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Agalloch Ashes Against the Grain album cover
3.92 | 255 ratings | 29 reviews | 37% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2006

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Limbs (9:51)
2. Falling Snow (9:38)
3. This White Mountain on Which You Will Die (1:39)
4. Fire Above, Ice Below (10:29)
5. Not Unlike the Waves (9:16)
6. Our Fortress Is Burning... I (5:25)
7. Our Fortress Is Burning... II - Bloodbirds (6:21)
8. Our Fortress Is Burning... III - The Grain (7:10)

Total Time 59:49

Line-up / Musicians

- John Haughm / vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, drums (2,5), co-producer
- Don Anderson / electric & acoustic guitars
- Jason William Walton / bass
- Chris Greene / drums

- Ronn Chick / EBow (4), piano (1,6), co-producer, mixing

Releases information

Artwork: A. Tolonen with John Haughm (design)

CD The End Records ‎- TE-070 (2006, US)
CD The End Records ‎- TE719-2 (2016, US) Remastered by Colin Marston

Thanks to ivansfr0st for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain ratings distribution

(255 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(37%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(43%)
Good, but non-essential (14%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Trickster F.
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!

Review by OpethGuitarist
3 stars This one took me a while to get into, and even then, it still doesn't measure up quite to what I get from The Mantle. It's clear their influences have broadened, but the band remains true to the sound they've forged over the years.

I am a bit disenchanted with the first 3 songs of the album. They are the weakest of the work here, maybe they just never clicked with me but I am not all too impressed with them. I would advise to start with track 4 for those who have never experienced Agalloch and have a desire to get in the band. Fire Above, Ice Below, brings back memories of the aesthetic nature of Agalloch mixed with many post-rock elements. Not Unlike the Waves has an uplifting quality to it, similar to a style Opeth uses. Around 6:45 of the song an epic riff comes in which is my favorite moment in the album.

The closer is perhaps one of Agalloch's most 'progressive' efforts. With many experimental effects incorporated into the tradional Agalloch sound. Overall, this record is well-done, but I'm less thrilled about it than I had hoped. The band's sound is one of a kind, I just wish they would have taken a different course through some of this record.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ambient terrestrial metal.

Here is the funniest description I've found of Agalloch, courtesy of D. Berger at Deadtide: "progressive neo-pagan folk extreme doom metal with a hefty does of industrial drone tossed in for good measure." I love that.

But I guess I'll call this ambient terrestrial metal: a hazy and enveloping sound experience with a decidedly earthy feel in both sound and theme. I have a growing collection of prog but nothing "feels" quite like Agalloch. Very heavy of course with violent undertones but somehow grounding and reassuring at the same time.

"Limbs" is a good encapsulation of the album as a whole with its lumbering beast of a riff and thoughtful acoustic guitar. There is a good amount of acoustic guitar on this album to counter the mega-chug sound. Yes "Ashes" features some growl vocals but I wouldn't be put off by that. They are used reservedly along with clean vocals to good effect. "Fire Above, Ice Below" is a real standout epic that broods and builds slowly as it takes you on a dark and fantastic journey through another time and place. Long and deliberate it is but never boring. It is followed by another standout in "not unlike the waves" that features the most gorgeous interplays between the electric and acoustic guitars and powerful majestic melody. Some complain about the final track "the grain" which is a space-metal noisescape of odd sounds and feedback. At over 7 minutes it will bore those looking for another "song" but really it's quite brilliant. It's a perfect piece of reflection on a great album and denoted with the following two provocative lines from the booklet: "The God of man is a failure. And all of our shadows are ashes against the grain." One of the most important things about atmospheric music is whether it can really transport you, take you somewhere else, as opposed to just sounding pretty. "Ashes" is an album that does that. It may not be a place that is particularly pleasant but it is interesting. The lyrics and artwork in the booklet are both excellent and convey the feel of the music very well.

Review by progrules
2 stars In one of my other prog metal review I devided prog metal (globally) in two categories: prog metal mainly producing sound, usually quite slow not even really loud without an obvious song structure and often quite monotonal. Examples of this style are Tool, Anathema and Fates Warning. The other style is the one with a clear song structure, often making good or even great compositions in almost symphonic style. Very good examples of this line are Dream Theater, Symphony X, Shadow Gallery and Threshold.

