Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain
Record Label: The End Records
Release Date: August 8th, 2006
I stumbled upon Agalloch just as my 2006 best of list was nearing completion, and by the time I picked up the album it was already too late to include it. However, as overlooked as it has been, Ashes against the Grain may have been the best metal related record to be released in ‘06. Agalloch, hailing from (of all the oddities) the state of Washington, had already released two stunning landscapes in Pale Folklore and The Mantle. Although Agalloch is considered a black metal band, they owe almost as much to post-rock as they do to their rasping metal brothers. Blending a progressive rock attitude, plenty of atmospheric texture, and destructive vocal performances, Ashes against the Grain is the whole picture of what an album should sound like.
The opening monolith, “Limbs” is an incredibly dynamic piece. It opens with faint textures (cue Explosions in the Sky) but explodes with instrumentation into a searing midsection and thunders along throughout its nearly ten minute duration, pausing to catch its breath briefly about three quarters of the way through. Agalloch’s ability to change the mood of a song in an instant is easily comparable to Opeth (although Agalloch displays a general lack of death metal tendencies). The stripped down transitions make this not only a fascinating album to scrutinize, but a wonderful background vibration. Although each of the eight tracks is crucial to the success of this cohesive batch, “Not unlike the Waves” is a stunning combination of all the elements that make up Agalloch. The use of clean vocals is haunting, and that surreal post-rock vibe never really exits from the piece. The melody that drives “Not unlike the Waves” would really surprise those who refuse to listen to metal based on their impartiality to the vocal style. Only when the verses are interrupted by the yell of “Solstafir!” the listener is confronted by the loosely related metal genres Agalloch pulls influence from.
The final three tracks of the album form the suite entitled “Our fortress is burning”. It immediately calls to my mind the three song conclusion to Tool’s Lateralus, but the two sound nearly nothing alike. Part 1 is entirely instrumental and lets the listener experience the band’s willingness to play with acoustic and even folk influences. Part II builds slowly and continuously to an emotionally wrenching climax before settling back into the ashes of dissonance. The final cries of:
The god of man is a failure and All of our shadows are ashes against the grain
... add the lyrical conclusion to the entire album, a brilliantly worded one at that. The final piece is the most experimental bit of the album; it is one that is barely noticeable at first. “The Grain” describes it well. It is a sonic experiment of grinding noise which is an odd, but somehow appropriate ending to the focus on atmosphere Agalloch brings to metal.
Ashes Against the Grain is a non-metal listener’s metal album. It's diversity is virtually unmatched in any metal genre. Entirely consistent and true to their aim, Agalloch have proven they know how to construct cohesive, moving music to any tune they so desire.
Ashes Against the Grain
2 Falling Snow
3 This white mountain on which you will die
4 Fire Above Ice Below
5 Not Unlike the Waves
6 Our Fortress is burning...I
7 Our Fortress is burning...II - Bloodbirds
8 Our Fortress is burning...III- The Grain