Monday, August 27, 2007

Agalloch: Ashes Against the Grain

Agalloch: Ashes Against the Grain
Year: 2006


Skeletal trees, reaching their barren limbs to gray, bleak sky. A chill in the air, snow blanketing the ground, muffling the sounds, smothering life. Picture this scene, and you will see the bleak majesty that is Ashes Against the Grain.

Ashes Against the Grain is the latest magnum opus from the Oregon band Agalloch. After several listens, I have no hesitation calling it a masterpiece. Agalloch, with only three full length albums to their name (and a number of EPs) have already proven that they are one of the most brilliant metal bands. Attempting to label them results in a convoluted group of genres along the lines of Progressive-Doom-Gray-Metal.

This difficulty in putting them in a genre owes to the complexity of their music. Ashes Against the Grain is replete with thundering guitars, gritty, growling vocals, pounding bass and drums. Yet at the same time it is full of clean, melancholic vocals, acoustic interludes and bridges, subtle layering andtexturing of ambient, atmospheric sounds. With four of the eight tracks clocking in at over 9 minutes, this is no easy, quickly gratifying listen either. It requires time, dedication, and patience to digest all that is happening.

That is what makes it such a rewarding album. You don't listen to separate tracks from Ashes Against the Grain. You experience the entire album, from start to finish. That is the way the music was written, the way it was intended. The music rolls over you, moving you, burying you under the weight of its melancholy. It is truly a cathartic experience.

The real focus of the album is the guitar work. The vocals are never the centerpiece, they are there to compliment the music. The emotion conveyed in the guitar playing is breathtaking. But don't let that make you think the rest of the band is lacking in any way. The writing is magnificent, each piece working together to create a rich, morose, elegiac tapestry that will haunt the listener long after the final sounds fade away.

Tracks to catch: I just can't. As mentioned, Ashes Against the Grain needs to be taken as a whole. While the separate songs are some of the most powerful I have heard in years, the sum truly is greater than the parts. However, "Our Fortress is Burning. . .II:Bloodbirds" is truly the culmination of the album, a powerful climax.

Rating: 5/5

Ashes Against the Grain is, without a doubt, one of the most important music releases in years. It has received the praise of countless critics, and deserves every bit of it. It is moving in a way very few albums every achieve. This album is a must have for metal fans, and is even highly recommended to any open-minded music fan. In one word: brilliance.

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