Folklore. That wasn't a bad album, but it was hampered by a low-budget production job that didn't suit the sophisticated tone of the music. The improved production is the first thing that stands out here, evident in the more detailed arrangements, the classier guitar tones, and the fuller overall sound. That said, the music itself has also evolved and matured. Along with the Katatonia-inspired guitar work and grim, scratchy black metal vocals also present on Pale Folklore, a number of other sounds work their way into The Mantle, among them prominent acoustic guitar-strumming and cleanly sung vocals, Scandinavian-tinged folk guitar-picking (the middle breakdown during "I Am the Wooden Doors" is straight out of Ulver's bag), timpani percussion, and a few subtle electronic interludes. It is not just the range of sounds that's impressive, though, but rather how smoothly they are woven together, creating an album that flows from beginning to end, using its entire 68-minute running time to make its point without wearing out its welcome. Agalloch's biggest strength, much like the early work of Ulver and Katatonia, is their ability to create an epic type of listening experience without resorting to bombast or heavy-handedness, and that quality is plainly evident here. Factor in the excellent artwork and packaging (which features photos of the bandmembers looking very poised and European), and you have one of 2002's most accomplished and surprising metal-related albums. ~ William York