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Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.90 | 227 ratings

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4 stars Agalloch's 'Ashes Against The Grain' is the third full-length studio album from the Portland metal band and is really quite a significant departure from the musical style developed on their previous album, 'The Mantle'. I remember listening to this album when it first came out, fully expecting a continuation of the folk-metal from their previous album, but instead hearing a far heavier record rooted firmly in the post-metal genre. The compositions are almost Isis or Cult Of Luna like at times, such is their heaviness.

Almost none of the folk-metal sound, which had been the bands trademark before, exists on this album. There is still a very unique Agalloch sound on this record - the black metal tremolo picking over the wall-of-sound sludgy guitars and the stark but effective drumming. But in 'Ashes' the clean vocals of John Haughm are entirely gone, almost all of the softer acoustic guitar moments are gone as well. The music is dense and, at times, stark. But the result is still as breathtaking as 'The Mantle', just in a different way. Instead of rehashing 'The Mantle', which is an album I consider to be the peak output for the band, Agalloch decided to take an entirely different route in 'Ashes'.

The compositions are long and full of suspense and build-up. The opening track alone has almost five minutes of build-up before Haughm's brilliant raspy vocals kick in. Every song on this album is a little bit different, but all rooted in a very heavy post-metal style. The focus is on the instruments and the musical progression rather than the vocals. There are very few lyrics on this album, and they only rarely intersect with the instrumental passages. Despite the density of the compositions there is a certain sense of freedom throughout this record. Haughm holds back on his voice enough to allow everyone in the band plenty of time to shine, and the result is that the vocal sections, when they do appear, are even more powerful for the listener and really grab your attention.

Every song on here is pure gold, none more so than the opening track 'Limbs' or the utterly epic three-part trilogy at the end of the record, 'Our Fortress Is Burning'. The second part of the trilogy in particular, 'Bloodbirds', gives me chills every time I hear it - the atmosphere is divine. That tremolo picking riff, first with the acoustic guitar and then with the distorted guitar is a work of genius. The final track as well is an amazing piece of electronic music, rooted in a style known as Musique Concrete.

On a bit of a side note when I studied Music at university I learned about an obscure technique used occasionally in electronic music known as granulation. This involves chopping up a stream of sound into tiny pieces, known as grains, and then rearranging them in semi-random order with overlapping between the different grains. This technique is a bit like cutting a film strip into tiny pieces, throwing them in the air and re-compositing them together in whatever order they fell and playing back the result. I mention this because the final track of the album has judicious use of this granulation technique, and its interesting to note that Agalloch knew of this technique and chose to apply it! Either that or their producer/engineer knew of the technique and talked them into using it on their record closer because it fits oh-so-well with their album title!

Final thoughts on this record are that I love it, its a work of art, brilliant compositions... But, for my worth, I still rate 'The Mantle' higher than this so I'll 'only' give it 4-stars. Seriously though, this is a brilliant album by one of the most creative and unique bands on the planet and should be heard by anyone even remotely interested in heavier progressive music... 4-stars!

AndyJ | 4/5 |


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