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4.09 | 64 ratings | 9 reviews
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Album · 2006

Filed under Folk Metal


1. Limbs (9:51)
2. Falling Snow (9:38)
3. This White Mountain on Which You Will Die (1:39)
4. Fire Above, Ice Below (10:29)
5. Not Unlike the Waves (9:16)
6. Our Fortress Is Burning... I (5:25)
7. Our Fortress Is Burning... II: Bloodbirds (6:21)
8. Our Fortress Is Burning... III: The Grain (7:10)

Total Time: 59:51


- Chris Greene / Drums
- John Haughm / Vocals, Guitars, Drums (#2, #5)
- Don Anderson / Guitars
- Jason William Walton / Bass

Guest/Session Musicians:

- Ronn Chick / Piano (#1, #6), Ebow (#4)

About this release

Released by The End Records, August 8th, 2006.

Thanks to waiting, triceratopsoil, IMPF2112, adg211288 for the updates


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siLLy puPPy
Given that AGALLOCH took their name from aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) which is a fragrant wood used for incense, the band really have spent their career operating like a slow flowing resinous sap that such trees exude. Not only is this true in their shoegazy post-rock meets black and folk metal musical style but also in the fact that this Portland, Oregon based band really took their time to craft their studio albums. After the success of “The Mantle,” the band began performing their music live for the first time which meant even less time for song crafting and studio production values. It took four long years before they would follow up “The Mantle” with their third full-length album ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN (not counting the two EPs) but in that time the band came to a couple conclusions.

Firstly, “The Mantle” was a behemoth in its making with tons of extra non-metal instruments, electronics and production tricks which proved extremely difficult to replicate in a live setting therefore the band had to restructure much of that album to adapt to a live setting. This scenario resulted in AGALLOCH’s decision to scale back the bloated accoutrements and focus on a more stripped down approach that they could effortlessly convert from studio album to live setting without having to reconstruct the entire range of compositions. This proved to be a wise decision not only for adaptive purposes but also in the fact that it would’ve been a bad move to simply construct a “Mantle II.” Therefore ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN developed as a completely different beast from its predecessor, which in the long run proved to be a very good thing.

Secondly, as a studio only band, John Haughm not only contributed vocals but also played acoustic and electrics guitars as well as handling all the percussion duties. Clearly unable to tackle all these duties live, AGALLOCH brought in Chris Greene as the band’s official drummer and thus officially made the band a quartet. While Greene was added to the musical cast and joined before recording began on this album, he still didn’t perform drums on “Falling Snow” and “Not Unlike The Waves.” Due to his dissatisfaction of adapting to the band, he would depart after the European tour and replaced by Aesop Dekker ( of Ludicra). However, after ironing out the kinks in their studio / live performances ratio, AGALLOCH set forth to record their third album which was plagued with problems including the entire album being lost in a computer glitch that made them re-record from scratch. Ugh.

In every way, ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN is everything “The Mantle” wasn’t, at least in the context of the world of AGALLOCH. Yes, there are many similarities. This is still a skillful mix of black and doom metal with dark neofolk and post rock, however on ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN the entire recipe has been shifted. While “The Mantle” was primarily neofolk based with influences from Death In June and Sol Invictus dominated the sonicscape, on album #3 the focus was directed more in the sludge / post-metal camp. While Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always served as a major wellspring of creative juju, on ASHES, the band was beginning to blend in more with contemporary post-metal bands such as Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. While Godspeed had been subjugated to the underbelly compositionally speaking, heavy sludge metal riffing and upbeat tempos became the dominating factors on ASHES.

While the metal has been ramped up, there is no shortage of electronic freak outs, acoustic folk or moments of inner retrospection via catchy melodic hooks. Opposite of “The Mantle,” ASHES begins more aggressively with less catchy ear hooks but ultimately slowly weaves its magic as it progresses. While on “The Mantle,” it took a few tracks before the metal dominated, on ASHES the slower neofolk domination doesn’t kick in until the fourth track “Fire Above, Ice Below.” And also serving as the photographic negative duality is the fact that while on “The Mantle” the folk emerged beneath the grungy distorted din, on ASHES it’s the metal that has to emerge above the folk. I think i see a pattern here, hmmmm.