The way I'm talking about this distinctiveness could tell you already where my preference lies. Indeed with the second style. Agalloch is to me another clear example of the first style, a style I am not too fond of to say the least. I don't want to go into the songs individually, this is more a case of overall sound and vein in which they play music. And I have not much to add to the story really.

I even think it must have been a tough call for the ballot of progarchives whether this band should be on progarchives at all. For instance there's a lot of grunts in the singing and besides little song structure I can't find much melody either which is also one of the features of prog metal, at least to me. This is more of a metal band to me. Last thing I want to say about this album is: dreadful last track, shows little respect for music. It probably has some kind of meaning and I'm possibly missing out on that but at least it makes the choice between 2 and 3 stars a little easier. It will be 2 now.

Review by Prog-jester
4 stars A friend of mine was surprised to discover that this band is NOT from Norway/Sweden/England or Finland. 'Are you sure they're USA guys?' he asked. Oh yes, I do sure!

From the very opening pompous 'Limbs' chords you know - this is Epic. And it's truly is. 'Pale Folklore' was rough and closer to traditional extreme Metal. 'The Mantle' was the crowning achievement in this sphere, and already had some Post-Metal tendencies. 'Ashes...', while being a little less melodic than 'The Mantle', is far more atmospheric and the most Post-Rocky one from all AGALLOCH albums. Each track screams 'epic!' to the listener, and it's all culminates in closing 19-min long 'Our Fortress is Burning...' in three parts. Ambient Metal, this is it. AGALLOCH guys have managed not only distance themselves from Metal cliches but also step into another musical realm. They're still immensely respected in Black/Doom/Folk/Pagan Metal circles, but now even Post-Rock/Indie fans see no evil in being AGALLOCH devotees too. Blurring the borders between styles and genres, AGALLOCH are more than suitable for ProgArchives - they're progressing further still apart from dozens of hundreds of bands stuck inside their own shells of manner-once-chosen. OPETH from USA? Listenable extreme Metal? I don't care for tags, but all I know is that AGALLOCH are superb. Make yourself a favour and try them. Highly recommended!!!

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars AGALLOCH's latest "Ashes Against The Grain" is heavier than "The Mantle" but there's still lots of atmosphere and they continue to use those sinsiter vocals with the clean ones. Something new is that Post-Rock flavour that crops up once in a while.

"Limbs" kicks in with drums and a full sound before a minute. It settles right down before 3 minutes then starts to build again a minute later. Sinister vocals after 5 minutes and a nice heavy sound. It settles again after 7 minutes then kicks back in. Sinister vocals follow. "Falling Snow" opens with a good heavy sound with prominant drums coming in. Some brief distorted guitar before the vocals arrive before 1 1/2 minutes. It kicks into a higher gear then settles back. Clean vocals after 3 1/2 minutes, sinister vocals follow. The tempo continues to change. "This White Mountain On Which You Die" is haunting with waves of synth-like sounds.

"Fire Above, Ice Below" builds slowly but it always stays releaxed. Clean vocals after a minute. It's more intense after 4 minutes though. Some Post-Rock styled guitar follows. Amazing sound before 9 minutes as the guitar lights it up. It sounds like waves and wind as it blends into "Not Unlike The Waves". It sounds incredible when it kicks in around a minute. It settles after 2 minutes but not for long. Clean vocals 3 minutes in. It settles before 6 minutes with some excellent guitar to follow. It kicks back in with sinister vocals. "Our Fortress Is Burning...I" opens with what sounds like a roaring fire in the background as the music sadly plays. Drums after 1 1/2 minutes. It settles 3 1/2 minutes in and blends into "Our Fortress Is Burning...II Bloodbirds". Drums come in quickly though to make a fuller sound. This sounds amazing ! Sinister vocals before 4 minutes cry out in anguish over what has happened. "Our Fortress Is Burning...III The Grain" is spacey to open before turning a little experimental with the loud noisy sounds. It settles somewhat but really there is no music on this track, it's a soundscape.

This is special music and it's easy to dismiss if not listened to in the right way and attitude. Still it's not for everybody.

Review by Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Ashes Against The Grain' - Agalloch (8.5/10)

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.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars We recently got a breakthrough of Agalloch's Ashes Against The Grain in the Bonnek household. Meaning my beloved is digging this as well now, so I can play it at any time I want (sometimes I even get requests!), which is just fantastic because I would play this album all day long if I had the time for it.

