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Hailing from Georgia, Agalloch are growing as one of the most important bands in the modern "shoegaze metal" scene. Melding black metal, progressive metal and shoegaze, they've been conquering a strong legion of fans in the underground, and this particular album is a popular fan favourite.
While I wouldn't consider it to be a personal favourite within the genre, the truth is that Ashes Against the Grain exemplfies well the band's solidness. It's dynamic, it's heavy, it's beautiful, and it leaves a varied range of emotions in the listener. Of course by now some will tell me wrong, claiming the album to be "dark, depressive and evil" just because this is considered to be a black metal band. Okay, but don't be fooled - they may have black metal influences, but they're far from that.
Musical dynamics are probably the album's forte, possibly because these guys have two great guitarists, capable of pushing riffs that simultaneously carry heaviness and elegance. Also helping is the fact that they write long songs - the shortest non-instrumental in this album passes the six minutes mark and the entire album, with just eight songs, lasts an hour - with an unpredictable, proggy structure. They also have a piano player, which helps a lot to establish a mood among the music which often contrasts with the riffing, hence completing it, as demonstrated well in the beginning of "Falling Snow". The downside, however, is that sadly this greatness isn't quite reached by the rest of the band.
The drummer, on his side, is merely a complement of the above. While one would probably expect better considering the fact that this band has extensive prog metal influences, the truth is that this band also happens to have extensive shoegaze influences, and I don't know any shoegaze band with an outstanding drummer. Not to call him a bad or even average drummer, but he simply follows the pace imposed by the guitars and the piano.
However, one point that may get in the listener's nerves way too much is the vocalist. Most of the time he screams in a half black metallish, half weak wannabe Mille Petrozza style that doesn't fit the music. Nonetheless, occasionally his vocal style is cleaner, which turns out really well (e.g. "Fire Above, Ice Below"). As for the lyrics, they deal mostly with depression and nature. Interestingly enough, the two issues seem to be connected in the lyrics, often offering an environmentalist view on issues such as death ("Flesh to wood, wood to stone, cast this stone into the water...") and religion ("The god of man is a failure/Our fortress is burning against the grain of the shattered sky"), in a way that actually makes the listener think.
Ashes Against the Grain isn't exactly what I'd call of being a stellar album. I wouldn't call shoegaze-influenced metal my favourite musical genre, and even so there are bands in this genre that I'd take over Agalloch (e.g. Alcest). However, I still have to confess that this album is a very solid shoegaze metal experience, one that truly deserves to be called a landmark of its genre and era.
This is Agalloch's third full-length release, and it signifies another development in the band's sound. While there is still ample amounts of folk music thrown into the mix here, there is not near as much as there was on Agalloch's crowning acheivement (and preceding work) 'The Mantle.' 'The Mantle' turned out to be one of my most moving, and profound musical experiences of all time, and while there is a much heavier, metallic sound here, I still hear the same, grief-stricken and uninhibited emotion here that made me fall in love with the music of Agalloch.
There is still the emphasis on texture and aesthetic here; don't get that wrong. The fact that the band uses more electric guitars now doesn't change the way they play at all. 'Ashes Against The Grain' does not work as an all encompassing album as much as a masterpiece should, but there are just too many moments of paralyzing beauty here that it would be unjust to give the music a rating of less than superb.
The haunting, almost-optimistic and resonating first notes of 'Limbs' really shows what the album is about. It's not about having a catchy chorus; it's about making an imprint on your heart, and being memorable as a result thereof. Anyone familiar with post-rock can expect something along the lines of a heavy 'Explosions In The Sky' with smatterings of acoustic instruments.
The main influence here (besides post-rock) is still black metal, and the vocals/lyrics are still the same, so if you loved or loathed them on any previous release, there shouldn't be any change expected.
The only true fault with the album is that it certainly does not mesh as well as it's predecessor. The ending 'epic' on the album also does not work as well as an epic should, although for what it is; 'Our Fortress Is Burning' is a fine collection of three very atmospheric and lush tracks. The album's closer is also worthy of note. 'The Grain' appears to have across many people as just being 'noise' and pointless. I actually found the track to be one of the most monumental and different pieces of music I've ever listened to.
The closest thing I can liken 'The Grain' to (as it sounds to my own ears) is an abrasive symphony of sounds, and it is all-too fitting as the album's close. Much of the album's content revolves around bleakness, and death; and the closing track sounds like death itself; coming to meet god. It is not human music as one would perceive it. It transcends traditional melody, rhythm, and form. It is best listened to at full volume with open ears. While it only took me a single listen to appreciate it, many others may not be willing to contend with something so 'noisy.'
'Ashes Against The Grain' is certainly a far cry from typical progressive rock, or even metal for that measure. There is very little showmanship here, although the musicianship is grand and thought provoking. Agalloch prove once again, that music is undoubtedly the closest thing the senses ever get to enlightenment. Majestic.
Something funny happens when you're new to a style of music. If you really enjoy it, at first, every band is great. You're drawn to the sound and characteristics of the genre and cannot really differenciate between a good and bad band yet as their writing and playing ability doesn't really matter to you as much as the fact that they're playing this style.
Agalloch are a post-rock band. Pretty cut and clean, falling almost strictly into the borders of the definition. Now, they've mostly been picked up by metalheads, and it's pretty obvious why. One, they use occasional black metal vocals, which is a great turn on for new fans of black metal as it feels black without necessarily being very heavy or difficult listening. And two, they're assosiated almost exclusively with the metal scene as that's where they're advertised and promoted and such. If they aimed their music at the post-rock crowd, I don't think they'd really get very far as their competition would be huge. I'm not much of a fan of post-rock, but I can recognise great music when I hear it (Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky) and Agalloch are just too generic to compare. But to metalheads who are completely unfamiliar with post-rock, they love Agalloch due to a sound that isn't necessarily their own, and can look past the fact that the songwriting is rather mediocre.
Not that Agalloch are a bad band, but considering this is seen as some big artistic masterpiece it is rather one-dimensional. Most of the dynamics come from the guitar, and the rhythm doesn't really end to do much of interest. No that that's a bad thing, but they have some serious competition with other bands in this style (well they don't, because their audience is essentially just the Opeth fanbase, but they should do). Vocals range from decent cleans that sing simple melodies, to a bit of a silly-sounding whisper, to black metal hisses that sound completely irrelevant and out of place in this kind of music.
So the guitar takes most dominance, and plays these big, sweet, sugar-coated melodies that are admittedly rather nice although nothing overly special. I think the main problem for me is that it just doesn't invoke any kind of emotion in me at all. A lot of people call it melancholic, but melancholy is such a generic, uninteresting emotion. Besides, I don't feel it and I don't think that's what the band aimed for, this feels more bliss than anything. 'Falling Snow' is pretty nice in that regard, and the cream of the crop 'Our Fortress is Burning II Bloodbirds' has a very nice recurring melody, especially the tail end of the riff. But it's just not enough. There's a lot of pretty noodling, cutesy tremolo and such, but nothing really stands out besides the odd nice riff. And there are wave sounds and acoustic plucking and backing synths and a long noise outro and...yeah, just feels like too much filler on such a critically acclaimed album.
I guess the most contraversial claim I can make is that this isn't a metal album, and unless Agalloch's earlier works are radically different they're not a metal band. This is mostly post-rock with a slight folk-tinge ending with a rather pointless and tedius noise track. I don't really recommend this unless you're really into pretty melodies that make you think of lightly falling snow and that sort of thing, but even then there are probably better bands. Not metal enough for metalheads and not consistant enough for post-rock fans, make of that what you will.
If you would ask me if I have had any bizarre experience as a result of the music I listen to, I would say - YES! This idiosyncratic event recurs every time I listen to Agalloch's magnum opus 'Ashes against the Grain'. Whenever I listen to this album, there are these instrumental segments where my quiescent soul jactitates. There are no physical movements but I feel it erupting, I feel my mortal body struggling to contain my soul. Some symptoms include my hair standing on its end, my consciousness moving into stand-by mode (subconscious mind).This album excites me with its intensity, sedates me with its tranquility, zonks me with its virtuosity!
