Ehnahre is a Boston-based group with a lineup that includes several former members of the large-ish avant-metal act Kayo Dot; their records also feature guest appearances by avant-garde jazz and improv musicians like trumpeter Greg Kelley and violinist C Spencer Yeh. Their music is dissonant and discordant, not slow so much as timeless; their drummer, Ricardo Donoso, frequently plays in a way that combines the freedom of Milford Graves or Rashied Ali with the death-march plod of Khanate‘s Tim Wyskida. The guitars and bass (by John Carchia and Ryan McGuire, respectively) are sometimes doomy and other times noisy and No Wave-ish in their sputtering jaggedness. In the background, low in the mix, drones and metallic rattles persist, like the band is attempting to rehearse in the middle of a room that’s being renovated.
Taming the Cannibals is the group’s second full-length CD; they’ve also released a 7″ single, and a cassette documenting a live radio performance of songs from their debut CD, 2008’s The Man Closing Up. While the material on each release is fundamentally similar, there’s a definite and perceptible evolution to their work.
The Man Closing Up was a metal record. An arty metal record, to be sure, but its rumbling, crashing tracks (simply titled “Part I” through “Part V”) had clear antecedents in doom and even grunge; it was a series of avalanche-like crescendos that reminded me of the Melvins‘ Lysol, or Naked City‘s half-hour “Leng T’Che.” The lyrics, pulled from poetry by Donald Justice, are delivered in a guttural roar that will be very, very familiar to anyone who’s listened to death metal anytime in the last 20 years. But in the background, low in the mix, during the album’s softer passages (“Part IV”), quiet voices whisper and howl, their words never quite decipherable, like the ghosts of lunatics. The creepy someone’s-in-here-with-you vibe is like an alternate soundtrack to the underrated, under-seen horror movie Session 9. “Part V,” the conclusion, is built around a few riffs, some doomy and others rooted in hardcore, none of which ever really resolve or progress naturally into one another. It’s frustrating, but not in a particularly pleasurable way.
Taming the Cannibals is often a much less overtly metallic record than its predecessor. The drumming, particularly on opening track “The Clatterbones,” is more free; the guitars are just as doomy, roaring and surging, but then sagging away, as if Carchia loses interest halfway through a riff. Passages of feedback and the squeal of bowed cymbals build tension, and clean vocals bring some real beauty to “Foehn (Lullaby).” The third and fourth tracks, “Animals” and “Birth Dues,” feature chanted vocals and a loose thrash style that reminds me of a less psychedelic Yakuza. The harsh, whispering voices from The Man Closing Up are back, too, hiding behind slowly clanging guitar chords and drumming that’s more like a tune-up than a rhythm. The album concludes with the ambient/industrial interlude “Revelation and Decline” leading into the final track, “Birth,” which sustains the feeling that something major’s about to happen for seven and a half minutes without ever really offering any catharsis or release. Martial drum fills repeat endlessly behind crescendo-like guitar riffs, with screeching violins hiding in the corners of the sonic field like worms burrowing into a corpse, until in its final minute the piece is overwhelmed by static as the music fades away.
Ehnahre is an organism that is growing and sprouting new limbs. The death metal vocals remain like a vestigial tail, but Taming the Cannibals is an important stage in a really impressive development. I look forward to hearing more from this band. They’re on to something.