It wasn't love at first sight though (the album I mean). It sure sounded interesting but at first I thought it to be too similar to Opeth. I couldn't be more wrong. Sure it has heavy and harsh parts mixed with gentle and melodic parts but the way this music flows is entirely different from Opeth.

What you get with Agalloch is an organic and spontaneous flow of music that goes through the motions step by step: it builds up tension and releases it, it works up from gentle atmospheric to big orgiastic climaxes. Opeth is much more mathematical: 4 bars loud, 8 bars of acoustics, 4 bars loud again 16 bars something else and so on. In fact, with reference to composition, Agalloch sits closer to bands like Anathema or Neurosis, who, even though they create very different music, they both share that same natural flow.

The reason I spent so long on that argument is because it explains why you need to sit through this entire album in one go. Each individual song is great by itself but together they build up to something that is larger then life. Actually, despite the sparse instrumentation this album contains the most epic music I've ever heard.

So I will consciously avoid a track by track overview. I have the impression that the Agalloch ratings suffer because of the difficulty to categorize them. People are bound to approach them with entirely wrong expectations and preconceptions. Still, some may be attracted nevertheless. The music is brilliant, the epic feel is out of this world but never bombastic, the chants are gorgeous and the production is at the same crystal clear, rough and organic. And I am quite sure there is not one other band that can be compared to them. What more do you need?

Review by EatThatPhonebook
4 stars 8/10

"Ashes Against The Grain" is one of the very best Agalloch albums.

Agalloch come back with an unbelievable, and extremely original album, "Ashes Against The Grain", the band's second best album, only to be second to "The Mantle".

Very different from the previous studio album, with "Ashes Against The Grain" Agalloch return to their Doom Metal style, leaving behind all the bleak, wintery folkish atmospheres and bringing up the spring, dreadful, but still dreamy atmospheres. The structure of the album is quite impressive and epic: almost all eight songs are long, and the three final songs are technically part of an even more epic song, "Our fortress Is Burning", which is acclaimed as one of the best Agalloch moments ever, even by me.

"Limbs" is a dark,long, and violent song, but with an epic and hopeful atmosphere that dresses it. Quite original in some moments, thanks especially to the beautiful guitars of John Haugm and Don Anderson, which always give a magic touch to the mood.

"Falling Snow" is a little more cheerful, even though the Black Metal vocals are a lot more present than the clean ones. Great chorus, great experimentation, this is another good one.

"This Mountain On Which You Will Die" is a shot instrumental, an interlude, that connects the first part of the album with the middle part.

"Fire Above, Ice Below" is possibly the song I least prefer; it just doesn't seem to be at the height of the two previous songs, even though the length of it would imply otherwise. Some moments are nice, but others just don't touch as much.

"Not Unlike The Waves" is probably my favorite song of the album. Everything of it is somewhat perfect; the chorus, the guitars, the verse, the experimentation, the vocals,the arrangements. Brilliant. No wonder they also made a music video for this one.

"Our Fortress Is Burning" is another masterpiece; in total, considering these three last songs as one, the length goes around twenty minutes; the first five are instrumental, very mellow, with interesting arrangements and arpeggios of the guitar. Bloodbirds(the second part) is maybe my least favorite, don;t know exactly why, since it maintains pretty much the same melody as before. The Grain is the third part of the song, like the first part instrumental, like the first part great.

There is also a bonus track, "Our Fortress Has Burned To the Ground", a sort of epilogue to the album. It's a nineteen minute ambient piece, with an interesting post apocalyptic atmosphere.

As a conclusion, this album really moved me, even though it has one defect; it is a little too long, and you get kind of tired of it. But still, I could easily define it as a masterpiece, a near perfect album.

Review by JJLehto
4 stars We have tracked Agalloch's progression through their EP's and albums, culminating in their absolute masterpiece, "The Mantle". One of the extremely few albums I would give a six star rating. So, what is a band suppose to do after something like that? Well, keep on moving of course.

With this album virtually all traces of black metal, (sans some vocals) have been removed, and polished off with a pristine sound quality. Much of the folky elements are also greatly toned down. The result is a more stripped down and straightforward Agalloch. This is their most post metal album yet, with lengthy compositions ripe with progression, builds, more riffs and nuanced songwriting than we've seen, and overall more streamlined feel. While this may be a natural progression, it thus lacks The Mantle's perpetual melancholy and bleakness. Think of The Mantle like a lake, while Ashes is a river.

