Throwback Thursday: Agalloch’s “Ashes Against The Grain”

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“Ashes Against The Grain” original slipcover artwork

While maybe not the most popular Agalloch work, there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate their third full-length album, Ashes Against The Grain. Obviously, the works of the black folk metal band out of Portland, Oregon are among the most important in my extensive library, and this is something I have reiterated many times. The quality contained in their catalog is undeniable. And while the final album with The End Records may not have been the band’s favorite (and if you dig enough you may discover that they borderline hate it), I’m still as captivated by it now as I was when I first heard it. Let’s take a closer look. 

Actually, nevermind, let’s take a step back first. Why talk about Ashes Against The Grain now? Well, there are a couple of reasons. For one, the album turns 10 this year. Sure, its birthday doesn’t come around until August, but don’t worry, I have an excuse to discuss it now, which is conveniently my second point. You see, kicking off today (last night based on this publication date) is the annual Fire and Ice Festival in downtown Portsmouth. I won’t bore you with details, but you should know at this point that no matter what I see or hear, my mind is almost constantly on metal. So. “Fire and Ice Festival”… “Fire. And Ice.”… “Fire Above, Ice Below!” And there’s the connection, the fourth track on this album being similar in name to the events of the upcoming weekend. Yes, that’s how my mind works. Happy early birthday, Ashes Against The Grain.

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“Ashes” current CD cover

Alright, but now it’s time to get into the music. Ashes followed up the immense 2002 release in The Mantle, the album that pulled me into Agalloch’s music and has since failed to release me from its grasp. And while these albums fell side by side (except for that whole four year gap in between), the sound is distinctly different. While The Mantle was heavy on the neofolk acoustic elements from start to finish, Ashes feels more ‘metal,’ if you will. Electric guitars drive the sound and the production is far more polished. Some frowned upon this, others embraced it. Either way, it was a movement in a different direction, and another direction that they mastered with ease.

The complex landscapes of Agalloch’s sound still find their way into this album, even if its soul isn’t as present as on the preceding Mantle or subsequent Marrow of the Spirit. Either way, the brilliance of Agalloch’s song writing ability shines through. From the glimmering radiance of the leads on “Falling Snow” or “Our Fortress Is Burning… II – Bloodbirds” to the darker moments on “Limbs” or the somber ambient emotions on “Fire Above, Ice Below”, Ashes covers everything. Again, while this may be a cleaner, stripped down record in terms of the Agalloch sound, but all the emotion and diversity of their music still defines this record. And if you’ve seen them perform “Bloodbirds” live, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to.

Anyway, that just about wraps up my thoughts here in an attempt to stay brief. Rather then embed a playlist below, I instead will link you to the album here. I suggest you check out the music video for “Not Unlike The Waves” below. It’s the track that turned me onto this album, so why not close with it? Oh, it’s also not the shitty abbreviated version. Enjoy.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”
– Corey

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