The fact that ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ is my favourite album of 2006 (yet) isn’t because they have perfected a style that the band has been growing towards. It is because Agalloch have totally changed their sound in their latest album and have perfected that change simultaneously.
Agalloch is the fragrant resinous wood of the Agarwood but also the name of an American band who have gained a small growing fanbase due to highly acclaimed previous releases ‘The Pale Folklore” and ‘The Mantle’.
The current line-up of the band features:
-Don Anderson - Guitar
-John Haughm - Vocals, Guitar
-Jason William Walton - Bass
-Chris Green – Drums
One of the first evident qualities of 'Ashes' is the lack of focus on acoustic guitars, ‘The Mantle’ contained a large proportion of acoustic guitar-work and even an acoustic theme riff. As the first song from ‘Ashes’ plays the focal point is based on the slow, melodic and crystalline electric guitar leads, which are very reminiscent of Post Rock bands like Explosions in the Sky
(with the melodic element sounding very much Gothenburg inspired) . This new Post Rock sound that Agalloch have displayed gives the music on ‘Ashes’ a sheer beauty and melodic emotiveness. Haughm’s vocals have improved and the range of styles including gentle and unobtrusive clean vocals and excellent Black Metal-type vocals with all their raspy and evil glory. The proportion of vocal parts has decreased but this allows more time for massive riffs to develop and increases the atmospheric quality of ‘Ashes’.
The heaviness of the album is another contrast to ‘The Mantle’ as a lot of emphasis is put on their electric guitars - this means dense and mammoth riffs. The unrelenting riffs are similar to the powerful sounds of Post Metal bands like Isis
but also remind me of bands like Opeth
. The soft leads are usually accompanied with the dense potent riffs which give this album two contrasting features and a distinct kick. The upbeat intro riff of ‘Falling Snow’ is made divine by the excellent criss-crossing guitar leads whereas the opening of ‘Bloodbirds’ is laden with exquisite feedback and layered melodies. The drumming on ‘Ashes’ is excellent and very solid. The sheer heaviness has allowed Chris Green to show his chops and groove. The remarkable grooves he has recorded are reminiscent of various drummers who have fused them with heavier styles like Martin Lopez (my favourite drummer). ‘Ashes’ sees Chris exploring more sonic variations and changing tempos frequently.
The consistency of the album is debatable as it includes a segue ‘This White Mountain on Which You Will Die’ and a trilogy that ends with ‘The Grain’ a chaotic instrumental of feedback. These tracks don’t render the album a bad one, they add to the atmosphere, soundscapes and general scope shown in ‘Ashes’. 'Fire Above, Ice Below' is a song truly reminiscent of 'The Mantle' with dense acoustic lines which eventually explode into a section of massive riffs. Fans of 'The Mantle' may miss the prominence of acoustic guitars and subtle soundscapes but this album is certainly no 'Mantle 2'. The ‘Our Fortress is Burning...’ trilogy is the peak of the album with its epic and layered merits and 'Bloodbirds' is definitely the recommended track to check out. But for someone relatively new to Metal and this band should check out 'Falling Snow'. I recommend ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ to fans of Isis, Pelican, Opeth, Katatonia, Explosions in the Sky and general metal.