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN does not provide the immediate satisfaction that its predecessor allowed. This one takes a bit more work to decipher. While “The Mantle” was an instant classic in my ears, ASHES had to prove itself but it has unleashed new magic every time i’ve spun it and created an alternative AGALLOCH perspective in many ways that to this day i’m not entirely sure as to how it has unleashed its magic. Somehow the band has woven another post-metal meets folk and electronic tapestry that shape shifts when least expected and manages to drag things out as long as possible and playing the ole switcheroo just before things become stagnate. While the band has stated that this is their worst album due to the fact that it relied on too much production mileage, i have to disagree. AGALLOCH is one of those bands much like Pink Floyd that have inherently entwined themselves into the production process and would be a lesser band for not having done so. There are no virtuosic instrumental moments on an AGALLOCH album. This band creates a larger than life listening experience that is all encompassing. That is a good thing.

Yes, this one is a grower unlike “The Mantle” which casts an immediate spell, however this one is well worth the effort. It requires several intense listening sessions but well worth the effort indeed. While i admit the initial opening generic aspects of “Limbs” may not evoke any passions of fire, it doesn’t take long for the majesty to sink in. ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN ultimately comes off as a classical music album dressed up in contemporary clothing such as post-rock, metal and folk. Much like its predecessor, ASHES maintains a distinct musical flow between tracks but unlike “The Mantle,” relies on a series of opposing forces rather than easily cooperative ones. There is more tension that results from a heavier post-metal dominated soundscape than the lush acoustic folk pastoral marches of the past, however careful listening will find similarly plucked acoustic elements imbued throughout albeit not in the forefront. This is particularly more noticeable in the midsection of the album with “Not Unlike The Waves” coming to the forefront.

The three part suite “Our Fortress Is Burning” concludes the epic journey in an entirely satisfying fashion. It begins with a prognosticator of how it will end, with a bubbling volcanic gurgle of electronic excitation but in the beginning it ushers in a post-rock guitar riff that slowly builds into a more recognizable Mogwai type of riffage with a Pink Floyd type of guitar performance tacked on. While unified in name only, this three part finale only reflects the entire nature of the album that tacks many suites together as a united whole and arbitrarily labels them linguistically, however these last three tracks that constitute this suite are the most magnanimous of the bunch as they effortlessly juxtapose countless styles of post-rock, black metal, space rock and folk. Overproduced? I don’t think so. This is musical perfection. Get over yourselves if you think otherwise. As Act I cedes into Act II, a little musical heft is added with the percussion. This is a slow burner so expect post-rock baby steps. The Third Act is entirely dedicated to an intense electronic frenzy of the quasi-formulaic world of quantum level electronic weirdness with guitar feedback or at least that’s what comes to mind when it eerily transpires.