With all that out of the way, this album begins strong with two of Agalloch's best songs, and the absolutely incredible "Falling Snow". A nice segue takes us into two nice post metal songs. "Not Unlike the Waves" has some great riffing and some true black metal high pitched, blood curdling shrieks. I'm talking out of Burzum's book here.

The album ends on a three piece suite, opposite of Pale Folklore. Really great stuff, and Bloodbirds is one hell of a powerful movement. Sadly, the album goes out on a lackluster note. More of a soundscape than a song, it is not bad at all but doesn't do much for me. I am sure it has its place and meaning, but just doesn't do it for me. Otherwise this is a pretty much perfect album.

Excellent album. Really, deserving of a 4.8 or 4.9 (but if it's not a 5 star than it's not)


Four Stars

Review by Warthur
3 stars In the four years since their excellent The Mantle, the music scene had more than caught up with Agalloch's post-metal vision; other bands, such as the brilliant Isis, had even crafted superior works to that foundational piece. But those hoping that Ashes Against the Grain would show the newcomers how it was done may have found themselves disappointed. With less emphasis on acoustic guitars than on The Mantle, the band's sound becomes substantially more generic, and the compositions seem fairly uninspiring next to works by the likes of Isis and Pelican.

It's still a decent slice of post-metal which will appeal to fans of that subgenre, but Agalloch were always at their most distinctive - and therefore their most inventive and compelling - when they were blending post-metal and atmospheric black metal on one hand with dark folk on the other; with the folk side of their sound dialled back, the album ends up good but not quite as groundbreaking as their preceding work.

Review by kev rowland
4 stars Agalloch were formed out of the ashes of doom/death project Aeolachrymae in 1995 and this is the third full length album to date. They hail from Portland Oregon but I have to say from hearing this, the first thought is that this band is from Northern Europe and not from the US at all. The reason for that is this is an emotional album that while bringing together thoughts of acts like Katatonia manages to also bring in black metal and Scandanavian style progressive rock together with atmosphere beyond measure. There are times when the music is quite light in nature, very melodic and almost joyous (notice the word 'almost') while at others it is bleak and nihilistic, with the pressure of the world on top of them all.

One reason that this works so very well is that there are a huge range being employed, there is a real sense of dynamics so for every sorrow there is another deeper to compare it against. The production isn't too heavy handed and the band are more than capable of turning it up and being very heavy indeed or bringing in folk influences and bringing out the acoustic guitars. Extremely emotional and cathartic, this is an album that can be draining in its very intensity and is always powerful.

This is definitely one for those who enjoy their music to be away from the norm, but also with plenty of passion and depth.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars It was 4 years after Agalloch released their masterpiece 'The Mantle' that they would release their follow up. The band had been performing songs from 'The Mantle' and learned that they had to either bring along a lot more instruments and support, or revise their songs so they could be recreated in a concert setting without so much equipment and musicians tagging along. This led to the decision to make this album, 'Ashes Against the Grain' a more stripped down affair. Stripped down did not necessarily mean a more acoustic album, or a softer album at all, it meant less equipment to make the required sound the band was reaching for. Thus, this album is decidedly more electric and heavy but only requiring a minimal amount of equipment to recreate it in concert.

However, this stripped down album, ended up sounding to polished, according to the band. They also consider it the worst album they have ever made. They preferred the rawness of their previous album and EPs over this too perfect sound. And, honestly, they do have a point. But considering this their worst album might be a stretch, and they have definitely set a high enough bar, that their worst album could be considered a best if it was put out by any of their Folk Metal/Black Metal peers.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the dirty, growly vocals. There are only a few exceptions and that is when the instrumentation is still interesting enough to make up for the 'same-ness' that you can get with those type of vocals. Dirty vocals tend to lack emotion, except for the extreme emotion that never changes. Too much of something tends to wash out the overall result. For 'The Mantle', the overall music is so amazing that they growling doesn't bother me so much. On this album, the dirty vocals are there, intermixed with some clean singing, and there are some breaks in the instrumentation so that the wall of noise isn't always there. But, overall, is it enough to save this album?