Why call 'Ashes against the Grain' as Agalloch's magnum opus when they are still alive, active and all geared-up to fire on all cylinders?? The balance attained on this album is often attempted and seldom achieved. This album has the pronounced aura of uniqueness which will never vanish. This album is the consequence of esoteric minds working beyond existing boundaries and displaying refined musicianship. This is the album which comes once in a lifetime. This is the album which smells like fresh flower above and reeks of rotting flora below. This is the album which crawls like a snail, slithers like a snake and gallops like a stallion!
As I sit here staring at the charred falling bird on the album cover and leafing through the album's booklet, wondering what inspired Agalloch to dole out this timeless classic. The memories of how this disc reached me draws a grin on my face. The place where I stay [India] doesn't have much access to extreme metal. After the failed attempt to buy it online from a distro [No shipping to India], one of my fellow metalhead suggested that his metalhead friend from Belgium can buy this album for him and his colleague who had gone on-site to Belgium, can collect it from him. My disc was acquired at the Agalloch's gig in Belgium, handed over to my friend's colleague and after 5 months brought to India. After exchanging many hands, my friend finally received it and couriered it to me. And now it sits pretty on my rack as the brightest star among the constellation of small collection I own. My sincere thanks to all the people who have helped me to get this CD!
When the whining guitars greet you at the beginning of this album, it builds a curiosity which is allayed by the improvised jamming session by the band. This improvised jamming session gets intensive at a point and drops to droning guitars leading to one of the many acoustic guitar interludes layered with sporadic lead guitars. The drums contribute to the ‘build’ that will make you feel as if you’ve betrayed gravity and you are spirally ascending towards the epicenter of Agalloch’s music. The raspy black-metal vocals seem to guide you to it and all of a sudden, there’s silence... At this point, you stand still and gravity seeks vengeance by dragging you back to the point where it all started! This is the basic pattern on Ashes against the Grain. There are "moments" on this album which makes you feel like a bird being deplumed. The clean vocals adds to the soulfulness of this album and provides another dimension to this masterpiece. This album brags of melodic sequences with acoustic guitars rekindling nostalgic moments and lightening the atmosphere. Special mention has to be made for impeccable drumming on this album. It fine-tunes the entire feel on the album and can't imagine how this album would sound without the drums. Bass is audible and I really appreciate the way its recorded adeptly.
The first one minute into ‘Not unlike the Waves ‘is a fine example of the ‘build’ Agalloch offers. They take you on a trip aboard sinusoidal wave encompassing some engrossing parts in this album which make you pound your head, make you nod along, put you into an unearthly trance among many other uncanny experiences. 'This White Mountain on Which You Will Die' is a brief instrumental which some may dismiss as a "filler" but that would be insulting for a band like Agalloch. I would say its a "small bridge" between 'falling snow' and 'fire above, ice below'. The 'Our Fortress Is Burning...I' is the first installment of the trilogy and has a typical Agalloch's progressive intro and the progression suffuses subsequently into further chapters. ‘Our Fortress Is Burning... II-Bloodbirds’ is the track, which nests some soul-stirring moments. The lengthy instrumental passage appears to narrate tormented tales, intensifying every passing second and the tragic climax is conveyed by harsh growls. It ends with some painful screams performed ingeniously. The concluding track ‘Our Fortress Is Burning... III-The Grain’ is a psychedelic drone journey which I initially dismissed as a track which does not suit this album. But after many listens, I felt it is the masterstroke of Agalloch to allure me to the edge of a pit and nudge me right off its edge! This free-fall into the bottomless pit, is for introspection and admiration of past 55 minutes. This monumental journey of around an hour is advisable to be completed at one stretch to everyone who wishes to guzzle a strong brew of various equipoised metal sub-genres.
Agalloch is that source of light which focuses less on emitting bright light and more on intensifying the dark shadows. 'Ashes against the Grain' is that tender feather which caresses the stabwounds...
Having just witnessed Agalloch live in London, I must admit, I have a new appreciation for the band themselves, as well as this record, entitled ‘Ashes Against The Grain’. Witnessing Agalloch in the flesh had been a dream of mine for several years, ever since I discovered them back in 2005 through the Amazon website, oddly enough. Actually having the chance to see such a band live was one I was never going to let pass me by. The gig in London, which also featured Dornenreich and the new British sensation Fen, was meant to be headlined by the Austrians but, at some point, this was changed. I imagine that the demand to see Agalloch live, on the night of their first performance on English soil was far too big to allow Dornenreich, who were deceptively good I must admit, to take centre stage for the hour that Agalloch were given to strut their stuff. ‘Ashes Against The Grain’ wasn’t, and still isn’t my pick for best Agalloch piece, despite gaining a new perspective of the band through the awe inspiring live performance. ‘Pale Folklore’ has been and seemingly always will be (unless topped, obviously) my pick for the epitome of Agalloch performances. Its terrific blend of acoustic folk with extreme metal is one that is hard to beat. Unparalleled on so many levels, Agalloch strive forward and into the future with their heads held high. After the gig in London, which I’ve read somewhere the band called their best yet, it is hard to imagine Agalloch not going from strength to strength in the future. I recall, though I’m not positive, reading about a prospective new record this year so its an exciting time, especially for me, to be an Agalloch fan.
‘Ashes Against The Grain’ took time to adjust too. The band themselves have stated that the record is very squeaky clean, even promising to produce a much rawer sound on the next edition to the mantle piece. I found it hard to stomach an Agalloch sound which didn’t seem like it was created in the midst of a fog covered forest during the middle of the deceptive autumn season. The music, to put a metaphorical spin on things, went from the anthem of autumn, to the swansong of summer. The production often hinders this piece, which is something I still feel to this day. The live performance has indicated to me that a rawer sounding Agalloch is exactly what we need and exactly what we should get on the next effort. Songs like ‘Falling Snow’, which appears to be a fans favourite these days, is the epitome of this record in its truest and most honest form. Unforeseen grooves, melodious mechanics at the heart of the body work and unfortunate production. I suppose, with this cleaner sound, Agalloch are more capable of highlighting the underlying performances. For example, at the live show, it was evident that Agalloch’s bassist deserves a lot more credit than he receives. His constant presence in person, and in hindsight on the record is blistering in pace, suave in terms of technicalities and hardened like every metal musician should be. His performance gives a much more metallic feel to the music. In basic terms, his repetitious performance, which certainly doesn’t lack in its fair share of diversity, is what makes this record as metal as metal could be.
There is, and has always been, a very distinctive black/doom metal influence behind Agalloch and their music. The repetition of the bass, and perhaps also the double bass on drums, alongside the harsh vocals from John really do seem to point the finger at black and doom as being two genres which have, perhaps not on the surface of things, shaped the direction of Agalloch. The soundscapes don’t shy away from outside influences either. There are, as always, folk elements which still remain fresh to this day, despite the fact that Agalloch have been creating music which sounds similar for well over a decade. This is a testament to the song writing abilities, as well as the consuming desire of the band to build upon their success, instead of quitting whilst they’re ahead. The passion of this band is something I will never again question after the sweat, blood and tears of the live performance. The epic soundscapes are developed by a desire and passion in the musicians which tells them not to quit, not to let up on their mind expanding music. Weaving in and out of genres and sub-genres has become a Agalloch thing to do. Diversity, creativity and a pleasure to tackle the most technical, as well as the simplistic, genres is what keeps Agalloch exciting. You never know, despite the similarities between this record and the other two, what Agalloch are going to do. One of the most capable bands around.
When I first decided I was going to review Ashes Against the Grain, I had no intent to give it a 100%. The album has some flaws and not all the songs are the most amazing thing in the world. However, I always listen to an album once before and once during writing my review, and when I heard the first minute or so of my pre-writing playthrough I immediately realized there would be no way I could bring myself to give Ashes Against the Grain anything but a 100%. Simply put, it is by long and far my favorite album of all time. Nothing can really be compared to this album, and nothing comes close to being so timelessly amazing for me. Not every song is a masterpiece, but the album contains my two favorite songs of all time and at least two others that are so beautiful, emotional, and heartfelt that I cannot even begin to imagine scoring them lower than 100%. I will say now that this album is not perfect, but fuck perfection - this album is all it needs to be.
