Agalloch
Ashes Against the Grain


2.5
average

Review

by TheDistantFuture USER (24 Reviews)
May 27th, 2008 | 46 replies


Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sometimes Less Is More, Other Times Less Is Just Less.

Agalloch is a unique American black metal band that has gained a fair amount of acclaim and notoriety in metal circles as of recent, due to a sound that is fairly difficult to categorize. Their style consists of a mixture of black metal, post rock, ambient doom, and folk woven together in a relatively unpredictable fashion. Many have hailed the band "Saviors of American Black Metal" or even the "American equivalent of Opeth." Not since hearing about the groundbreaking Swedish Prog metallers, have I heard of a band as universally raved about as Agalloch, and with all the heaps of praise one would be inclined to believe that there must be something truly special about the group. It is possible that I missed the memo, but despite listening to Agalloch's newest opus, "Ashes Against the Grain," countless times, I cannot see what so many music critics and metal elitists seem to see in the Oregon collective. As a person who generally loves experimental music and bands that push the boundaries of their respective genres I found myself in a state of uncertainty with this release, questioning my own perception of Agalloch's music and whether I as a person was simply not open minded enough in my own tastes to appreciate it. However, after a fair number of listens (far more than I usually give albums when developing opinions on them) I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not with me, but with the album itself.

Agalloch specializes in creating grandiose arrangements that are heavily layered with dense streams of delayed guitar melodies and occasional synth to envelope the listener in a cold, desolate environment of sound. In this regard the band is largely successful. There is, indeed a very absorbing quality to their music and the nature themes that surround it, this time dealing mostly with winter, and the frosty mountainous regions of the north. While the long songs are atmospherically impressive there is, at the same time, something very unsatisfying about them. The songs, most of which hover around the nine to ten minute range, lumber along achingly with shifts from slow, softer parts, to heavier moments. However, unlike groups like Opeth and Isis that utilize similar dynamics, Agalloch does not spice things up with rhythmic changes or parts that truly stand apart from each other. The songs instead just drift along with sections that much of the time do not really distinguish. This can make listening a fairly tedious experience. I can see how some might find such a quality enjoyable, but for the most part it gives the songs a sense of unnecessary monotony. This is particularly apparent on songs like "Falling Snow," "Fire Above, Ice Below," and "Not Unlike the Waves," which seem to wander aimlessly into unsatisfying conclusions. The only tracks which have truly satisfying climaxes are the opening and closing pieces, "Limbs" and the "Our Fortress is Burning" trilogy, the latter of which is sandwiched between relatively useless intro and outro parts.

Another fault I find with this album lies in the musicianship, which cannot be described as much better than adequate. Much of Agalloch's fanbase will most likely argue that the band's core strengths lie in their compositional skills (which I again disagree with) as well as their uses of atmosphere, and it is true that some bands have thrived on these merits (Deftones, Radiohead, and Isis are good examples.) However, given the genre of music Agalloch plays, a certain degree of virtuosity or at least proficiency is to be expected. The guitar work, while fitting in most places is fairly simple and in many places just relies on over-used delay passages and slow, arpeggiated melodies. There is also a distinct lack of soloing on "Ashes..." that is rather unfortunate, considering that they could have really enhanced the emotion of many of the songs. This is also particularly regrettable considering that the only solo in the collection, on "Not Unlike the Waves," is really very well done.

The bass does not really stand out either, typically following whatever the guitars are doing, however, by far the most desperate instrumental situation lies with the drumming. Chris Greene, the new drummer on this album, could really use some lessons. How he landed such a gig is a bit of a mystery to me. The beats sound very similar throughout the record, with very little in the way of interesting accents or fills to hold any interest. Perhaps he contributes most to the unappealing sense of tedium that afflicts the album. He is also rather sloppy in parts, the fill going into the double kick section of "Falling Snow" is a good example of this, and makes me cringe whenever I hear it. I am a drummer myself, so I may be flipping out about this more than most people, but it is generally pretty noticeable.

Lastly, we have the vocals of the group's, enigmatic frontman, John Haughm. I put this section last because, for the most part, vocals seem a relative after thought on this release, only showing up in sparse locations in five of the album's eight tracks. This in itself is not necessarily a weakness, as it allows the mood and emotion of the music to shine through in many places, however Haughm's voice, in itself, is most definitely a weakness of the band's. He uses a mixture of thin black metal rasps and wispy clean singing in most of the songs; unfortunately neither is done very well. The screams seem very out of place and even off putting in parts, sounding almost like a distorted whisper. A deeper, Akerfeldt-ian growl would have served the music much more effectively. His clean singing is equally weak, sounding like an emotionless, monotonal drone. To Haughm's credit, his over the top lyrics centering around nature, are well written, however their delivery greatly hinders their impact.

