Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain - The End Records 2006
Running Time: 59:51
The entrancing quality of Agalloch's music has, if anything grown since 2002's The Mantle, with "Limbs" quickly winding its winsome chords around the listener, quickly guiding them into a world few can comfortably inhabit in metal. Haughm's vocals still hold the black flame of his musical northern kinsmen high without mimicry, yet sometimes the band places those gravelled howls in sections of "Limbs" more typically suited for some Nick Moss sound-alike to croon over. Still, it works, and sculpts a bit more of the stone that Agalloch has been chiselling away at for nearly a decade. "Falling Snow" lays Novembre-styled leads over driving rhythm, the band playing surprisingly straightforward, proof that Agalloch knows that sometimes a song doesn't have to be all over the musical map to be valid. After the harsh, grating "This White Mountain Upon Which You Will Die", lush acoustics and timpani form the bedrock of "Fire Above, Ice Below". Just before the four-minute mark, dissonant guitars build to a crescendo and then wash away on tides of near Katatonic vocals, only to shortly return, beckoned by tasteful acoustic leadwork, carrying the song to it's end. The submerged voices appearing near the ending of "Fire Above, Ice Below" become a wave, crashing against the mammoth riff that begins "Not Unlike The Waves". One of the things I've always appreciated about Agalloch is their willingness to let the music take them anywhere it wishes, with no regard for what's "expected". Hence, when crystalline solos are bolstered one minute by somber, melancholic vocals, then plowed under the next by malevolent double bass and grating rasp, it's all part and parcel of what makes Agalloch such an impressive and singular entity. The somber desolation of "Our Fortress Is Burning" is equal parts My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, dense and layered, but not weighty, and being the first movement in the trilogy closing out the album. When Haughm's throat-shredding snarl barks "Our fortress is burning against the grain of a shattered sky." four minutes into "Bloodbirds", the pain of loss is undeniable. Strident, jagged solo guitars in "The Grain" reference Earth and The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud, somehow comforting in their calamity, and bringing to a close Ashes Against The Grain.
Alongside their labelmates, Green Carnation and The Gathering, Agalloch have released their finest work yet in their new album. As comforting as it is disturbing, Ashes Against The Grain speaks to the older, primeval force within. Whether or not we listen, it is there. A multi-leveled work of virtuosity and visceral beauty...thoroughly challenging