Admittedly, back in 2006 when I first heard this album, I wasn't a big fan of it. I was pretty new to Agalloch, but I didn't like how Ashes Against the Grain had much longer passages and less melancholy air about it. It wasn't until I read a review of the album where someone cited the immense emotion and anger that radiates in the album's every moment that i gave the album another chance. And with that thought it mind, I was completely reintroduced to the album and have since heralded it as Agalloch's magnum opus. Even so, it has always been hard for me to get over certain things about this album. It took considerable amount of time to get used to the massive tempo changes the album over. The first and third major tracks, Limbs and Fire Above, Ice Below have a far more calm and doomy atmosphere than the second and forth tracks, Falling Snow and Not Unlike the Waves; both of which are more energetic songs full of guitar wankery. In addition, and something I still haven't fully grown comfortable with, there are the three 'Our Fortress is Burning' tracks at the end of the album. Parts 1 and 2 are both good songs, but have never gripped me like the other songs on the album.
To get it out of the way now, the only outright failure on Ashes Against the Grain is Our Fortress is Burning Part III... the Grain. I have absolutely no idea what the fuck they were thinking when they stapled this piece of shit onto the end of their disk. I have no doubt that Agalloch knows how to make ambient atmospheric noise. The Mantle especially consisted of many haunting or calming segues of wind blowing and other sounds of nature which were handled very well. The Grain is not a segue, though, but a seven-fucking-minute track of nothing but wind blowing and really horrible synth overlay. Thankfully it's at the end of the album so you can almost pretend it doesn't exist at all. Usually, if I'm not paying attention, I'll find myself three minutes into the song and suddenly wonder 'what the fuck am I listening to?' and then of course realize that I forgot to stop the CD.
That track now officially severed from my opinion of the album, I now wish to proceed with the other issue - the remaining Our Fortress is Burning tracks. I've always really wanted to like these songs, especially because so many fans consider Our Fortress is Burning II... Bloodbirds to be the highlight of the album. However, somehow I've never managed to fully grasp these two songs. Our Fortress part one suffers from being simply the least emotional piece on the album. It is a five-minute instrumental that is by all means very good and very Agalloch but is surrounded on all sides my massively emotional heart-resounding beauties and just feels a little out of place. Had this song perhaps been shorter, or if there were more such interludes on the album, it might fare better, but instead it just comes across as a nuisance. This is especially true when Bloodbirds comes into the equation. Recently I listened to Bloodbirds for the first time without listening to Fortress part one before it and it was much better than I had ever thought. The problem is that Bloodbirds begins with three minutes of instrumental and coming right out of part one, it is hard to separate the tracks in my mind and it becomes one long, boring instrumental before the highly emotional climax of Bloodbirds. Had Bloodbirds been a stand-alone song, it might have fared better with me all of this time, but instead it is marred by the track before it.
Now, all the problems out of the way, lets get into what really matters - the songs that were so good that even with those major problems mentioned above I still had to give this album no less than 100%.
First of all, Limbs. Limbs is an incredibly angry song, and listening to it is akin to watching the world end. The song opens with a striking, super loud drone-esque squeal from the guitar that suddenly becomes a full song with a burst. The immediate impression given by the first minute or so of this song's full beginning is 'post-metal'. If you've ever listened to bands like Mogwai or Isis, this part would be familiar as one of the more highly emotional and fulfilling parts of post-rock music. This climaxes and calms into a dark, mystic acoustic riff that has now fully set the tone for the album as a whole - post-metal meats neo-folk meets doom with a whole fuckton of emotion. All of these styles smash together as the song splits open into a heavy, dark, and soul-crushing verse that one can only imagine as the screams of an angry oak cursing the world as it burns and dies. The pessimistic lyrics and all-encompassing melodies fill the listener with indescribable rage and sorrow. One feels as if they have, in fact, become that burning tree and they, themselves, bear witness to the great cold death of the earth. This feeling is created through each of the instruments complimenting each other in ways I've never heard music collide before. If one listens to only the drums, they can hear how every single pound of foot and drumstick was placed exactly where it would be complimentary to the guitars. Both guitars wrap around each other and the bass is their shell - it is almost hard to imagine that the music was not created by one living instrument entitled 'Agalloch.'
Next, Falling Snow is probably the most complete and well-composed Agalloch song ever. The entire song puts the listener directly into the frozen wilderness and keeps them there. The aforementioned instrumentality is absolutely fucking infallible. I can safely say I've never heard anything like it. Words truly do not do the experience that is this song justice - I can only tell you to go listen to it yourself. Better yet, the live performances recorded and available on the internet are the most amazing thing I've ever heard. Even more is done to perfect the melding of instrument with lots of impeccable drum improvisation that will leave fans familiar with the song breathless. If it weren't for the fact that another song on this album had already taken the position, Falling Snow would be my uncontested favorite song ever.
Next comes the album's longest and quietest but probably most emotional song, Fire Above, Ice Below. It begins very somber and melancholy, but more intensive and dark than the melancholy songs from The Mantle. The continuously marching drums behind the cold and sad guitars feel like a dead soul that still continues to walk and fight his own death in spite of the futility of such. As the previous Agalloch albums had a feeling of resignation in the face of demise, this song instead rises and keeps combating it's destiny to the bitter end. The songs grows in intensity and emotion with some of the most brilliant and memorable riffs ever created. A friend of mine who is a fellow Agalloch fan once described one of these riffs as giving him the most powerful feeling that he's ever had from music, and I can certainly recognize such a stance. A voice cries once that 'there has never been a silence like this before' and later that 'there will never be an ode like this again', and truly I must believe that there will never be another album that matches up to Ashes Against the Grain. This song is the sort of iconic masterpiece that one could spend their lifetime hoping to do justice in paying tribute to. I myself have drawn and painted several pictures inspired by this song to try and capture that emotion.
And then, finally, we have my personal number one favorite song of all time: Not Unlike the Waves. This song has everything I could ever want out of a song in it's nine-minute run, and thus it shall be hard to replace as my favorite. The song has fun, light parts, heavy, emotional parts, folk melodies, post-rock instrumentals, beautifully sung versus, angrily screamed choruses - it has everything. And what's more, it all fits together brilliantly to create a sort of journey. The opening segment of stomping bass and throbbing, head-banger guitar to the quiet but energetic acoustics, it all resonates of something that transcends mere music. Every bit of Not Unlike the Waves is unforgettable and incredible. I like this song as much as I like my favorite movie or book - it is one of those things that resonates so deeply within me that it is not just 'a song' but a part of my life. After the skillful and memorable electric and acoustic guitar solos, when the song climaxes into a double-bass propelled and utterly intense finish, a harsh voice cries "Heidrun bleeds the golden nectar, fall and rise the sun and the moon! The midnight wolves who watch over the dawn! SOLSTAFIR!!!" and it is the greatest moment to me in the history of music. I can recall no shortages of times that I have listened to this song in different situations and that alone made them memorable moments in my life.
Ashes Against the Grain is an experience truly like no other. Rather than let it's flaws bring down it's score, I'd rather say that without those flaws I'd have been forced to score the album a 110% because it is that much better than any other album ever created.
Ashes Against the Grain is yet another very pleasing work given to us by Agalloch. From the mood the lyrics “set” to the beat of the drum. Agalloch may in fact be one of the most important bands of this time producing their own unique “flare” on things. They have a very devoted following because they happen to have such a unique sound. Agalloch seem to continue to top their selves every time they produce a full-length album amidst all the Eps.