Indubitably, comparisons between “The Mantle” and ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN will result since these were AGALLOCH’s peak years that defined them as the legends they have become. While similar in nature, ASHES takes a logical leap in ascension from what came before in that it doesn’t rely on instantly catchy melodies as the hook basis. In contrast, this one is a murkier affair that if one were to analyze the cover art of the two albums, perfectly reflects. “The Mantle” with its black, gray and white cover art easily portrays an image of a stag amidst a wintery tree-lined landscape whereas ASHES displays a nebulous unfocused image of a bird in a Van Gogh after a wild night on the town sort of way. Likewise, the musical constructs reflect a more surreal and less comprehensible manner of how the sonic parade of sounds is laid out. The result is a feeling of less warm and fuzzy melodies and an impending dread much like the feeling of that moment before the storm hits which while somewhat placid in the physical realm is mortifying in the anticipatory emotional factors that precede. ASHES perfectly captures that “bardo” state in between major events. This was a slow burner but when all is said and done, a more sophisticated slice of musical fusion than “The Mantle” and a more than worthy successor.
Vim Fuego
The difference between your average black metal band and Agalloch is like the difference between the populist fiction of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and a literary classic like Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Other bands write songs. Agalloch compose symphonies in miniature. Agalloch’s third full length album ‘Ashes against the Grain’ meshes metal seamlessly with classical instrumentation, ambient vistas, and powerful dynamics. Despite the complexity of the songs and the multi-faceted influences, this is still undoubtedly a metal album. ‘Limbs’ begins with an alternative rock sounding intro leads into a gothic acoustic section, with electric guitars playing like a distant echo, and builds to a doom crescendo. Then John Haughm opens his mouth and unleashes an abrasive vocal tirade, and without the listener realising it, the song has become distinctly black metal in character. Suddenly it breaks into disconsolate acoustics, and then the dread-laden music returns. Second track ‘Falling Snow’ throws in a livelier, almost hopeful riff, to contrast the previous song. It has less of the complexity, instead relying on a forcible beat, powered by driving double kick drums and a cascade of cymbals. Haughm also introduces vocal contrast, with a second voice of monastic clarity. This definitely isn’t music for anyone wanting a simple three-minute blast of high tempo metal. Only the ambient ‘This White Mountain on Which You Will Die’ clocks under five minutes, and several tracks approach in excess of double that. There is also an elemental, natural theme running through the album, interwoven with martial motifs. ‘Our Fortress Is Burning...’, ‘Bloodbirds’ and ‘The Grain’ form an epic trilogy to close the album. ‘Our Fortress Is Burning’ seems like a gentle instrumental, but has some tormented effects playing behind the main melody. ‘Bloodbirds’ continues with a dreamy air to it, and eventually hits a multi-layered guitar overdrive. Huge slabs of distortion and guitar effects grate together like tectonic plates on ‘The Grain’, eventually grinding down to nothingness and fading into the ether. This is an album to play to non-metal fans who think metal is all noise, and non-black metal metal fans who love to mock badgers in bullet belts. The music is not entirely in your face, instead swelling from humble beginnings, but scales some unexpected extremes. Only the cuts and contrasts allow you to realise how far Agalloch has taken you. Anyone undertaking the journey of this album will feel more than fulfilled.
I don't think they'll ever top "The Mantle" as there's something very special about that album, plus it was the first record i bought from this band. Still this one is a close second. And for my tastes i should probably like this a little more. It's heavier but we still get that atmosphere once in a while. "Limbs" really comes across as a straight-forward tune until it settles down with piano and atmosphere. Check out the guitar that joins in sounding off in the distance. Those sinister vocals will come and go. "Falling Snow" also has plenty of tempo changes. I like the clean vocal sections on this one. An amazing track that i never tire of. "The White Mountain On Which You Die" is a short piece with haunting waves of sound. "Fire Above, Ice Below" is another killer track that takes us on a journey. I really enjoy the guitar later on in this one. Waves and wind end it as it blends into "Not Unlike The Waves". How good is this when it kicks into gear. Another incredible song. "Our Fortress Is Burning...I" is melancholic as we hear the fire raging to open. "Our Fortress Is Burning...II-Bloodbirds" just sounds incredible. Just love the sound of the drums, bass and guitar. "Our Fortress Is Burning...III-The Grain" is the spacey and somewhat experimental soundscape to end the album. I can't give this less than 4.5 stars, just a brilliant follow-up to "The Mantle".
In the four year since their excellent The Mantle, the music scene had more than caught up with Agalloch's post-metal vision; other bands, such as the brilliant Isis, had even crafted superior works to that foundational piece. But those hoping that Ashes Against the Grain would show the newcomers how it was done may have found themselves disappointed. With less emphasis on acoustic guitars than on The Mantle, the band's sound becomes a lot more generic, and the compositions seem fairly uninspiring next to works by the likes of Isis and Pelican. It's a reasonable enough listen if you like post-metal, but at the same time I think most fans would expect more of Agalloch.
The Angry Scotsman
We have tracked Agalloch's progression through their EP's and albums, culminating in their absolute masterpiece, "The Mantle". One of the extremely few albums I would give a six star rating. So, what is a band suppose to do after something like that? Well, keep on moving of course.

With this album virtually all traces of black metal, (sans some vocals) have been removed, and polished off with a pristine sound quality. Much of the folky elements are also greatly toned down. The result is a more stripped down and straightforward Agalloch. This is their most post metal album yet, with lengthy compositions ripe with progression, builds, more riffs and nuanced songwriting than we've seen, and overall more streamlined feel. While this may be a natural progression, it thus lacks The Mantle's perpetual melancholy and bleakness. Think of The Mantle like a lake, while Ashes is a river.

With all that out of the way, this album begins strong with two of Agalloch's best songs, and the absolutely incredible "Falling Snow". A nice segue takes us into two nice post metal songs. "Not Unlike the Waves" has some great riffing and some true black metal high pitched, blood curdling shrieks. I'm talking out of Burzum's book here.

