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Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain CD (album) cover

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN

Agalloch

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.89 | 220 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The crowning achievement of Agalloch's career.

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!

Simply put, a masterpiece that nobody has an excuse of not owning!

Trickster F. | 5/5 |

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