The first song “Limbs” (9:50) opens slowly then moves to into some nice guitar riffs. It seems to gain speed then just drop off into some great acoustic playing. That’s Agalloch for you. The instrumental part of this song goes on for about 5:06 and don’t think that it’d be a bore to listen to, it really isn’t. When the vocals start up it doesn’t ruin anything but it actually adds more to the “soup”. The vocals once again are well done and do stay constant from their previous work. Then about 7:04 into the song it goes back to acoustic. This acoustic part doesn’t seem too out of place but rather sets you up for what else is to come in this song. “Limbs” is a very good opening and I don’t know how else they could have topped this opening. Next up is “Falling Snow” (9:38). This song is definitely a personal favorite and had me listening over this track again and again. The opening of this song is just amazing. Agalloch definitely shows off their talent as a band in this song. Everything blends so well together, from the beginning beat to the “final show down” at the end. John Haughm shows off his talent as a vocalist in this song. Going from the more dark and gloomy distorted vocals to surprising good clean vocals. This song is indeed a “gem” and I would recommend anyone to give it a listen so that they can understand how wonderful of a piece this really is.
“This White Mountain on Which You Will Die” (1:39) is the next song. This song is very short compared to the other tracks. It is an all-instrumental, which means no vocals. It can be can actually be seen as a “filler” track between “Falling Snow” and “Fire Above, Ice Below”, a kind of wind down. After this “filler” is “Fire Above, Ice Below” (10:28). This song starts off with an echoing acoustic guitar. The guitar builds up and leads to the drums that make kind of a duet. After a while the electric guitar is introduced along with clean vocals. From the beginning to the vocals is played at a kind of somber tone. The beat seems to slowly climb up a hill to the climax of this song, classic Agalloch. The end of the song goes back to the acoustic guitar to everything just coming back together; the whole song is done beautifully (in my opinion).
“Our Fortress is Burning…I” (5:25) is the beginning of a three part ending. The song starts out with just the piano playing while the guitar is slowly introduced along with the drums. This song is just purely instrumental and seems to be building to the next two parts. “Our Fortress is Burning…II- Bloodbirds” (6:20) is the second part to this ending. From part one to this not much has changed except the introduction of the vocals in 3:46. The first part of the song is all instrumental and seems to continue the building process that part one left off at. The vocals in this song seem to add more to the mood. The final “scream” in this track could be compared to a part in one of their early works “The Wilderness”: “screaming” part in this song starts at 5:57 and in “The Wilderness” is in 6:47.All of this seems to accelerate this building process which continues into the beginning of “Our Fortress is Burning…III-The Grain” (7:09). This being the last song it had a lot to live up to and does not disappoint. It is different from the other songs on this album but seems to fit in perfectly. It is mainly a noise-oriented track with weird sounds, static, and feed back. Some may think this is not a good way to end such an album but I beg to differ.
Agalloch continues to be one of my favorite bands and this album is one of the reasons as to why it is. Some may think that this album is just a let down compared to their earlier releases. Their older releases are good, don’t get me wrong but why repeat something that is already “perfected”, in a sense. Why create something another time? If you are a fan of Agalloch and you liked their previous albums I would recommend that you give this one a listen but with one thing...
An open mind.
In short terms, this is certainly one of the best metal albums I've come across so far; along Draconian’s 2005 full-length “Arcane Rain Fell”. OK! You may probably disagree. In fact I admit it; I would be kind of exaggerating if I label “Ashes Against the Grain” as a “pure” metal masterpiece; although this is undoubtedly a musical masterpiece, despite the diversity of genres successfully mingled in this album.
I don’t deny being a huge fan of this extraordinary group. In addition, after carefully listening to their ultra-successful latest full-length, Agalloch turned to be my undisputable favorite metal band. In my opinion, the band progressively developed their sound toward perfection. Starting with their 1999 superb debut “Pal Folklore”, followed by their highly anticipated 2002 album “The Mantle” and finally with their most emotional 2006 release “Ashes Against the Grain”; Agalloch surpassed any of their previous admirable musical creations.
Musically, the album is extremely diverse, exceedingly talented and doesn’t lack any more creativity; the way that the majority of listeners will certainly enjoy. Heaviness mixed with softness, is a perfect one sentence description. In general, “Ashes Against the Grain” consists of a unique combination of doom metal melodies with some folk elements and notable post-rock influences, extensively used in the opening track “Limbs”, accompanied with black metal raspy growls, occasional shrieks, especially in the fifth track “Not Unlike the Waves”, and mixed with some clean vocals. Another point to note, that the use of excessive soft acoustic passages in the band’s music is never to be underestimated. The band even added a noise final track, “The Grain”, as the third part of the trilogy “Our Fortress Is Burning”.
In fact, while listening to the tracks you have the feeling that each minute a specific instrument controls the overall sound.
The guitars, generally sounds doom metal mixing some post-rock elements from time to time. The riffs are original, emotional, occasionally aggressive and barely repetitive despite the relatively long tracks.
Another surprising positive thing on this record is the bass, clearly audible and interesting, adding extra effects to the music; although they follow the guitars’ lead.
Chris Greene is one of my favorite drummers especially in this release, too bad he is no longer member of the band. I will give high credits to the drums, that I consider the ultimate power of the album. Notably characterized by the change of tempos in every single song; sometimes starting slow, then moving to a much faster and darker rhythm impressing the listener more and even more with every track. Also the drums are extremely audible during the whole album.
The vocals are more then perfect and fit well with such music, although they are minimally used. Furthermore, some tracks are purely instrumental. We can’t expect anything less from John Haughm wonderful voice.
Despite being short, the lyrics are deeply meaningful; also their addition to such emotional music creates a really dark atmosphere surrounding the album.
I can’t really name a most magnificent track since each song is different in composition and played in a unique way.
A sole negative point to mention is the undesired addition of the third track “This White Mountain on Which You Will Die” and the last track “Our Fortress Is Burning… III – The Grain”. Those tracks are useless and I think the only purpose behind adding them is to extend the album’s length.
The production can be considered not less then excellent, everything is highly audible.
Overall, none of the Agalloch releases is disappointing. This is a huge accomplishment in the band’s career. A highly advised record for every metalhead regardless his music preferences. If you like talented, unordinary music then you may try this album and you will certainly enjoy it and probably rank it among your favorite albums of all time.
Highlights: Limbs, Not Unlike the Waves, Our Fortress Is Burning… I, Our Fortress Is Burning… II – Bloodbirds.
For some reason, I eat a lot of bread and butter pudding. It wasn't until I was writing this review that I knew why. I didn't really like it all that much- it tastes decent, but not too great- but the reason why is pretty much the same reason why I listen to Agalloch. Pretty simple really- bread and butter pudding, like this band/album, is fairly pleasant (sweet but not TOO sweet), has a fairly nice texture, goes down well, and doesn't give me constipation and what not.
Of course, there will be those who say: "Shut up, this is a cold/desolate/dark/melancholic album", or whatever, but those people would be advised to grow some bigger testicles. Fact of the matter is that Agalloch are quite bland and somewhat inoffensive (hell, my Mum likes 'em), and while the most complimentary adjective I can think of for them is 'pleasant', that doesn't entirely work against them.
I guess it's because that pleasantness makes this easy to listen to. When it's raining and I want to feel slightly thoughtful (without actually having to think), or when I want to put some music that I can study to, this album dominates. It's also a good album to play around chicks- the right mix between 'edgy', but also all 'poetic' and 'romantic'.
I'd be happy leaving it at that, but some musical description is required. There will be those who will claim that tunes like 'Limbs' and 'Fire Above, Ice Below' are some sort of black/folk/"dark" metal masterpieces, but we all know that's not true- Agalloch traffic in a kind of slow burning, completely tame atmospheric rock that brings to mind a an Ulver song covered by Coldplay. There really isn't much here to suggest that it's metal- the guitars are happy doing the 'chug away at chords' kinda thing, the vocalist may do some sort of black metal rasps but they still sound ridiculously polished and tame, and nothing getting too fast or too slow lest their delicate fans get upset. It's worth noting that the best song (Falling Snow) is when Agalloch finally admit that they're actually not that metal, or atmospheric or whatever, and write a long but still quite straight ahead rock tune.
It's hard to deny that this Ulver/Drudkh/Coldplay hybrid has been well executed. of course, the problem with all of this vaguely-foresty pleasantness is that it does get boring. Forcing myself to listen to this thing with no distractions made me quite weary, and whoever recorded the clean guitar should've been shot (No, it does not sound good if you put a Chorus effect on ever freaking clean guitar bit). The vocals are pretty annoying, and Agalloch seem to be under the same impression that has plagued a few other similar bands (Opeth, I'm looking at you)- the songs average somewhere around the nine minute mark, with quite a few somewhat unnecessary acoustic bits stinking the songs up.