We start off with 'Limbs' which is over 9 minutes, of mostly loud, hard music, with a few short breaks of quieter passages, and a lot of dirty vocals with a few passages of clean singing. The guitar and percussion work is all excellent, with a lot of changing meters and a minimal use of dynamics. It's not bad, but it doesn't quite reach the pinnacle of 'The Mantle'. This flows almost seamlessly into another minute epic called 'Falling Snow', which follows the same pattern, but at least allows for more instrumental sections. Not a lot of difference between the tracks however. There is a sudden moment of quietness with the short, atmospheric instrumental 'This White Mountain on Which You Will Die'. These three tracks are the weakest part of the album, yet they are not terrible tracks, there just isn't a lot of real stand out sections in them. But, at least they are interesting and progressive enough to not be completely written off.

After the cooling off bridge that is 'This White Mountain'', the next track, 'Ice Above, Fire Below' follows with a more acoustic beginning, and cleaner vocals, but more in a soft, whispered vocalization, but still sounding dark and evil. There is a building momentum as the track continues, and we have a nice example of the effective use of dynamics here. This is a much better track, without that chopped up feeling, but more of a flowing feeling between loud and soft passages. Out of one of the soft sections, a beautiful guitar melody begins at the 5:30 mark. This builds again, with more layers added in, but keeping the same slow pace, and wordless vocals come in. The vocals become growly again, but they are short as the instrumental sections actually drive this track quite effectively. The 10 minutes go by quickly as this track keeps your interest throughout, and could have easily been at home on the previous album. This is an excellent track, all the way through, with a lot of changes and nothing static about it.

The long epics continue with 'Not Unlike the Waves', another 9 minute track. The first 2 minutes feature a repeating guitar hook, and it begins to give credence to the complaint the band had about being too polished. At least, the repeating pattern is broken finally by a quiet passage which quickly builds to a new and more interesting section. Vocals finally come in and are a nice mix of clean and dirty, with a lot more emotion. There is a long instrumental section which is amazing, and when the vocals come in again, they are layered creating a choral effect which if perfect for the setting of the track. The repeating hook does return at the last moments of the track, but it becomes a nice bookend to the overall song. This is probably their most accessible and commercial track ever, but it's not a complete throw away by any means.

Next is a 3 part suite called 'Our Fortress is Burning' and it is divided over the next 3 tracks. The first part is a 5 minute instrumental, mostly on the quiet side, but nice and freely flowing. This overall vibe continues into the next part called 'Bloodbirds', this part acts as a bridge which builds from the quietness of the first part and over the course of 6 minutes, to the more aggressive 3rd part. Along the way, there are a lot of nice guitar solos. The vocals don't even start until the pinnacle of the crescendo is reached 3 minutes in to the 2nd part. By the end of this part, things are quite dramatic and cinematic, and it all fades quickly into some interesting effects, that lead into the 3rd part, called 'The Grain'. The effects, starting off quiet, build and build into a very chaotic and loud experimental section. This becomes very drone like in sound, very loud and continues for over 7 minutes. Things to soften by the time you reach the end, but it's good to see that the band is not afraid to experiment with other styles, namely post rock in this instance. In total, this suite nears the 19 minute mark.

The deluxe edition of the album also contains the track 'Scars of the Shattered Sky (Our Fortress Has Burned to the Ground)'. This is a 19 minute bonus track, which in itself is a anomaly for a bonus track to be that long. It is completely instrumental. The sound is very ambient with mostly a metallic feel. Acoustic guitar starts at about 3:45 with a nice melody and arpeggiated chords while the ambient effects continue. At 7 minutes, what sounds like a synthesizer plays sustained notes, and a few minutes after that, there are some meandering guitar notes that come in and some expansive sound effects, almost wind- like. The intensity increases, but remains quite pensive. Guitars and keyboards take turns passing the lead to each other. At 14 minutes, a fast beat finally comes in, and this soon turns into a heavier track with an exciting guitar solo. Then at 16:30, the rhythm breaks down and you get sharp, sustained notes with effects going on around them and this carries on until the end. Definitely a track worth seeking out, but for the most part, entirely different from the rest of the album.

Even with the overly polished feel, mainly with the first few tracks, this is still a decent album. There is plenty of variety in the music itself, and a good balance of dirty and clean vocals, with plenty of dynamics in the instrumental sections. The band called it their worst album, but most bands would be quite proud of this achievement. Yes it has it's flaws, especially in the first 3 tracks, but these should not be enough to discourage you from searching this album out, especially if you are a fan of the dark Folk Metal or Black Metal sounds. But even if you aren't, there is plenty here to keep you interested. I'm not a big fan of dirty vocals, but there is good balance here, and the album, in my opinion, does come close to their masterpiece 'The Mantle'.