From these points I do not see "Ashes Against the Grain" as the masterpiece it has been hailed as and Agalloch as the musical geniuses many make them out to be. With this said, do not mistake my words; Agalloch is a band with a notable degree of talent as well as some worthwhile ideas however, they have not as of yet, in my ever so humble opinion, produced a work that is truly indicative of such ability. Perhaps in the future the band will create something that is really worthy of the praises many find them deserving of, but as for now, I remain unconvinced.



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user ratings (2239)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
TheDistantFuture
May 27th 2008


201 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Part 10.



Oooh it's the controversial one. Hate mail and death threats are again welcome.

Hawks
May 27th 2008


70689 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

How in the hell did you give this a 2.5? It was a very good review, but i disagree strongly.This Message Edited On 05.27.08

Digging: Full of Hell - Weeping Choir

fireaboveicebelow
May 27th 2008


6832 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Agalloch does not spice things up with rhythmic changes or parts that truly stand apart from each other, The songs instead just drift along with sections that much of the time do not really distinguish.
The first two songs alone prove you wrong here. Also the lack of solos definantly helped the album.



It deserves way more than an average rating, it's a one of a kind album whether you like it or dislike itThis Message Edited On 05.27.08

foreverendeared
May 27th 2008


14677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah after reading this review it doesn't even seem like we are listening to the same thing. but this is a good review although i strongly disagree

beans
May 27th 2008


2328 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i dont know why you would give this album a 2.5 but whatever, to each his own

Mikesn
Emeritus
May 27th 2008


3708 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

There is also a distinct lack of soloing on "Ashes..." that is rather unfortunate, considering that they could have really enhanced the emotion of many of the songs. This is also particularly regrettable considering that the only solo in the collection, on "Not Unlike the Waves," is really very well done.
This isn't really much of an issue for me.



But yeah this sucks.

Altmer
May 27th 2008


5701 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

no mike this is good

AngelPhoenix
May 27th 2008


2761 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The only Agalloch album I enjoy, though I haven't heard Pale Folklore.

Wizard
May 27th 2008


20209 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Pale Folklore makes this sound mediocre.



I enjoyed this review when you had it posted before. It feels to me that its the most accurate one out of the bunch. Alot fanboyism surrounding this band.

Altmer
May 27th 2008


5701 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah Pale Folklore is better



and no it says the album is average making it very inaccurate considering this is some of the most out-there, unique music that is being composed at the moment

Wizard
May 27th 2008


20209 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

If you were an average music listener who gave this album a shot, I think you would become pretty bored with it.

AngelPhoenix
May 27th 2008


2761 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

^^^Exactly what happened the first time I heard this

BallsToTheWall
May 27th 2008


49617 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

My rating is higher because this is the first and most influential to me that i've heard from the band. Pale Folklore is amazing as well. The 2.5 makes me a sad panda.

Digging: Pantera - Power Metal

SCREAM!
May 27th 2008


15756 Comments


Sadly, This White Mountain On Which You Will Die and the last song will forever stop me from giving this 5

Wizard
May 27th 2008


20209 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

God damn sexual harassment pandas!

SHOOTME
May 27th 2008


2393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I HATE YOU FOR WRITING THIS REVIEW!!!!!



But it is well written



HATRED



I will pos despite my HATRED.

Doppelganger
May 27th 2008


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i love this album but good review anyway

Odal
May 27th 2008


393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The fact that you compare Agalloch to Opeth is utter fail. I disagree with this review completely and though it is well written, I feel you miss the point entirely on the album.



Also, I kind of get the vibe you wrote this 2.5 review to get attention.

Crysis
Emeritus
May 27th 2008


17374 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I absolutely hate you and I hate your good logic for giving this a completely wrong rating. I hate having to pos your reviews, I hate you and please stop writing reviews. Thank you.

TheDistantFuture
May 27th 2008


201 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Odal:



Simply preposterous! The attention is appreciated though lol. But, as heartbreaking as it is, 2.5 is how I honestly and truly feel about this.



And the whole Opeth thing, which I think you brought up when I posted this in march is again not at all my idea but a parallel many who discuss them seem to draw, I think Mr. Akerfeldt put it very succinctly (don't have original quote so excuse the rough recount) "You can't claim that we're boring and that Agalloch is so much more original when they sound like we did ten years ago."



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