To conclude, then, it's hard for me to hate this album, because it's so lukewarm in nature that it's hard to have any feelings about it all. I guess it's a well executed bit of music, but hardly what you'd call exciting. Most people will hardly ever listen to it, but if you like supermarket/elevator music, or want to play, uhh, 'metal' that your mother/pastor/girlfriend/grandparents approve of, then perhaps you should pick this album up.
To call this album simply "beautiful" is an understatement; it evokes so much more complex emotions from the listener (well, erm, me being the listener). It fills one with feelings of depression, despair, and a strange austereness that seems to suffocate itself inside of one's being. The music creates the visual of a bleak, snow-barren landscape, void of any life and of any hope.
All of these mental images and internal emotions could not have been achieved had it not been for the excellent production of "Ashes Against the Grain." The echoing, black metal vocals blend well with the almost emotionless clean vocals, as well as the doomy sound of the guitar. The drumming and bass are both clearly audible, but don't compare to the beauty and harmonization that the guitar and vocals create.
The black metal vocals by themselves are fairly average, and are not so much a shriek but a raspy growl-like vocal. The clean vocals, however, are what truly makes everything seem so bleak and oppressive. They convey almost no emotion and gives the music a very doomy feeling to it.
The guitars have a very doomish sound to them, often at times sounding like a mix between post-rock and doom metal. The best things about the guitar work, however, are the amazing riffs that they send out; a plethora of both melodic and aggressive riffs capable of sending chills down one's spine. The bass guitar is indeed very much audible, but mainly follows the guitars' lead, and isn't so special.
The drumming is pretty straight-forward. There isn't much double bass action at all, and since this is quite a doomy album, the beats are slow and repetitive (but not necessarily in a bad way) and very rarely do they pick up speed.
My only problem with this CD are the tracks "This White Mountain On Which You Will Die" and "Our Fortress Is Burning... III - The Grain," as these both seem like filler tracks and really don't do much as far as emotions go. If it were not for these two tracks I would have given this release a 100.
I actually wouldn't know what to label this album as; perhaps progressive atmospheric dark folk/doom metal? It does indeed have that many contrasts in sound, ranging from pure doom metal, to acoustic folk, to folk metal, to post-rock, with both black and clean vocals. Regardless of genre, this is a release that I believe anyone into any genre would surely enjoy.
Agalloch have been heralded as one of metal's most precious and best experimental bands, and with good reason; their seamless blend of post-rock soundscapes, folk flirtations, and oppressive post-metal/doom atmosphere has never been done so successfully. Not only do they do it successfully, but they do it while keeping the emotional factors of true art in mind. Their 2002 album The Mantle saw the apex of the experimental songwriting challenges the band undertook, and highlighted them as a force to be reckoned with for years to come. After that amount of ambition going into a single album though, it was tough to tell whether they would follow up properly as they did with The Mantle.
Ashes Against the Grain shows a darker side of Agalloch. There were some lighter moments on the preceding album, and the overall atmosphere was not as dark as the melancholy, wintry, nocturnal vibes of Pale Folklore. Ashes Against the Grain shows a return to the atmosphere of the band's renowned debut without going back to what they have already done. The crushingly slow and weeping ending of opening track "Limbs" is all you need to know that band have gotten darker, heavier, and have poured their heart and soul into this craft. Songs like "The White Mountain on Which You Will Die," and the closing track "The Grain," shows the band's experimental nature taken to a whole new level. Not only do they explore the ambient/electronica tendencies in a tasteful way, but use them to the band's advantage by creating a brooding feel with layered and looped sheets of feedback, static, and heavily distorted, disant-sounding guitar leads.
The guitars are what serve the main role in putting forth such eerie and depressing moods. Cascading, cathartic melodies drift upon one another in "Falling Snow" and the bestial, intense climax of "Bloodbirds." Agalloch put forth probably their heaviest song riff-wise with "Not Unlike the Waves," which is driven by chunky, palm-muted power chords. At the same time though, sensitivity is kept in mind with the use of gentle, sweeping minor chords on "Fire Above, Ice Below" and the folkish acoustic breaks scattered throughout "Not Unlike the Waves." Acoustics take a bit of the backseat here to what goes on with the main electric guitars, rather than the exact opposite, as seen on The Mantle. "Limbs" is the most important display of this, where sparse chords build in intensity to the verse, where a melodic lead takes the song to its next phase. There are still plenty of solos and effects, but they are kept to a minimum on this album. Power chords boom in the background as support for the leads, and add a lot to the songs in the way of ear candy and atmosphere. Though while this is certainly heavier, more doom-laden territory for Agalloch, the core of the band lies at making incredibly emotional and introspective melodies; and they succeed.
Haughm openly puts both vocal styles into the air. "Falling Snow" and "Bloodbirds" use the gritty rasp almost entirely, while "Fire Above, Ice Below" and "Not Unlike the Waves" alternate between clean vocals and harrowing shrieks. The clean vocals are still spine-tingling as ever, and when combined with the mysterious lyrics, it makes something that is truly special for this band. "Not Unlike the Waves" utilizes heavenly vocal harmonies, something that is new to the band's sound but works in a great way.
Aside from this, some elements from before do stay in the sound; there are still some slight experimental touches, such as the programmed drums during the middle acoustic section of "Fire Above, Ice Below."
The drum sound and production of this album couldn't be better; the former have a more polished but natural sound which help the double bass sections on "Falling Snow" and "Not Unlike the Waves" come forward more, and all the drums are captured without flaw. Overall, the production still maintains a classic, organic sound known to Agalloch, but is much clearer and cleaner than expected. It's more piercing, maybe due to a very sharp drum sound; either way, the emotion and sincerity comes through in flying colors.
Agalloch prove themselves to be one of the few bands today who can not only outdo themselves, but stay true to a sound that doesn't wear out its welcome. The impalpable atmosphere, top-notch production, incredible song craftsmanship, and emotion behind this album truly make it the best metal album of 2006.
In their decade of existence, Portland's own Agalloch have become the U.S.'s answer to Norwegian dark metal and one of our country's more acclaimed folk/ambient/doom/black/experimental/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-metal bands in recent years. And for good reason; gaining inspiration from the rainy, dreary climate of their hometown, Agalloch have consistently put out some of the most beautiful, nature worshipping metal since Burzum mad genius (and convicted arsonist and murderer) Varg Vikernes freely roamed the backwoods of Bergen. Between unashamedly flaunting their Ulver influence on 1998's Pale Folklore, increasing the bleakness of their sound on the 2001 stopgap EP Of Stone, Wind and Pillor, and adding spacey, post-rock atmospherics and beautiful folk harmonies to 2002's masterpiece The Mantle, something happened. Agalloch began to slowly, but surely, change their sound; becoming more melodic and letting more of the gorgeous acoustic pieces that dotted their first full length and EP come completely to fruition. The delicate textures heard on The Mantle not only made Agalloch's more palatable to music fans who had never heard a "necro" vocal or blast beat in their lives, but they also breathed more life into an already wholly organic musical collective. Both the accessibility and painfully beautiful soundscapes continue to grow on one of this year's best releases, Ashes Against the Grain.
The album begins with a sorrowful echoed feedback effect, then breaks in with the first of many powerful groove/doom riffs on the intro track, "Limbs." The groove continues until the three minute mark, when the beat falls away and a plucked guitar and simple keyboard melody are left to intertwine with each other until the song builds again and vocalist John Haughm begins his narrative in his trademark black metal rasp. Have no fear, though, his clean, emotive croon is also present in this disc, just in less quantities than the predominately clean The Mantle. Within the closing seconds of "Limbs," it becomes apparent that this is a much more straightforward, rock-oriented approach that Agalloch has taken than in releases past. The second track, "Falling Snow," continues with the trend; Haughm's raspy delivery once again dominating the vocal space, as a driving double bass rhythm is played under enchanting, almost Explosions in the Sky-esque guitar melodies. The song holds its quickened pace for its entire duration, only briefly entering doom territory for the short breakdown in between the driving first half and even more up tempo second half in which Haughm gives his best clean vocal performance yet. Soaring over the song's epic soundscape, the added clarity of the vocals makes "Falling Snow" a mandatory track among a disc comprised of stellar compositions.