The album ends on a three piece suite, opposite of Pale Folklore. Really great stuff, and Bloodbirds is one hell of a powerful movement. Sadly, the album goes out on a lackluster note. More of a soundscape than a song, it is not bad at all but doesn't do much for me. I am sure it has its place and meaning, but just doesn't do it for me. Otherwise this is a pretty much perfect album.

Excellent album. Really, deserving of a 4.8 or 4.9

Four and Half Stars

Phonebook Eater

"Ashes Against The Grain" is one of the very best Agalloch albums.

Agalloch come back with an unbelievable, and extremely original album, "Ashes Against The Grain", the band's second best album, only to be second to "The Mantle".

Very different from the previous studio album, with "Ashes Against The Grain" Agalloch return to their Doom Metal style, leaving behind all the bleak, wintery folkish atmospheres and bringing up the spring, dreadful, but still dreamy atmospheres. The structure of the album is quite impressive and epic: almost all eight songs are long, and the three final songs are technically part of an even more epic song, "Our fortress Is Burning", which is acclaimed as one of the best Agalloch moments ever, even by me.

"Limbs" is a dark,long, and violent song, but with an epic and hopeful atmosphere that dresses it. Quite original in some moments, thanks especially to the beautiful guitars of John Haugm and Don Anderson, which always give a magic touch to the mood.

"Falling Snow" is a little more cheerful, even though the Black Metal vocals are a lot more present than the clean ones. Great chorus, great experimentation, this is another good one.

"This Mountain On Which You Will Die" is a shot instrumental, an interlude, that connects the first part of the album with the middle part.

"Fire Above, Ice Below" is possibly the song I least prefer; it just doesn't seem to be at the height of the two previous songs, even though the length of it would imply otherwise. Some moments are nice, but others just don't touch as much.

"Not Unlike The Waves" is probably my favorite song of the album. Everything of it is somewhat perfect; the chorus, the guitars, the verse, the experimentation, the vocals,the arrangements. Brilliant. No wonder they also made a music video for this one.

"Our Fortress Is Burning" is another masterpiece; in total, considering these three last songs as one, the length goes around twenty minutes; the first five are instrumental, very mellow, with interesting arrangements and arpeggios of the guitar. Bloodbirds(the second part) is maybe my least favorite, don;t know exactly why, since it maintains pretty much the same melody as before. The Grain is the third part of the song, like the first part instrumental, like the first part great.

There is also a bonus track, "Our Fortress Has Burned To the Ground", a sort of epilogue to the album. It's a nineteen minute ambient piece, with an interesting post apocalyptic atmosphere.

As a conclusion, this album really moved me, even though it has one defect; it is a little too long, and you get kind of tired of it. But still, I could easily define it as a masterpiece, a near perfect album.
Conor Fynes
'Ashes Against The Grain' - Agalloch (9/10)

This is Agalloch's third full-length release, and it signifies another development in the band's sound. While there is still ample amounts of folk music thrown into the mix here, there is not near as much as there was on Agalloch's crowning acheivement (and preceding work) 'The Mantle.' 'The Mantle' turned out to be one of my most moving, and profound musical experiences of all time, and while there is a much heavier, metallic sound here, I still hear the same, grief-stricken and uninhibited emotion here that made me fall in love with the music of Agalloch.

There is still the emphasis on texture and aesthetic here; don't get that wrong. The fact that the band uses more electric guitars now doesn't change the way they play at all. 'Ashes Against The Grain' does not work as an all encompassing album as much as a masterpiece should, but there are just too many moments of paralyzing beauty here that it would be unjust to give the music a rating of less than superb.

The haunting, almost-optimistic and resonating first notes of 'Limbs' really shows what the album is about. It's not about having a catchy chorus; it's about making an imprint on your heart, and being memorable as a result thereof. Anyone familiar with post-rock can expect something along the lines of a heavy 'Explosions In The Sky' with smatterings of acoustic instruments.

The main influence here (besides post-rock) is still black metal, and the vocals/lyrics are still the same, so if you loved or loathed them on any previous release, there shouldn't be any change expected.