Review by siLLy puPPy
5 stars Given that AGALLOCH took their name from aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) which is a fragrant wood used for incense, the band really have spent their career operating like a slow flowing resinous sap that such trees exude. Not only is this true in their shoegazy post-rock meets black and folk metal musical style but also in the fact that this Portland, Oregon based band really took their time to craft their studio albums. After the success of "The Mantle," the band began performing their music live for the first time which meant even less time for song crafting and studio production values. It took four long years before they would follow up "The Mantle" with their third full-length album ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN (not counting the two EPs) but in that time the band came to a couple conclusions.

Firstly, "The Mantle" was a behemoth in its making with tons of extra non-metal instruments, electronics and production tricks which proved extremely difficult to replicate in a live setting therefore the band had to restructure much of that album to adapt to a live setting. This scenario resulted in AGALLOCH's decision to scale back the bloated accoutrements and focus on a more stripped down approach that they could effortlessly convert from studio album to live setting without having to reconstruct the entire range of compositions. This proved to be a wise decision not only for adaptive purposes but also in the fact that it would've been a bad move to simply construct a "Mantle II." Therefore ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN developed as a completely different beast from its predecessor, which in the long run proved to be a very good thing.

Secondly, as a studio only band, John Haughm not only contributed vocals but also played acoustic and electrics guitars as well as handling all the percussion duties. Clearly unable to tackle all these duties live, AGALLOCH brought in Chris Greene as the band's official drummer and thus officially made the band a quartet. While Greene was added to the musical cast and joined before recording began on this album, he still didn't perform drums on "Falling Snow" and "Not Unlike The Waves." Due to his dissatisfaction of adapting to the band, he would depart after the European tour and replaced by Aesop Dekker ( of Ludicra). However, after ironing out the kinks in their studio / live performances ratio, AGALLOCH set forth to record their third album which was plagued with problems including the entire album being lost in a computer glitch that made them re-record from scratch. Ugh.

In every way, ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN is everything "The Mantle" wasn't, at least in the context of the world of AGALLOCH. Yes, there are many similarities. This is still a skillful mix of black and doom metal with dark neofolk and post rock, however on ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN the entire recipe has been shifted. While "The Mantle" was primarily neofolk based with influences from Death In June and Sol Invictus dominated the sonicscape, on album #3 the focus was directed more in the sludge / post-metal camp. While Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always served as a major wellspring of creative juju, on ASHES, the band was beginning to blend in more with contemporary post-metal bands such as Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. While Godspeed had been subjugated to the underbelly compositionally speaking, heavy sludge metal riffing and upbeat tempos became the dominating factors on ASHES.

While the metal has been ramped up, there is no shortage of electronic freak outs, acoustic folk or moments of inner retrospection via catchy melodic hooks. Opposite of "The Mantle," ASHES begins more aggressively with less catchy ear hooks but ultimately slowly weaves its magic as it progresses. While on "The Mantle," it took a few tracks before the metal dominated, on ASHES the slower neofolk domination doesn't kick in until the fourth track "Fire Above, Ice Below." And also serving as the photographic negative duality is the fact that while on "The Mantle" the folk emerged beneath the grungy distorted din, on ASHES it's the metal that has to emerge above the folk. I think i see a pattern here, hmmmm.

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN does not provide the immediate satisfaction that its predecessor allowed. This one takes a bit more work to decipher. While "The Mantle" was an instant classic in my ears, ASHES had to prove itself but it has unleashed new magic every time i've spun it and created an alternative AGALLOCH perspective in many ways that to this day i'm not entirely sure as to how it has unleashed its magic. Somehow the band has woven another post-metal meets folk and electronic tapestry that shape shifts when least expected and manages to drag things out as long as possible and playing the ole switcheroo just before things become stagnate. While the band has stated that this is their worst album due to the fact that it relied on too much production mileage, i have to disagree. AGALLOCH is one of those bands much like Pink Floyd that have inherently entwined themselves into the production process and would be a lesser band for not having done so. There are no virtuosic instrumental moments on an AGALLOCH album. This band creates a larger than life listening experience that is all encompassing. That is a good thing.