As "Falling Snow" fades, the first glimpses of Agalloch's true experimentation shine through on the ambient segue track "This White Mountain on Which You Will Die." While the piece would feel right at home on any of Montreal post-rock titan Godspeed You! Black Emperor's albums, it easily fits right into this album's already bleak atmosphere. The track also serves to break up the first two introductory tracks from the last five pieces, which are the real meat of the album. The next two songs, "Fire Above, Ice Below" and "Not Unlike the Waves" blend together nicely; the former serving as the album's halfway point, with its solid rock rhythm and soulful chorus, and the latter being the album's sole single, based on its excellent central riff. "Not Unlike the Waves" is by far the band's most accessible song to date; its infectious, punishing riff, excellent clean (and harsh) vocals, and plaintive acoustic interludes make it an obvious choice for the album's first single, as well as the band's first music video.
Ashes Against the Grain concludes with the three part suite entitled "Our Fortress Is Burning," which combines a strummed acoustic guitar intro track, a plodding, heavy midsection – complete with black metal vocals – which serves as a climax of sorts for the album, and the seven minute ambient finale, which closes the album with an eerily calming resolution.
There are so many things Ashes Against the Grain does right that would make it a warranted purchase to a fan of any subgenre of heavy music. From the double time pacing of the majority of the tracks, to the catchy, borderline hard rock riffs laying comfortably on a soft bed of post-rock inspired guitar melodies, Agalloch's third full length is neck and neck with Isis' In the Absence of Truth for progressive metal album of the year.
From acoustics on the Mantle to the electric guitar walls on Ashes. This album is a big change from their previous work as instead of the folk influence, they approach their music via a style that is very reminiscent of the post-metal by the likes of Pelican and Isis. Feed-backing guitars and long entrancing riffs is what Agalloch uses here and with those ingredients they managed to create a mood that isn’t to be found on any album I have heard so far. Because atmosphere is what Agalloch is all about, at least it is to me. Cold icy forests, long open fields with tundra and frostbite all come along in my imagination when I listen to Agalloch. I can picture myself walking on the snowy planes and in dark cold forest, just feeling desolation around me but enjoying this loneliness because I’m surrounded by nature’s beauty. I know this may sound a bit cheesy but I can’t find other descriptions for this kind of music.
Starting this album is a soft echo of feedback leading into a cold sludgy riff. After an incredibly long and over 5 minute intro, with some stunning guitar work, some vocals finally enter. The vocals are grim as in the style of most black metal but softer and not as evil sounding as for example Burzum’s Varg would sound. The other vocal style is a monotone clean voice which doesn’t actually sound good technically speaking but suits this music so well that if they sing it results in the album most beautiful moments. These vocals are mostly used in the second song “Falling snow” resulting in becoming one of the best album tracks.
Guitar-wise this album is incredibly, while not very technical the guitarists play riffs encountering each other in most songs. Also, the leads are all over the place providing hunting melodies and an occasional solo. The albums highlight might be the best example; it features a stunning solo, such memorable melodies and these cold monotone vocals that I can safely say that it is Agalloch’s best song to date.
Agalloch have been a very consistent band releasing only worthy and good material but I believe they have transcended themselves with Ashes of the Grain. This is by far their best album to date and in my top 3 albums released in 2006. The only lowlight on the album is the closer ambient track. It’s just a waste of time on the album and there could have been a better closer but it’s not annoying listening to it and it doesn’t take this album down.
Written for www.musicmademe.com
I find it very interesting in the way Agalloch implement doom metal with folksy acoustic bits, and add lots of texture and post rock elements into the album. It combines both dark, grey soundscapes with uplifting, beautiful climaxes. On a whole, this is mostly an ambitious and successful album. It certainly always has an epic sound and is a rather original display of metal too.
I have a few aspects about this album that bother me though. Yes there is filler, "White Mountain" I will let off because it's a nice little interlude, but I found "The Grain" to be a bit of a sloppy way to conclude such an epic album, as it is mostly just feedback in an atmospheric, but overlong and not very interesting way. Other problems are that the band are stuck in the same mid tempo for pretty much the whole album. Sometimes this album feels longer than it needs to be because of it and can lack cohesion and energy unless you are really in the mood to be captured by this work. The vocals are pretty much black metal, not for all but they are used sparingly, and happen to add to the atmosphere quite well on some tracks.
The songs themselves are mostly quite epic and build up rather well, usually starting kinda grey, but resulting in uplifting climaxes. "Fire Above, Ice Below" is easily the best piece on the album, truly glorious. From the opening chords to the post rock builds ups, swirling distorted guitars and one unforgettable ending, it is a song that always sounds momentous. My favourite track after this is opener "Limbs", which is mostly instrumental, full of powerful riffs and another great build up with incredible, yet simplistic guitar work towards the end. Very powerful and moving, though a grower. "Not Unlike the Waves" and "Bloodbirds" are really interesting tracks with great melodies.
To be honest, I would have preferred the album if it was just "Limbs", "Fire Above, Ice Below", "Not Unlike the Waves" and the first two parts of "Our Fortress is Burning". That would have been a five star album. "Falling Snow" isn't so bad, but it spoils the mood of the album by being too upbeat and sounding like it could be a single if it was editted. I think it has a different feel to the rest of the album, and is a bit of a let down inbetween the two best proper songs. "Bloodbirds" is the only part of the big suite that truly interests me and I think the ending suite suffers by being overlong and too ambitious.
Ashes Against the Grain is mostly a great album, but it is too easy to see which tracks are great, and which ones are not. I don't usually say this in a review, but I think if the album was 20 minutes shorter it would have got into the 90% range. Still this is an album I recommend to any metalhead who doesn't just live for the fastest and most brutal metal out there. This actually could interest the post rock fans more than the metal fans, as I think I prefer the post rock influences on the album more than the metal parts. Great in most places, weak in others, I recommend a good, honest listen though.
Well, what to say about a band like Agalloch? With such great releases like Pale Folklore and The Mantle they have already entered the pandemonium. I don’t know if there is a metal genre, or scene which we could call Dark Metal, but if there is, Agalloch must be in the first place. They are simply the best when it comes to dark, moody and harmonious metal.
The Mantle came out in 2002, and in the past 4 years all that this band has done are 3 EPs, which although they weren’t bad at all, they made me think that they have gone totally into neo-folk.
What a big surprise! Ashes Against The Grain continues exactly the path which was forged with the previous 2 albums, moreover, this new one is more metallic than The Mantle was. The album unites elements of Black Metal, doom metal and folk music. Harmonious dark riffs, sometimes still reminding me the Brave Murder Day/Discouraged Ones period of Katatonia (just listen to the second half of Falling Snow) fused with strong and melodic leads sauced by unique vocal parts, both harsh and melodic ones.
The first song begins with a weeping tune, which reminds me of My Dying Bride’s grief-stricken guitarleads, and after a few minutes turns into a monumental part. Second song starts very dynamic bringing excellent riffs and beautiful acoustic breaks. A very well-assembled and memorable song. After 20 minutes comes the 3rd song, a short interlude, which is only made of a few resonating notes and a dreary industrial noise in the background, showing new nuances of the band. Fire Above, Ice Below is the longest track, and has everything which makes Agalloch only one of its kind. Many acoustic dreamy folk parts, a sad and warm voice, crescendo drumming, gradually growing into more epic parts, then the metal riffs in the last part of the song are surprisingly sustained by a U2-type of rock drumming. Next song – Not Unlike The Waves - has the heaviest riffs, but also the most beautiful acoustic moments and clean vocals.
The last part of the album is the “Our Fortress Is Burning” trilogy with all the 3 tracks spinning around the same musical theme. Part I is totally acoustic, part II is a prog-rock/post-rock song with Black Metal vocals, while part III is unexpectedly a drone/noise/ambient track.
