without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.