Yes, this one is a grower unlike "The Mantle" which casts an immediate spell, however this one is well worth the effort. It requires several intense listening sessions but well worth the effort indeed. While i admit the initial opening generic aspects of "Limbs" may not evoke any passions of fire, it doesn't take long for the majesty to sink in. ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN ultimately comes off as a classical music album dressed up in contemporary clothing such as post-rock, metal and folk. Much like its predecessor, ASHES maintains a distinct musical flow between tracks but unlike "The Mantle," relies on a series of opposing forces rather than easily cooperative ones. There is more tension that results from a heavier post-metal dominated soundscape than the lush acoustic folk pastoral marches of the past, however careful listening will find similarly plucked acoustic elements imbued throughout albeit not in the forefront. This is particularly more noticeable in the midsection of the album with "Not Unlike The Waves" coming to the forefront.

The three part suite "Our Fortress Is Burning" concludes the epic journey in an entirely satisfying fashion. It begins with a prognosticator of how it will end, with a bubbling volcanic gurgle of electronic excitation but in the beginning it ushers in a post-rock guitar riff that slowly builds into a more recognizable Mogwai type of riffage with a Pink Floyd type of guitar performance tacked on. While unified in name only, this three part finale only reflects the entire nature of the album that tacks many suites together as a united whole and arbitrarily labels them linguistically, however these last three tracks that constitute this suite are the most magnanimous of the bunch as they effortlessly juxtapose countless styles of post-rock, black metal, space rock and folk. Overproduced? I don't think so. This is musical perfection. Get over yourselves if you think otherwise. As Act I cedes into Act II, a little musical heft is added with the percussion. This is a slow burner so expect post-rock baby steps. The Third Act is entirely dedicated to an intense electronic frenzy of the quasi-formulaic world of quantum level electronic weirdness with guitar feedback or at least that's what comes to mind when it eerily transpires.

Indubitably, comparisons between "The Mantle" and ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN will result since these were AGALLOCH's peak years that defined them as the legends they have become. While similar in nature, ASHES takes a logical leap in ascension from what came before in that it doesn't rely on instantly catchy melodies as the hook basis. In contrast, this one is a murkier affair that if one were to analyze the cover art of the two albums, perfectly reflects. "The Mantle" with its black, gray and white cover art easily portrays an image of a stag amidst a wintery tree-lined landscape whereas ASHES displays a nebulous unfocused image of a bird in a Van Gogh after a wild night on the town sort of way. Likewise, the musical constructs reflect a more surreal and less comprehensible manner of how the sonic parade of sounds is laid out. The result is a feeling of less warm and fuzzy melodies and an impending dread much like the feeling of that moment before the storm hits which while somewhat placid in the physical realm is mortifying in the anticipatory emotional factors that precede. ASHES perfectly captures that "bardo" state in between major events. This was a slow burner but when all is said and done, a more sophisticated slice of musical fusion than "The Mantle" and a more than worthy successor.

Review by Hector Enrique
4 stars The snowy and gloomy landscapes, the darkness, and the constant tension sum up what is Ashes Against The Grain, Agalloch's third work. The topics are developed extensively, without rush or urgency, time does not seem to be relevant. Powerful and distorted guitars to the maximum, are set against absolutely crystalline moments, tinged by disturbing atmospheres that seem to presage some fatal outcome.

The album begins with the superb Limbs, almost 10 minutes that go through half times, imposing guitars, two small acoustic interludes, keyboard included, and the guttural voice of John Haughm, to complete a chilling atmosphere. Falling Snow maintains the character of Limbs, but with greater dynamics. After the concise and nature-themed This White Mountain on Which You Will Die, comes a fantastic combination of folk and doom with the extremely melancholic and painful Fire Above, Ice Below, and this time Haughm's clean voice that gives it another tone is, in my opinion, one of the best songs on the album. It shares that honor with the dizzying and dramatic Not Unlike The Waves, another lengthy display of the consistent musical wall that the Agallochs flawlessly build.

The work concludes with the three-part suite Our Fortress Is Burning, which lowers the beats and languishes in ambient developments interrupted only in part II by a couple of verses sung with the guts, and a haunted part III and its haunting and endless suspense, which ends up fading without specifying what it seemed to offer. The concept of the entire album however remains intact.