So, the band continues the sonic journey, introducing new elements into their contemporary art, but without losing their “dark metal” roots. A brilliant record, one of the best releases for this year.
Since formation in 1995, Agalloch have exerted so many different styles of music into the scene that they cherish oh so much. With some diverse dark ambient and neofolk EPs, a loud, insane pure folky-black metal demo, a splendid progressive dark metal debut, a beautiful folk metal follow-up, and even some chaotic improvisations at live shows, Agalloch have obviously traveled down the road of change. The change has seemed to always be for the better, as from "Pale Folklore" to the 10" split with Nest, Agalloch have always suprised but embraced the listener. On the last Agalloch release (the split with Nest) we heard Agalloch in a way we'd never heard them before...in a dark neofolk vein. Now, the long awaited "Ashes Against The Grain" is released; and Agalloch went from dark neofolk to...-progressive folk...rock?
Hell fucking yes they did.
It's actually quite ignorant to name this whole record "progressive folk rock", because it's impossible to weave all the styles shown here together into one overall generalization. The styles shown on this record are: dark rock, progressive, folk, emotional doom metal, soft folk rock, dark ambient, and some very depressive metal. Would it be coherant to say that Agalloch fit all of those styles into one song? It would seem ridiculous, but it was done.
"Fire Above, Ice Below" is easily the best song on the album, and the most complex. This is the celestial masterpiece that weaves all the styles into one song and style. Starting out with a few atmospheric dark rock chords, it progresses into what seems to be some depressive folk rock. With clean vocals, it dubs its name and captures elements of emotional rock. Whispers and dreamy chords help it progress into the metal that we foresaw it perceiving. It eventually dies out with some dark ambient. At this point, these actions could actually be somewhere in the realms of pure immaturity. I mean to say; are the songs structured in a simplistic and totally unrelated way (see Opeth), or are they beautifully knitted together into a magnificent quilt of beauty?
To answer that question, the songs will keep you warm at night. In other words, they're one of the most beautiful quilts I've ever seen. The first track, "Limbs"; is a great example. It starts out with an atmospheric, and alone note being played at an extremely melodic standard. The note is held for about ten seconds, which helps settle in the atmosphere that the band is trying to portray. With repetition and some steps up and down, it eventually falls into a hypnotic spiral as the drums help bring in the main riff for the next two minutes. As it repeats, we hear the same notes at the beginning of the song played in the background and repeated for around thirty seconds or so. As this fades out, the lead guitar part fades in very quitely. As it gets louder and louder each time, the atmosphere of the song helps represent an extremely dreamy, rainy, and catostrophic entity that no other band can employ. As it repeats and reaches its peak, the drums move into a very fast style which eventually ends the sequence with a huge minor chord that rings for around a minute. As it is left ringing, an acoustic verse walks in where timpani and other down-tuned thumps in the background help show how something heavy, and loud is coming. Eventually, the main riff falls in and Agalloch are at their main employment of "Limbs". If Agalloch were trying to become mainstream, this is where the song would start. This is the main "starting" for "Limbs", and it only took five minutes to reach it. Each track seems to be this well-structured, with a ridiculously lucious progressive style taking over and beating the senslessness out of the song.
If you're not one to accept changes, and are looking for another "The Mantle" or "Pale Folklore", this album might not be for you. I was expecting something different, but not this different...Not this good. It's funny how Agalloch change time and time again, with each of their releases showing a totally different style than the previous; yet they manage to amaze me...well, time and time again. Each release is in a completely different vein, but each release emits a beautiful, dark and admirable vein - the vein of Agalloch.
Ever since the release of falling snow, it became obvious what direction this new album will be heading. Agalloch has always been a band that thrives to expand the possibility of their music, and in my opinion, they did a fine job looking for the sound that they were searching for through ashes against the grain. Their experimental EP's that were released after the mantle incoporated a lot of post-rock atmosphere, which can also be found in this new album.
Ashes against the grain generally revolves around two main tracks: falling snow, and not unlike the waves. A lot of the other tracks can be described better as movements as opposed to actual songs. The opening track, limbs, is perhaps the most post-rock influenced song on the album. It contains the same flow and sense of uncertainty as with say, "godspeed you! black emperor's" work. The song moves along slowly and you can tell that they are taking their time with it to brew the right atmosphere that is needed to start the album. Then comes falling snow, which is where I think the album really kicks off. Unlike the rest of the album, falling snow maintains a steady beat that serve as the driving force for the entire song. The song structure is much simpler, almost like an alternative rock song, yet it fits perfectly. Don and John's collaboration as guitarists has also matured, the two guitars come together very nicely. The bass was another thing that I noticed when I first heard this song. Agalloch has never emphasized too much on bass through out their previous albums, but in falling snow, it has a more significant role in terms of creating the melody behind the guitars. After this song comes white mountain and fire above, ice below, which I think both serve as interludes 'cause of the actual songs and their placement in the album. White mountain is as if it was taken from one of the experimental EP's, pure ambience, which is a good rest after the up-beat melodic bombardment from falling snow. Fire above, ice below brings things down to a slower pace, those who are craving for a second "the mantle", would appreciate this one very much. This song returns to the more doomish side of agalloch. And then there is not unlike the waves. A superb folk song in the vein of ulver's bergtatt. The clean vocals here is probably the best I've heard from John. Not unlike the waves speeds the pace up once more as did falling snow, and contains the heaviest agalloch riff to date. An interesting burzumesque scream can also be heard. Not unlike the waves pretty much brings the essence of this album to an end and sum up what the album is representing. The album ends with our fortress is burning, which is almost like a long movement of improvisation. At first listen, I felt this little section was unnecessary and almost out of place, but then it grew on me after a while. Everything in this album is where it's suppose to be.
People who are expecting another "the mantle" would most likely be disappointed with this album, but again, one mantle is enough in agalloch's discrography. There is no need for them to repeat what has already been done, instead, they explore other possibilities within their music.
Agalloch, the masterminds behind some of the most moving and inspirational music, are back in summer of 2006 with their third full length release, Ashes Against the Grain. Before I get into the specifics of the album, let me make it very clear that this is Agalloch at their upright best. Pale Folklore and The Mantle are two of the greatest musical creations ever conceived, but Ashes Against the Grain feels miles above anything the band has ever written before.
I've had the album for some time now, but I waited for a sunny day to clear my schedule and take a walk into the forest behind my house to listen to this album in the palm of Mother Nature. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend you listen to this album with a clear mind to fully appreciate every note on the album. The album itself mixes heavy, distorted riffs with soft, acoustic passages strewn about. In comparison, it's more similar to Pale Folklore, in that the riffs are much heavier than most found on The Mantle, but all three of the albums are very different, while still maintaining that classic Agalloch feel. The production is a lot cleaner this time around, allowing every note from every instrument to be clearly identified, something the older albums lacked.
The album opens up with an eerie intro to Limbs, then immediately delves into the plodding main riff. The listener will notice rather quickly that this song is filled with the classic Agalloch atmosphere while still maintaining a much heavier tone to the entire song. The song switches over to a quieter acoustic passage around three minutes in, but quickly builds pace and explodes back into the heavy riffing. It isn’t until five minutes in that Haughm starts his vocals. The listener will notice right away that the vocals are nearly identical to either of the previous albums, which is indeed a good thing. After seven minutes in, the song once again switches gears and jumps into an entirely acoustic guitar passage, very emotional. And then before you know it, the ten minute opener is over. Excellent, excellent work.
Falling Snow opens with another eerie guitar melody, evoking feelings of both happiness and sorrow at once. This is classic Agalloch songwriting here, switching in and out of distorted riffs and acoustic pieces all throughout. Of all the album's songs, this is probably the one most similar to their older work. The listener is also introduced to Agalloch's clean vocal performance, which is much more defined and far more emotional than in their previous albums. The song continues in classic Agalloch form until its ten minutes are also up.
This White Mountain On Which You Will Die is a short instrumental introduction track to the monster of the album Fire Above, Ice Below. Fire Above, Ice Below starts with a quiet acoustic melody, more upbeat than the previous tracks. Clean vocals are used to open up the track and are used mainly throughout the first portion of the song. The pace remains constant, until the distorted rhythm guitar enters, in which the acoustic lead guitar flies into a heart wrenching melody. About half way in, the song takes a classic Agalloch interlude, evoking feelings rarely experienced by other bands. Shortly after, the track explodes back into that haunting acoustic melody. The music takes a few turns here and there until this monster of a song is put to rest.
