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Ashes Against the Grain

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★★★★½
(34 Reviews)

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  • An American metal band influenced by heavy European guitar music that doesn’t sound like Iron Maiden or In Flames? With a “Loveless”-inspired album cover? Fascinating, Mr. Spock might say of Agalloch and their new record.

    The sound is like Explosions in the Sky engaging in a (perhaps one-sided) battle with Celtic Frost in the parking lot of a cathedral. A reverse-delayed guitar aria begins “Limbs”– skin crawls from the chilly reverberation of a war horn blown through a mountain range. The song swan-dives into a roiling sea of distorted guitar, piano-cum-acoustic-strumming, and even an evanescent “Something in the Way”-toned break featuring naught but a lone acoustic guitar with dead strings. Neverending blizzards of harmonic-stew guitar crunch bury the ears on “Falling Snow,” combined with growl vocals that add rather than detract from the atmosphere of the track. Chorused guitar breaks provide pivot points for the song, and further texturize Agalloch’s raucous, mind-bending distortion-fueled trance music.

    No, not THAT kind of trance. The good kind. Mesmerization through the paradoxically warm earthiness of screaming guitar amplifiers humming and droning. It’s probably the feeling you get in your gut standing under exposed powerlines at night for over an hour, gazing at your shoes.

    The “Our Fortress is Burning…” suite gains more yardage into Explosions in the Sky/Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s territory, treading out slowcore, post-rock guitar. But everything is sped up: the climactic build-ups crescendo or expire/regroup with the speed of a mutating viral infection, and the guitars don’t stay shimmering clean for long. Agalloch’s apocalypse came by disease rather than by war-born radiation.

    In a very good way, this record is all over the place. There’s enough grooves to satisfy, almost enough grit to require goggles in addition to headphones, but the record is balanced with a great sense of melody/harmony (and the top notch production that such things demand). Though anchored in melody, it’s hard to know what to expect from one moment to the next– ever the mark of a great record– making a listen-through of “Ashes Against the Grain” an absolute experience.

    Posted on January 8, 2010