It’s all about “Limbs.” The 10 minute opener fades in with a pair of guitars kissing in rich feedback and dancing slowly in counterpoint. Then the chords roll in like a sudden spate of ice rain. The black metal band takes a few cues from post-rock (that’s “space music,” for those of you disinclined to enjoy the likes of Explosions in the Sky), deliberately unwinding memorable and sad melodies until the first vocals finally appear after almost 6 minutes. And what vocals.
Where most contemporary BM vocalists are content to disturb you with their best dying pterodactyl impression, John Haughm makes his rasp a part of the band’s foggy texture. Then we get an acoustic interlude that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome! Good God! Is that allowed? They unleash a whole other section of song on you in the last couple minutes, and maybe the most impressive feature of all is that “Limbs” never even considers getting boring. When it fades out and into followup “Falling Snow,” an equally impeccable elegiac rocker, you realize you’ve got something special on your hands.
Agalloch have gotten a lot more compositionally sophisticated since The Mantle, sure, but more importantly they’ve tapped an autumnal vein. With Ashes Against the Grain Agalloch managed to capture quicksilver loneliness in a bottle, and they did it so universally and archetypically that a music inspired by the desolate forests of the American Northwest can sound equally comforting on a cold city block. Maybe they know that a kindred cold spirit can be the best kind of solace.