Ashes Against the Grain

The End has been relatively quiet in 2006 thus far, but with August and beyond unveiling amazing releases like Agalloch, Unexpect, Giant Squid, Virgin Black and Stolen Babies albums, The End looks to again to back on track and dominate year end lists with their brand of superbly unclassifiable music. Starting with Agalloch’s third masterpiece, Ashes Against the Grain.

Agalloch’s form of bleak, melancholic doomy black/folk metal should need no introduction, despite their less than prolific discography, as ‘quality over quantity’ is the epitome of Agalloch’s offerings. However, if you not have heard the band for a while, the folk element is certainly lessened and more engrained in the music’s mood rather than instrumentation. To me, Ashes Against the Grain while I hear some early Ulver, Opeth, Primordial and Katatonia, , has something in common with Daylight Dies’ Dismantling Devotion, not only for being a stunning example of depressive beauty, but also being a truly stellar, American example of a genre and skillset long dominated by the Europeans. I also don’t think it’s a reach that the long awaited follow up to The Mantle (which I never truly appreciated and need to revisit), shares some traits with the light/dark hues and builds of Neurosis, but on a more organic, intrinsically despairing and black level. To be quite honest, some of the builds, ebbs and flows contained on Ashes Against the Grain are some of the most evocative metal moments I’ve heard in a long time, at least since Dismantling Devotion if not before.

Opener “Limbs” is the perfect mood setter, while “Falling Snow” has me on the verge of tears with is elegantly somber opening strains. “Fire Above, Ice Below” is arguably the album’s tour de force, with its to die for acoustic mid section and compelling, draining climax. “Not Unlike the Waves”, also a standout, delivers the album’s most urgent and ‘metal’ riffage with a almost Viking, epic opening riff and hypnotic vocals that’s simply breathtaking. The final, mostly instrumental closing trilogy of “Our Fortress is Burning I-III” fleshes out the albums brilliance with the expected moody opener, the God Speed You! Black Emperor strumming build of part II “Bloodbirds” and the slightly out of place programmed closer “The Grain”. John Haughm’s rasp and clean vocals are more palatable to me than they were on The Mantle, but truthfully, vocals are a secondary element on this release, as a lot of the music is largely instrumental, almost used as a side garnish to the vibrantly melancholy atmospheres.

The production seems fuller and more lush than The Mantle, as whereas The Mantle’s production suited its grey lifeless cover, the production for Ashes Against the Grain suits its lush, gold and brown, warmer hues. Quite frankly, I think Ashes Against the Grain is the Dark Side of the Moon of American underground music and should be revered as such.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
July 29th, 2006


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