Not Unlike The Waves is next, my personal favorite track of the album. Easily the heaviest piece on the album, as the listener will quickly realize once the crushing main riff is exposed. Clean vocals are again used to open the track, but switch back and forth between harsh vocals throughout the song. The track toys around for a while, eventually leading into a short guitar solo, until it closes out with the thunderous main riff.
Now, on to the three part finale, Our Fortress Is Burning. The first part of the song is an instrumental, but a damn good one at that. Nothing stands out here, but it's excellent songwriting on Agalloch's part. Bloodbirds, the second part of the song retains the same atmosphere as the first, but with added vocals and a quicker pace near the middle of the track. The most memorable line from the album is heard near the end of the song, "Our fortress is burning against the grain of a shattered sky". Lyrical genius, in my honest opinion. The song ends in a series of the emotional yells rivaled only by The Wilderness off of Agalloch's demo. The three part trilogy ends with The Grain, a strange, yet extremely artistic approach to close off the album. The song is simply a noise track, consisting of static and feedback. Not much else to be said about it.
And as the static fades, Ashes Against the Grain comes to a close. Four years in the making, and Agalloch delivers one of the greatest albums I've ever heard. This album is truly a rewarding experience. If the listener takes the time to experience every note from front to back, he or she will experience feelings that only Agalloch can deliver. The band certainly did not sell out, nor did their sound change at all, with the exception of a heavier tone. If you're an Agalloch fan, you will not be disappointed at all with this release. The only complaint I have is the length, with only 6 of the 8 tracks being full songs. The listener will feel a bit empty after the first listen, but the album grows on you heavily after multiple times through. Ashes Against the Grain is definitely up to par with both Pale Folklore and The Mantle, if not above both.
I must admit that at one point I disliked or, to say it more precisely, didn't understand Agalloch's music. The musicianship seemed primitive to me and I found the songwriting lazy. Still, during those times I could feel that this is music that requires a certain approach, or perhaps I was into different aesthetics at the time and it wouldn't impress me. My respect for the four musicians of this extraordinary group appeared when I re-listened to Pale Folklore in summer, of all seasons. Was it the perfect time to listen to that specific album or had it just grown on me and clicked just then I can not say, but the fact is that the group's not so immense catalog took an important place in my music diet. Their last album - The Mantle - was released in 2001, which was a long time ago, and it was intimidating that everyone would have to wait five years until the next offering of the quartet.
I always suspected that the spontaneousness of Agalloch's music could be explained by a belonging, conceptually, to a specific season and its typical signs. However, after first 'getting' the music I noticed that this is the music that I would feel comfortable while listening to during any time of the year - it seemed very appropriate and even timeless. When I had the luck to get a copy of the new album, there was a happy coincidence that I was in a forest remote from my native city, which made the listening experience even more engaging and intimate than it could have been otherwise.
Well, the grim landscape painters are back and on Ashes Against The Grain the four musicians/magicians of Agalloch have summoned the divine forces of nature once again. The distinct incomparable sound of the group can be felt throughout the album, making it an undoubtedly clear that nobody except them could make such a fine effort, yet the music here is so different from the two previous full-length offerings that even the most faithful fans of the group will have to relive brand new feelings again. Those who are familiar with the musicians are very well aware that their songwriting concentrates on creating a unique atmosphere instead of making their albums a display of technical prowess. This remains unchanged on the new record as well, although I wouldn't like to say that the musicianship can be called anything but impressive. The intense approach to songwriting allows the use of inspired and quite technical, though not for the sake of it, guitar melodies. The bass lines is a surprise on this record - one of my few complaints with Agalloch's music has before been the fact that I couldn't hear Jason William Walton's very well. Ashes Against The Grain improves this nuisance, because now you can hear his playing most of the time and his produced bass lines contribute to achieving the album's conceptual and musical aims. The drumming also seems to be an improvement to me, perhaps because the music has become more powerful and 'awake' than it was on The Mantle.
It seems to me that the group has taken even even a more Post-Rock influenced approach to songwriting here, that was already present on Pale Folklore and was developed even further on The Mantle. On the other hand, the group has not abandoned its diverse influences and there are still several parts that sound very katatonic and ulverish.
Limbs opens the album with a heavy and melodic post-rock intro, leading into an eerie acoustic guitar interlude, after which the music literally explodes in your ears and passes the alienated feel of the song to you. The riffs here are as memorable as anything I've heard in my life, and the vocals is only rasps here, which sound more determined here than on the earlier albums. When the music unleashes once again towards the end of the album after a quiet part, the sorrowful mood of the composition becomes so apparent, that no person possessing a heart will be left indifferent. A very solid opening track. Falling Snow follows, and it is a very uplifting one and can be considered to be the hymn of life, with 'happy' riffs and interesting lyrics. Before this track it would seem that vocals are now only used as a tool in Agalloch's music, which is true to a certain degree. Unlike the first track, there is also some clean singing here and the moment around the six minutes mark, the lyrics of which relate directly to the next track, is one of the most memorable of all the album. An eclectic, pleasant track. The next track, This White Mountain on Which You Will Die, is a short minimalistic instrumental, which is still quite interesting if judged separately, however, its main point is to prepare the listener for the next composition, album's longest track - the ten-minute long epic Fire Above, Ice Below. This composition can be considered to be a throwback to The Mantle in some way, because it is quiet, sorrowful and 'lazy'(in a positive way). It is the most gentle major track of the album, but it will bore no one - as the songwriting here as inspiring and many moments will stick out after repeated listens. Some 'retro'- moments appear here, such as the sounds of bells and gongs, which were used in previous efforts.
Not Unlike the Waves is when the album's unparalleled uniqueness begins to show itself completely. Starting with a 'drowning' riff that wouldn't sound out of place on an Isis's Panopticon, it explores folkier sides of music. What also is prominent is the harsh Burzum-esque shriek that can be heard a couple of times during the song, perhaps Haughm's most extreme vocal performance since the From Which of this Oak demo. People who don't like the extreme way of singing should have no reasons of being afraid, as the beauty of the music remains even with the presence of the this 'extreme' element mixed in, as there are expressive guitar solos and melodies here, as well as chant-like singing. If one stops looking at the shrieks as something unusual, it will be obvious that this is one of the finest compositions the group has ever written. Our Fortress Is Burning... trilogy is the last, and it is closer to Post-Rock structure than the other tracks. The first part, also the shortest, begins with delicate piano sounds, further evolving into a melodic guitar section with interesting bass lines. The vibe here is melancholic and depressing. It goes right into the second track, during which the album reaches its absolute climax. The melodic guitar melody right during the beginning of this track is absolutely passionate - it reveals your feelings and exposes them without hesitation and heals your wounds... This is as expressive as music will ever get. However, the Post-Rock crescendo continues from here onwards, reaching ultimate heights, joined by a raspy voice full of despair and protest until everything just explodes and the most sorrowful of screams in Agalloch's music are heard. Simply perfect. The third part of the track does not follow the same crescendo structure and is the most unusual thing the group has attempted to produce. This is a minimalistic, noisy track, that reminds me of 70's Tangerine Dream so much, that if somebody played it to me and said this was a lost B-side that never quite made it on one of the German Progressive Electronic pioneers albums, I would have no doubts that what I am told is sheer truth. Some may and will argue that it does not contain enough substance for its seven minutes, but I know better not to follow the ordinary views on structure in music and consider this to be an amazing end to a brilliant album.
It is irrefutable that this is the highest point of Agalloch's career and their most emotional, powerful, engaging and expressive release. It would be pointless to name exact types of listeners who I would recommend this to, as I can not recommend it enough - I suggest everyone to hear it, if you value emotional no less than technical skill and experience!
It is simply necessary to buy this album as soon as it comes out, to support these truly genius musicians.
Simply put, a masterpiece that nobody has an excuse of not owning!