The only true fault with the album is that it certainly does not mesh as well as it's predecessor. The ending 'epic' on the album also does not work as well as an epic should, although for what it is; 'Our Fortress Is Burning' is a fine collection of three very atmospheric and lush tracks. The album's closer is also worthy of note. 'The Grain' appears to have across many people as just being 'noise' and pointless. I actually found the track to be one of the most monumental and different pieces of music I've ever listened to.

The closest thing I can liken 'The Grain' to (as it sounds to my own ears) is an abrasive symphony of sounds, and it is all-too fitting as the album's close. Much of the album's content revolves around bleakness, and death; and the closing track sounds like death itself; coming to meet god. It is not human music as one would perceive it. It transcends traditional melody, rhythm, and form. It is best listened to at full volume with open ears. While it only took me a single listen to appreciate it, many others may not be willing to contend with something so 'noisy.'

'Ashes Against The Grain' is certainly a far cry from typical progressive rock, or even metal for that measure. There is very little showmanship here, although the musicianship is grand and thought provoking. Agalloch prove once again, that music is undoubtedly the closest thing the senses ever get to enlightenment. Majestic.
My encountry wasn't love at first sight. It sure sounded interesting but at first I thought it to be too similar to Opeth. I couldn't be more wrong. Sure it has heavy and harsh parts mixed with gentle and melodic parts but the way this music flows is entirely different from Opeth.

What you get with Agalloch is an organic and spontaneous flow of music that goes through the motions step by step: it builds up tension and releases it, it works up from gentle atmospheric to big orgiastic climaxes. Opeth is much more mathematical: 4 bars loud, 8 bars of acoustics, 4 bars loud again 16 bars something else and so on. In fact, with reference to composition, Agalloch sits closer to bands like Anathema or Neurosis, who, even though they create a very different type of music, they both share that same natural flow.

The reason I spent so long on that argument is because it explains why you need to sit through this entire album in one go. Each individual song is great by itself but together they build up to something that is larger then life. Actually, despite the spare instrumentation this album contains the most epic music I’ve ever heard.

So I will avoid a track by track overview. The entire album is brilliant, the epic feel is out of this world but never bombastic, the chants are gorgeous and the production is at the same crystal clear, rough and organic. And I am quite sure there is not one other band that can be compared to them. What more do you need?

Members reviews

This album is just... wow. It speeds though many genres including folk, ambient, black metal, and post metal. The first half of the first song, Limbs begins with a guitar cycling through multiple riffs until at about five minutes the vocals begin to paint a scene with the fine voice of John Haughm. What I really enjoy about his voice is that is can project many emotions flawlessly, and that he can do that through either growling or clean vocals, while many singers can only successfully use one style. Out of the forest, and into winter, Falling Snow continues the dark music that began the album except this time, more emotion seems to be put into the lyrics. Also, although still dark, Falling Snow seems to have a lighter hue than it's predecessor. The third song, This White Mountain On Which You Will Die, is a one minute ambient/noise track whose name comes from a lyric in Falling Snow. There is not much to say about this short track other than that it appears to be a segue from the “catchy” songs, to the more varied songs that follow it. The first of these songs, Fire Above, Ice Below. This song is probably the most ambitious track on the album as it cycles through many genres for the duration of ten minutes. It begins with folkish strumming, with clean guitars in the background, which really give the song some density. Once the vocals kick in, the electric guitar becomes more prominent, until the full riffing begins. The drums are actually very impressive during the riffing moment, repeating cymbal crash after cymbal crash. The song slows down and picks up again a couple times, and the guitar in each section never ceases to amaze me. The next song, Not Unlike the Waves opens with some heavy riffing but then a soft acoustic passage appears again. Once the passage ends, the song just gets heavier and heavier. Now, a three part suite begins. The first instrumental section (Our Fortress is Burning) begins with piano and acoustic guitar, but slowly builds up and moves to the second part. This song is not very metal and has a kind of ambient feel to it. The second part of the suite, Bloodbirds, is pretty much the climax of the entire album, and seems to be a more traditional Agalloch song, with more riffs and vocals. The part of the suite (The Grain) is a seven minute noise track. This is my least favorite on the album because there is really nothing to say about it. There is no point that it is trying to get across. Overall, I think that this album is an essential if you are a fan of Post Metal. Otherwise, I would suggest to dip your feet in slowly, maybe just the first two songs, if you are not familiar with much Post Metal.

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