‘Ashes Against the Grain’- Agalloch

Agalloch were always one of the more intriguing acts under the black metal umbrella. Never quite as visceral as Immortal or Gorgoroth, these guys incorporated the experimentation of later-period Enslaved with the delicacy of dream pop. Topping all of this off, of course, is that fact that they were from Portland, Oregon! Black metal and the United States of America aren’t always a match that makes sense, but there are exceptions to every rule. The band’s versatility also resides within the subject matter; they’re much more flexible than the caricature of black metal that the music market (especially here in America) has grown to accept about the style.

The band starts this effort from 2006 off with a picture-perfect example of this versatility with the just under ten minute epic “Limbs”, which wonderfully captures the¬†otherworldliness of both black metal, as well as dream pop; think of it as a marriage between Mayhem and the Dream Academy with a bit of My Bloody Valentine tossed in for good measure. This epic leads right into the next one “Falling Snow”, which like its predecessor, clocks in at just under ten minutes. The burning question for the uninitiated will obviously be how a marriage between black metal and dream pop (or shoegaze) could actually work? When you begin to think about it, it makes a lot more sense than it seems to on the surface. Obviously there are few musical similarities between black metal and shoegaze, but what’s one thing that Mayhem and My Bloody Valentine have in common? A catastrophic case of isolation. That is the number one factor that allows this wonderful marriage that Agalloch have struck to work so well. It’s on the next track, the instrumental piece “This White Mountain on Which You Will Die”, that Agalloch take things to pure serenity and bliss. Mortality is an uncomfortable thing and the band are able to purvey this with a sort of otherworldly promise and acceptance; the afterlife is something that feels quite apparent while listening to this record. The three-part song that closes the record, “Our Fortress Is Burning”, is a moment on the record that lends itself to progressive rock with its daring sensibility and its lack of acknowledging the so called boundaries that conventional pop music says exist. The most striking part of this piece is the sorrowful guitar sound. You can practically feel the soul of guitarist Don Anderson wailing throughout the extended guitar solos.

This is one of the most strikingly original metal records ever recorded and it’s a testimony to this band that they were able to prove that styles of music seemingly distant from one another could merge with such organic prowess. In fact, few (if any) bands have ever been able to accomplish the merging of these styles as effortlessly and as commandingly as Agalloch. Like all good black metal, this record takes the listener to a place that simply doesn’t exist in the natural world; a place that you must suspend your judgments and your perceptions of normalcy a great amount just to be able to comprehend the trappings of the record. This is an overall very good and interesting record that you’d be doing yourself a favor in just sitting through. If only it were a bit more consistently gripping, it might be a perfect record.

4/5

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