Ok, so why the lengthy discography post? Well, the reason is two-fold. Firstly, it’s a consolation prize for my special, which in all likelihood will be delayed. I have one last band I wish to review, and haven’t fully absorbed. The second, is because I realised when I saw this band live that not only are they incredibly good, unique, but are mentioned far too little.

The regulars will no doubt know them well, but for you newcomers, this is a highly atmospheric Progressive Folk/Doom band that have used as many clean passages as more Viking-esque passages to succeed in putting out solid releases for over a decade. If you are a newcomer, ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ should as of this point become the must-have for your collection. (As a side-note, bear in mind I am being very critical in these reviews, to attempt to distinguish between the better releases. The truth is, you can dive into just about any of these and come up with brilliance).

From Which of this Oak (Demo) [1997] – 4/5

Describing their sound is made difficult by the lack of bands to compare to. The vocals are largely mid-ranged growls here, perhaps lacking in impact compared to some later releases but are by no means weak. The keyboards are lower in the mix than I would like, barely being n
oticeable at times, and the drums feel basic but consistent.

Where this demo really shines is the use of guitar, possibly some of the best of all their work, melodic and upbeat enough to draw focus, which given their prominence is of vital importance. Lengthy doom-filled passages will have you captivated for its entire 35 minute length. Opening with a piece more upbeat than their latter material, with prominent tremolo picking and excessive use of vocals it gives indication of the band they would become, without perhaps as much refinement – they have yet to fully realise their own specific style.

The unquestionable highlight in this epic demo is ‘As embers dress the sky,’ quickly transitioning from addictive aggressive riffs and vocals, overlayed by keyboard harmonies, to an almost Floyd-esque dream-like sequence, with use of airy distant vocals adding a haunting feel, this is the level of musicianship we can expect from them in the future.

Despite being a demo, its considerable length, lack of ‘filler’ and comparatively brilliant production makes this one well worth owning.

Highlight: As Embers Dress the Sky

Pale Folklore [1999] – 4/5

Welcome to the debut full-length by these epic titans of their genre. Featuring a new version of ‘As embers dress the sky’ they succeed in polishing an already strong track, fixing the production issues and fleshing out the track, so as to feel richer, and more vibrant. This version even includes prominent operatic female vocals, which serve to add another layer and provide another highlight of the album

The second highlight comes from the epic - 18 minute - opening track, which not only serves as a perfect opener, as you hear the icy wind blow past and the quiet yet somehow energetic feel of the guitars, before exploding and expanding into the tale that is to unfold. Writing a track of this length and maintaining interest is a difficult task, and whilst they perform exceptionally well I couldn’t help but feel like particular riffs were lasting longer than necessary.

This is still very much a guitar driven piece, and once again they perform, with greater acoustic prominence, breathy growls as well as the more prominent form, combine with clean voc
als to lend plenty of variety, not overused in this albums duration. The keyboards are still largely unheard, though the drums are now more notable, thundering away to lend a primal sound at times, and lend a new and improved dynamic.

Unfortunately, for all its strengths lies weakness as well. The number o
f tracks that feel out of place, the ambient ‘Misshapen Steed,’ whilst beautifully crafted feels as though it was placed in the album for that reason alone, feeling like an unnecessary interlude. This is an album that shows their potential, but ultimately feels inconsistent.

Highlights: She Painted Fire Across the Skyline, As Embers Dress the Sky

Of Stone, Wind and Pillor (EP) [2001] – 4/5

And after their debut album we receive their debut EP. Much in the same vein as before, they use more folk tones here, and succeed in being far more consistent throughout the album. The comparatively aggressive opener presents a blackened touch to their sound, followed by far more ambient like folk in proceeding tracks.

Vocals only appear twice in this short album, the growls in the opener and the superb cleanly sung ‘Kneel to the cross,’ the latter of which utilises a repeated chant to great effect. This is overall a far less guitar-driven offering, with far simpler, more subtle tones used, often to great effect, this is the equivalent of Opeth’s ‘Damnation,’ in their back catalogue, and it goes to show just how versatile this artist is, something which will be seen again in ‘The White.’

Unfortunately, whilst nothing feels out of place, and the atmosphere is wonderfully worked, nothing feels either exceptionally good or bad. This is an EP that is the first to show them in a new light, and whilst not the gem in their discography is one that is perhaps too often overlooked.

Highlight: Kneel to The Cross

The Mantle [2002] – 4.5/5

Three years since their last full-length and this does not disappoint. The culmination of all their hard work thus far, delivering crashing drums over acoustic riffs and slow guitar riffs. With each track as strong as the strongest from their previous work, from the sublimely addictive acoustic interludes in ‘Odal’ to the psychedelic feel in ‘Hawthorne passage,’ this is an album just a few short steps away from greatness.

