Agalloch, "Ashes Against the Grain"
Agallochís first full studio release in four years finds the group continuing along the path of progressive neo-pagan folk extreme doom metal with a hefty does of industrial drone tossed in for good measure. Me not being a fan of industrialized drone, I could live without the last seven-minute long track of said styling (appropriately and literally the "grain" that the album speaks of), but other than that, Iíve got no complaints. Iíve been following the band since í99, so itís always nice to sit down with one of their records and absorb all of the raw emotion and gloomy atmosphere. Back when I first heard the group, I described their sound as "epic claustrophobia," a tag I still think fits their sound on "Ashes Against the Grain." Pummeling, straight-ahead percussion is layered with slashing electric guitar riffs and introspective acoustics (guitars and keys). Dry black metal rasps (not the best in the business, but serviceable) intermix with entrancing clean vocals to create an oppressive and depressive sound. I particularly like when they place the extreme vox beneath the clean to create a harmonious dichotomy (howís that for an oxymoron?). Melody lines, often doubled or tripled on guitars, supply a spidery network of support that make the compositions all the more alluring.
There are eight tracks in total, the vast majority clocking in at over seven minutes in length. The album is just about an hour long, so needless to say, Agalloch do not create Neanderthal-styled metal anthems; their music falls into the navel-gazing, face-clawing vein, and it usually succeeds in puncturing the listenerís jugular. Compositions are circular and repetitive like most doom, but the care taken to continuously add points of sonic interest keeps the songs moving ever forward (into termination). Production and mix are spot on, with just the right amount of reverb to add a dolorous ambience.
Agallochís music sounds like the soundtrack to the annihilation of nature all the while unleashing the essence of its virile ferocity. This release (and all of their previous work) is highly recommended to pagan folk metal and doom metal fans. If you havenít heard them before, "Ashes Against the Grain" is as good a place to fall into their web as any. Long time fans are sure to be pleased with this latest chapter. In short, another successful endeavor from the lads, even taking that damned drone stuff into consideration (Hell, maybe theyíll convert me to enjoying the style if I keep spinning this - and Iím sure that I will).
Fire Above, Ice Below