Throwback Thursday: AGALLOCH's Ashes Against the Grain
Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and grab a cup of spiked coffee, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the third edition of this series, we're exploring an a band whose albums help carve an entire modern genre. If you'd like to hear one of the best album intros to an album from last 20 years, stick around and check out:
Agalloch's Ashes Against the Grain
Release Date: August 2006
Record Label: The End
This is the place I'd normally start telling you about the band and dive into their history. But, before I do that, just listen to the first track off Ashes Against the Grain "Limbs":
The quiet brilliance of a single note, evolving steadily into two harmonized guitars, crisp and pure like the air on a winter's morning. Repeat, only add a split with a half-step down creating a resonance that reminds you that, even though this music is beautiful, there is a lingering tension. Que live-tracked drums and a kick to start the main riff of the opening, and you suddenly feel like you're taking a graceful free-fall. This is so goddamn simple and stunning. It's so beautiful, in fact, that you hardly realize that 3 minutes have elapsed when the mood seamlessly changes. The instrumental intro takes a darker turn, revealing the angsty flipside to the effortless, soaring start. By the time the vocals kick in, about 5 minutes into the song, the build up has brought you to a cathartic, expressive, human place. When I first heard this song, I was not ready for the thin, tight-throated, higher rasps baked in 1000% black metal roots. If you didn't know how the music as supposed to make you feel, the vocals are the answer. With graphic, beautiful lyrics and a softer, less schreechy, almost ambient quality to the vocals, "Limbs" is a tremendous opening to a monumental album.
Let's talk about the band for a moment. Agalloch is Pacific North West based, which really surprised me. For me, the true feelings of ice cold, isolation, identity, and healing self-reflection were up until that point rooted in European giants like Opeth. Agalloch's viewpoint finds its strength in the brilliant and fresh Ashes Against the Grain. This album is impossible to listen to without conjuring mental images of snow swept, barren trees. It is grand and immersive, and evokes some of the same feelings that listening to Opeth's Damnation gives me.
Now, I mentioned earlier that this album helped carve out a genre. Surely, this is was unintentional. However, this album and Agalloch have been described as everything from black metal, to folk, doom, progressive, and post-metal metal. A contemporary genre-fiend might call them the original blackgaze, a combination of black metal and indie mainstay shoegaze. I'll tell you right now that genre labels bug me, but I usually do my best to include them for the ultra-discerning metal connoisseur.
Speaking of genre-fitting, Ashes Against the Grain is a superb example of metal elements added to excellent song writing as a device, rather than focus. I don't think that Agalloch is out to be metal as fuck. In fact, their shows are notorious for being environment-laden performances that include incense-filled rooms that smell like a deep forest and a burning campfire. A perfect example of this is ambiance is found on track "Not Unlike the Waves":
If you want to see the official video for this song and only music video for this album, you can click HERE. However, it's tinny, awkwardly edited, and pixelated. You actually lose the momentum and build-up to the river of Gregorian-like chants in the official version. This is another song, whose lyrics are careful and illuminating, that is lightening in a bottle. The opening riffs sounds like small but relentless waves breaking upon rocks. The marriage of drum and riff is perfect and steady, as is the incoperation of solo leads and acoustic finger-picking.
I am woe to include that the band is no longer active. They announced their break-up via Facebook on May 19th, 2016 citing,
"Following 20 years, 5 full length albums, many tours around the world, and numerous other recordings, John Haughm and the rest of the band (Don Anderson, Jason Walton, and Aesop Dekker) have parted ways."
The ex-members are now in new outfits including Pillorian (John Haughm, ex-Agalloch; Stephen Parker, ex-Arkhum, and Trevor Matthews, Uada/ex-Infernus), and Khorada (Don Anderson, Jason Walton, Aesop Dekker, all ex-Agalloch; and Aaron John Gregory, ex-Giant Squid).
Yet, it crushes me that I'll never saw these guys live as Agalloch. That means that I'll never get to hear songs like "Falling Snow" in person:
Each and every song on this album has a gradual and driving pace, and a sense of both serenity and melancholy. Being brought along the journey of each song in a live setting, complete with the ambiance of the venue must've been incredible. Truly, Ashes Against the Grain is a triumph and a genre-bender and a staple in modern metal.
Thanks as always for reading and I'll see you next week. Please sound off below with your thoughts on modern epic albums.