Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain (Cover Artwork)


Ashes Against the Grain (2006)

The End

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Agalloch have been creating their own blend of folk, ambient and black metal music for about a decade. Alongside other forward-thinking groups such as Ulver and Weakling, Agalloch have played a significant part in expanding the musical identity of black metal to encompass a more natural, ambient sound. Over the years, they have refined this approach to making music with each release, and Ashes Against the Grain, their most recent full-length, represents their most significant achievement to date.

To those of you who may have read the first paragraph and thought, "Eww, black metal?", let me reassure you that the music on Ashes Against the Grain is closer to bands such as Explosions in the Sky and Envy than anything your average Mayhem-influenced black metal band would put out. Agalloch's music ditches the hyper-fast tremolos and rapid, double-bass drumming of typical black metal in favor of highly textured guitar riffs and sparse, minimalistic drumming that takes the backseat for most of the album. Even the production of the album is out of step with the traditional harsh, distorted style of black metal. The only element of the music that would be recognized as strictly black metal are the harsher, raspier vocals that are utilized for most of the record, although they feel very natural for the music Agalloch makes, and do not take up too much of the listener's attention.

Agalloch have always been excellent songwriters, creating powerful music that recalls an intense sense of oneness with nature, and the band has really outdone themselves with this one. Rather than simply having each song "buildup" to an exciting part, Agalloch write songs that are constantly keeping the listener ensnared by altering between folk, post-rock, metal and ambient noise passages without losing a powerful sense of unity and cohenrency in the songs. Highlights of the album include opener "Limbs," "Falling Snow" and the sprawling, 21-minute "Our Fortress Is Burning" (split up into three parts). Listening to Ashes Against the Grain is a powerful, enrapturing experience that would rival some of the most potent albums put out by other bands standing underneath the post-rock/post-metal umbrella.

If I had to pinpoint any weaknesses on the album, it would have to be the last track of the album -- the final part of "Our Fortress Is Burning." This track, titled "The Grain," consists entirely of the ambient noise I was talking about and while it is interesting, I think it could have been shortened to about two to three minutes. Other than that, I would estimate Ashes Against the Grain as being a modern genre masterpiece, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of any kind of ambient or metal music.