"Sleep on Ladders"
Agalloch's Ashes Against the Grain came highly recommended, but when I got a copy of it about six weeks ago, I didn't cotton to it right away. It was still pretty hot here in North Carolina. You can listen to death metal in hot weather and get sweaty with it, but black metal is ritualistic music, and works better in controlled environments. The right death metal song can even be weaseled in between techno tracks, if the DJ's clever enough; black metal is less flexible. One could make the case that that's sort of the point.
In the hot weather, anyhow, Ashes Against the Grain wasn't working for me at all. I was bummed; Scott Seward was completely ga-ga over it, and I'd hoped to share his enthusiasm, since he's a man of taste, and also since the coming of autumn seemed to have kicked my desire for metal into hyperdrive. I'd even been listening to grind before turning in for the evening. It's been like that around here.
So I kept at it with this album, hoping to find the key to it, and driving down the highway in the dark this evening, it finally coalesced for me. I think maybe I'd been hoping the album would crack me in the head with a tire-iron, but Agalloch aren't really very extreme; sure, they've got rasped vocals that'll keep 98% of the music-buying public at bay, but beyond that, they've got more in common with the soft dreamy parts of old Metallica jams than with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. In fact, the thing I find myself thinking of most when I listen to Agalloch - besides Katatonia, to whom they owe a huge debt - is Pink Floyd. Not the FM radio Pink Floyd of Dark Side of the Moon, nor the purists-only Barrett version. I think of Meddle or Animals; the stuff that you wouldn't bother using as mixtape fodder, since the whole point is the experience of beginning at point A (side one, song one) and arriving at a very distant point B (the end of the album). The point, both of old album-rock and of this record, which is its darker descendant, is the effect of the journey; its toll, its cost.
Who wants to get contemplative when it's hot outside, though? Summer is for blues-based 4/4, west coast hip-hop, or reggaeton - that sort of energy, that kind of groove; winter's an open book, since you do what you gotta do to make it through winter, unless you are one of those crazy freaks who claim to really dig the cold weather and whatnot, in which case keep your distance 'cause I don't wanna catch what you got. Autumn, though: that's for the turning-inward, the subtler shades, the long crawl of evening toward night. Autumn is neither for embracing hot death nor fighting it tooth and nail, but is rather for brooding about it and letting the thoughts fester in the mind. It's not a dark time yet; just getting darker, that's all. Ashes Against the Grain, in its doomy above-ground black-metallic grandeur, is the very thing.
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