The clean vocals display him at his best, being both cleanly heard yet distant and breathy, giving the track an odd melancholic life, a dim and dark atmosphere lending a truly earthy feel, as though in a forest of fog. The harsh feel monotonous at times, but are used infrequently enough that this becomes a barely noticeable issue. But what makes this album all the more incredible, is that this is the first work by them without the inclusion of the keyboard player (who decided prior to recording this to ta
ke a break from music for an undetermined period of time).

Whilst the drumming is still present, it feels underused. Some of the primal style drumming used in earlier works often feels missing in its presence, and instead were left with brilliant, but occasionally bare guitar work drawing most of the attention. If the creativity of both of these guitarists in creating overlaying melodies was anything short of excellent, this could well have been their downfall. Instead, I welcome another worthy addition to an already impressive discography.

Highlights: In the Shadow of our Pale Companion, Odal, Hawthorne Passage

Tomorrow Will Never Come (EP) [2003] – 2.5/5

More for the collectors amongst you, featuring only two tracks, the first of which is an alternate version of the intro featured in ‘The Mantle,’ which felt rather poorly produced by comparison, leaving only the one track remaining. This track features spoken, almost acted lyrics over a simplistic, yet heartfelt acoustic riff, its perhaps an interesting listen, but overall rather disappointing.

The Grey (EP) [2004] – 2/5

And once again, we have a collectors EP. Featuring two more tracks featured in ‘The Mantle,’ this is a period in their catalogue where it appears they have written nothing. The first track is ‘The Lodge,’ which has been stretched out to 13 minutes, and whilst still fairly enjoyable definitely feels stretched. The second is a remake of ‘Odal,’ or more specifically the same track if only the ambient noise in the background was present. This may be a departure from their usual style, opting for a mor
e, ambient post-rock doom feel, but personally, id rather they hadn’t.

Ashes Against the Grain [2006] – 5/5

After four arduous years of sub-par EPs of rehashed material we are finally delivered another full-length release, which is to be the magnum opus of their back catalogue, the brightest shining star in the night sky, and god-damn, if this is the way things are going then with their next I may well have to eat my own words next time around in defining this as a ‘perfect’ album.

It doesn’t take long to realise that with an opening track as strong as the iconic ‘Limbs’ that they have finally perfected their art, slow guitar harmonies powerfully cutting through the music, with loud and bombastic drumming keeping the pace slow and atmospheric, this is one 10 minute epic that at no point feels too long or sub-par. Its given enough time to develop without becoming long-winded, and this is true of every track to be found here.

The drums are more prevalent than ever before, feeling like another layer than the standard ‘keep the timings’ affair, bombarding you with tones to give a real sense of distinction between the levels of aggression during each passage. The guitars are as melodic as ever, with a more prominent use of electric than in past releases to give a sense of power, without ever feeling too dominant, and th
e sparsely used vocals have an energy about them, a distinct flavour as he spits at you aggressively, in an almost ‘black’ tone reminiscent of the opening track for their 2001 EP (‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor), or the almost chanted vocals, the whispers in ‘Fire Above, Ice Below,’ the vocals have been improved in every conceivable way.

But beyond the impeccable production, the ever present soaring riffs and the outstanding vocals, is the sheer ability for this to be remembered. Unlike with past works, the sheer simplicity of the music is wherein the beauty lies; once you hear that opening track you will never forget it.

Highlights: Limbs, Falling Snow, Not unlike the Waves, Our Fortress is Burning… II

The White (EP) [2008] – 4.5/5

Two years on and we are given a completely different offering from their last work. For whatever reason they decided upon writing an ambient, acoustic album to follow their two year absence, it makes a wonderful surprise. No longer does it feel quite as half-done as with their 2001 EP (‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’), they have gone all out to provide a similar tone to their more subtle and melancholic style.

Whilst this presents a wonderful change of pace compared to their last offering, and at almost 40mins feels like a full length release, the often similar tones presented do eventually wear thin. Without such a prominent contrast it doesn’t feel as memorable or addictive, and suffers as a result of that. The slow paced primal drumming is once again present, though to a lesser degree and the use of vocals are entirely comprised of the softer and cleaner style, almost spoken in a neo-folk manner in ‘Birch White,’ and just used as melody in ‘Pantheist.’ This is for the most part an instrumental offering.

Their most recent work has delivered to us a new side to their sound, and one which has been performed incredibly well, though perhaps not quite up there with the impeccable standard they have set for themselves already.

Highlights: The Isle of Summer, Birch White


M. Angell said…
I disagree that this albums tone's "wear thin." I personally found this their best release since "Of Stone..."