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Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain review

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Band: Agalloch
Album: Ashes Against The Grain
Release date: August 2006

01. Limbs
02. Falling Snow
03. This White Mountain On Which You Will Die
04. Fire Above, Ice Below
05. Not Unlike The Waves
06. Our Fortress Is Burning... I
07. Our Fortress Is Burning... II - Bloodbirds
08. Our Fortress Is Burning... III - The Grain
09. Scars Of The Shattered Sky (Our Fortress Has Burned To The Ground) [Double LP Vinyl 1000 Copies Limited Edition bonus]

The god of man is a failure indeed.

As some people may know on here and who know me personally, when I first listened to Agalloch, I initially hated their music. I thought that The Mantle was boring and dragged on for too long, and of course, this was long before I was exposed to the likes of post-punk, post-rock, and post-metal for that matter. Knowing that I wanted to give the band another chance, I listened to Ashes Against The Grain and oh my goodness...

I was floored! It felt like listening to music for the first time or heavy metal for the first time because every single song, even the disorienting instrumentals, was powerful. I've probably listened to this album over 1000 times literally since 2018/2019 and I'm still not tired of this album, so much so that last year Spotify notified me on my annual year in review that I listened to "Not Unlike The Waves" 268 times. That's how much of an impact Agalloch's music had on me. It helped me reevaluate the rest of the band's discography and not only did my opinion change on The Mantle, but it taught me that experimentation in music gets you forward to making art. This is more than art, it's a flawless masterpiece and I rarely say that with any album.

So what is it that makes this album so amazing?

The first thing is the album cover. More particularly, the blurry falling bird, which is my all-time favorite. Whether it's abstract or a different kind of art technique, I love this cover so much, it has been my profile picture for most of my social media (Facebook, Bandcamp, Rateyourmusic). Blurry imagery like that always attracts me for some reason, which is why it has been a much loved image for me. The main cover is another work of art, even though it's my least favorite of the two.

Let's start with the music. Everything is much heavier than The Mantle, with most of that heaviness inspired by doom. What also makes this a heavy record is how perfect build-ups are used. When I listened to "Limbs", it starts with post-metal repeats and melodic overtones only to get softer and build up because of the drums before exploding into powerful heaviness. The same can be said about the colossal "Not Unlike The Waves", which has everything I want in a metal song: build-ups, melodic and mesmerizing lead guitars, acoustic breaks, clean mixed with extreme vocals, and sophisticated lyricism. The music has a wide range of influences and experimentation like black metal, doom metal, post-rock, post-metal, dark ambient, and a tinge of goth atmosphere. The result is that it perfectly combines melody with atmospheric black metal and droning guitars that don't sound repetitive. The structure of the songs is simple, but as some of my friends say, simplicity leads to some of the best songs in music history.

A lot of the heaviness also has to do with the polished production, which doesn't hinder the album; it makes it sound clear and heavy enough to hear everything that's going on. For a black metal album, the production side is unorthodox, which is something I look for. I hate when the black metal has lo-fi production, it ruins the album (which is part of the reason why Marrow Of The Spirit is my least favorite Agalloch album).

The lyrics on Ashes... are some of the best and most sophisticated writing I've ever seen. The lyrics didn't have to rhyme as much or reach poetic tendencies, all it needed was a well-written concept to give listeners that feeling of emotion and that's what this album does. Listen to a song like "Our Fortress Is Burning... II - Bloodbirds" and it's a very pessimistic and realistic perspective on mankind. A lot of the lyrics are thought-provoking and never leaves the band's main themes of nature and depression.

I will also put this out there, but John Haughm is an underrated vocalist. He can do both clean and extreme vocals well on this album, and a lot of the heavy parts where it leads to power chords sounds like he's in pain. His clean vocals are even emotional, especially on "Fire Above, Ice Below" where he reaches some low-register clean vocals.

Yes, I have reviewed this album before and frankly, I don't care because this is an album where I feel emotionally attached to and has been the most recent album that has left an impact on me as a music listener and as a developing musician. An album that I somehow still can't stop listening to tells all about the artistic quality that Agalloch put into this record. Nowadays, I love The Mantle and that was because of Ashes..., my true gateway into their music. It's not just one of my all-time favorite metal albums, it's my all-time favorite record period. It has everything I look for in a metal album, and it will be extremely hard for any record to ever top this level of atmosphere ever.

Written by Gothic Metalhead | 06.07.2021

Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.

Staff review by
Dream Taster
In today's world of overplayed musical styles and boring sameness, a few bands stand out as innovators. Agalloch from Portland, Oregon is one of those bands. With their unique blend of Doom, Gothic and elements of Death metal, those musicians managed to break through the US scene with the highly-acclaimed album The Mantle back in 2002. The band witnessed the arrival of Chris Greene taking over drumming duties for John Haughm (who remains very busy with guitars and vocals) while the rest of the lineup is still rounded up by Jason William Walton (bass) and Don Anderson (guitars).

published 20.06.2006 | Comments (46)

Guest review by
Agalloch's Ashes Against The Grain. Never have I found another release I love so much yet feel so unsatisfied by. There's so much here, yet it feels as if so much is missing. It's so spot on, but I just don't find it a flawless or even exemplary demonstration of the genre in question. I'd call it the perfect musical embodiment of a love/hate relationship. With that said, however, I must admit that I feel a far greater abundance of the former than the latter.

published 11.03.2012 | Comments (26)


Comments: 3   Visited by: 88 users
07.07.2021 - 07:16
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
It's classic to me miss this band. I hope John will soon start new cool project
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
07.07.2021 - 11:29
Rating: 9
Ball Fondlers

Nice review, and cool to hear your story with this vs The Mantle. For me The Mantle was my introduction to Agalloch, and probably for that reason I still see it as my favourite from them. I don't know when I last listened to this though, so I'll put it on my list today.
07.07.2021 - 17:35
Rating: 10
Gothic Metalhead
Pro Introvert
Written by Ball Fondlers on 07.07.2021 at 11:29

Nice review, and cool to hear your story with this vs The Mantle. For me The Mantle was my introduction to Agalloch, and probably for that reason I still see it as my favourite from them. I don't know when I last listened to this though, so I'll put it on my list today.

I'm glad you like it. It's always good to go back to stuff we haven't heard. This definitely inspired me to reevaluate the mantle so both this one and the mantle have become favorites.

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