Ashes Against The Grain is a very good musical work, with a remarkable production and without a doubt recommended for those who enjoy the heavier genres of progressive rock.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Agalloch's The Mantle was a great album; one of my favorite post metal and black metal albums. A lot of other people feel this way too, and expectations were high for the follow up to such a great album. Those expectations were fulfilled, and that's why we're all happy with our lives. Post ... (read more)

Report this review (#2494739) | Posted by progtime1234567 | Saturday, January 16, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Ashes Agains is a great and more accessible album than the previous two studio albums. Post-rock influences are quite recognizable on this CD. "Limbs" is a trademark post-rock song, actually post-rock dominates here and black/doom metal influences are thrown in. The effectiveness of this song ... (read more)

Report this review (#2056050) | Posted by sgtpepper | Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1442647) | Posted by AndyJ | Sunday, July 19, 2015 | Review Permanlink

5 stars AGALLOCH CREATE A UNIQUE AND DARK ALBUM WITH ASHES OF THE GRAIN.' Following the winning formula that AGALLOCH did with their previous release THE MANTLE, the amazing guitar interplay is once again at hand.' AGALLOCH create very unique and interesting music is the Progressive metal world, whi ... (read more)

Report this review (#991816) | Posted by progbethyname | Thursday, July 4, 2013 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Cards on the table: I'm not a post-metal fan. Largely because I'm a metal fan, and so post metal seems to me to be an attempt to create elevator music out of a genre specifically designed to hit your eardrums like a satanic crowbar to the face. In fact, I'm not really a huge fan of any sort of backg ... (read more)

Report this review (#293257) | Posted by stranded_starfish | Tuesday, August 3, 2010 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This just might be the best postmetal album ever. This third full-length studio album is perfect except for one little flaw, which is the last part of the album-ending epic Our Fortress Is Burning. This doesnīt really matter though, because itīs just the albums outro and every song before it i ... (read more)

Report this review (#276120) | Posted by I Love Internet | Saturday, April 3, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A great album from Agalloch. I think the main problem people have with this album is the lack of variety - the "folk" element has nearly been lost and it just seems to be post metal. Personally, I don't think it's a problem - it's easily dynamic enough to remain progressive. And it's great. 1. ... (read more)

Report this review (#245465) | Posted by Staker | Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The follow up to the wonderful The Mantle, Agalloch basically shuns what I thought made The Mantle so good, and that is the acoustic guitar. Whereas The Mantle had a great balance between acoustic and electric and used the two to weave wonderfully layered melodies, AATG attempts to get those same ... (read more)

Report this review (#179584) | Posted by johnobvious | Thursday, August 14, 2008 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Weak effort in genre of progressive metal. I, personally, don't know if they "fit" in the genre of progressive metal. On second thought, what genre would they fit in? As this is the only purchase of the artist, I was very disappointed when I listened and listened and listened to the CD, hoping ... (read more)

Report this review (#122434) | Posted by proprogger | Wednesday, May 16, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars 3.5/5 Stars. Just because it has not enough prog elements to rate it as a prog record. I think Ashes Against the Grain is a great album. But, i really can't see the connection with prog though. I really liked the atmosphere of the album (voice of John Haughm is convincing and fits perfectly w ... (read more)

Report this review (#118815) | Posted by oracus | Wednesday, April 18, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is how post-metal should be done. The beautifull textures and delacate instrumentality tell a remarcable story, even with minimal vocals. When vocals are used they fit the music perfectly, harsh yet still perfect, black yet not too screachy. Listening to this album you get rapped up in th ... (read more)

Report this review (#117594) | Posted by Proletariat | Saturday, April 7, 2007 | Review Permanlink

2 stars First off, I have an open mind and listen to many genres of music, but I still cant see why Agalloch is appealing. More importantly, I can't see why they are listed as a progressive band. Perhaps if Agalloch were the only band with a somber metal style, they could be heralded (Riverside, Peccatum, ... (read more)

Report this review (#112771) | Posted by Quietus | Monday, February 19, 2007 | Review Permanlink

2 stars When I saw this album among the collaborators top albums of 2006, I decided to check it out. I was sorely disappointed. First of all, I must say: this guys are very good musicians, they play their instruments masterfully, and the instrumental music is good, but not great, not the best it seems t ... (read more)

Report this review (#108426) | Posted by Scapler | Monday, January 22, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The attempt to put the grey in music was once more successfull. Agalloch really has the talent to take us to their landscapes. Deep acoustic/folk melodies and melancholy lost in the heavy riffs, epic clean vocals alternating with raging growls... and always this homogeneity. Agalloch is like Opet ... (read more)

Report this review (#87672) | Posted by Everlasting | Saturday, August 19, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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