It’s been a long 4 years since Agalloch’s last opus, “The Mantle”. Since then, fans have been entertained with various EPs, Sculptured, ELS and Nothing…all of which has been good and nice, but it wasn’t Agalloch. The waiting is over. Ashes Against the Grain is here, and it does not disappoint at all.
8 tracks long and clocking in at around an hour, this is an album you will not be pushing the skip button during. The album opens with “Limbs”, which begins with a very post rock type intro. It reminds me of “The Lodge (dismantled)” off the Grey EP before an ominous acoustic intro segues into a standard Agalloch sound. As always, the band seemlessly weave folk music, black metal, post rock, noise, nature and everything else into an extremely cohesive and addicting mixture. The second track is “Falling Snow” which ups the tempo up a bit. Here, I will mention that the addition of Chris Greene on drums was an excellent choice. Greene does not miss a beat, and his playing is extremely stylish (not too conservative, but not too modest). “Fire Above, Ice Below” is the longest track of the album, and also one of the standouts. The following track is my favorite, “Not Unlike the Waves”. Here, Haughm does probably his most intense vocal performance since their demo–very much in the style of Burzum. The song, as all of them are, is hypnotic.
The album closes with the “Our Fortress Is Burning” trilogy. Comparisons can be drawn to the “She Painted Fire” trilogy from the “Pale Folklore” cd. Infact, there is only a few seconds difference between the two trios. The first part is instrumental and sets the mood, leading straight into the second section of the song proclaiming “The god of man is a failure”. What’s interesting to note is that the trilogy is dedicated to Escape the Day’s frontman, Florian, who tragically died earlier this year. The band, particularly Don Anderson, were fans of the band and of Florians work. I definitely encourage you to check out Escape the Day’s myspace. The ending track is the one you will probably hear the most complaints about. The last track is a mixture of feedback and other noises. To me it simulates the bleak, desolate landscape that has become mankind. The last line of “Our Fortress is Burning Pt. II” is “and all of our shadows are ashes against the grain”. Eerie. The last track does not act as a comforting close to an epic. Instead, I believe it serves to let the listener reflect on what he/she has just experienced and to almost meditate on its meanings. To me, it is just as vital to the album as Burzum’s “Tomhet” was to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Drudkh’s “Smell of Rain” off the “Forgotten Legends cd.
Uncomparable musicianship, thought provoking lyrics and equally important artwork all play into the experience of Ashes Against the Grain. As with all Agalloch efforts, it takes a few listens to really get a grasp as to what’s going on. Once it clicks, though, you become hooked. If you’re looking for your album of 2006, look no further.