The new full length (number two) from the Boston based avant-black/death/doom band Ehnahre, Taming The Cannibals, is one of the more cerebral and challenging "death metal" albums to have come through the Crucial Blast headquarters this year. After being turned on to their excellent debut from 2008 The Man Closing Up, I've been itching to hear more from these warped death abstractionists; their debut instantly dazed me with its jarring, alien approach to bestial slow-motion death metal, drawing heavily from the twelve-tone serialism of composer Arnold Schoenberg and the outer fringes of free-jazz and free improvisation as much as they do from the foul black pit of early 90's death metal and doom. Even after years of devouring the most dissonant strains of death metal that I could get my mitts on (Gorguts, Demilich, Immolation, Portal, etc.), these guys stunned me with their extreme chaotic dissonance and pitch-black chthonic textures, a combination of atonal 20th century classical music and vicious blackened death laced with squalls of free-jazz horns, stretches of intense choral ambience, and blasts of calcifying glacial doom. Featuring former members of the prog/gothic art-rock band Kayo Dot and avant-death metallers Biolich, Ehnahre are creating some of the most difficult death metal I've heard since Obscura, but also manage to balance the extreme atonality and relentlessly unpredictable nature of their arrangements with seething aggression and crushing riffage.
Taming The Cannibals is a continuation of their discordant black art, six lengthy tracks of demented and distended death metal and harrowing atonal composition, their chilling guitar textures and bizarre chordal moves merging with distant, keening muezzin-like vocals and monstrous, blood-gargling shrieks, extended percussive wig-outs that veer into pure jazz territory, and vast black fields of nightmarish ambience. Once again, the band employs horns and strings, this time from guest musicians Greg Kelley of Heathen Shame on trumpet and C Spencer Yeh (Burning Star Core) on violin, draping sheets of high end amorphous violin skree and free jazz blowing across the ethereal blastscapes and apocalyptic feedback of "Clatterbones" and the bloated black doom and spacious horror of "Foehn". Minimal electronic grit and glitch and crackle is woven through the cacophony, subtle keys float beneath the hyper complex riffs. Soft crooning vocals (courtesy of Jonah Jenkins from Only Living Witness/Milligram/Raw Radar War/Miltown) emerge, dreamlike, drifting on abyssal lullabies. And all the while, Ehnahre pull the listener ever deeper into their claustrophobic depths, crafting a terrifying, hellish vision of blackened jazz-doom that will set skin to crawling and nerves on edge, while their haunting lyrics draw from a number of unexpected influences such as Irish poet F. R. Higgins, Austrian Expressionist Georg Trakl, Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself", and American poet/environmentalist Robinson Jeffers.
An immense new disc from Ehnahre that heads even further "out" than their previous album; it's highly recommended to fans of the furthest extremes of avant garde death metal and doom, Disembowelment, Phlebotomized, Demilich, Starkweather, Gorguts, Pan.Thy.Monium, Portal, and the heavier moments of Kayo Dot's earlier recordings. The disc comes in a four-panel digipack with an eight page booklet.
REVIEW FROM BRAINWASHED: I try to avoid using the word "challenging" in regards to music—it is typically either a dumb exaggeration, or simply untrue. In this case, however, "challenging" is not only entirely appropriate, but perhaps an understatement. Ehnahre play dissonant, cerebral music that is rooted in death metal, but also throws the rulebook out the window; their latest album is all the more appealing for its inaccessibility. Admittedly, I don't find myself at all engaged by traditional death metal, which is perhaps why I find this album so refreshing. Taming the Cannibals is, at its heart, an avant-garde death metal album. It downplays the standard tropes of the genre—masturbatory guitar playing, tired blast beats, Cookie Monster vocals—and replaces them with a number of twists and unexpected developments. The first song, aptly named "The Clatterbones," kicks off with a drum solo reminiscent of a free jazz percussionist playing maniacally on a skeleton. When the guitar riffs come in, they are not virtuosic statements of aptitude, but atonal, slow motion riffs reminiscent of Khanate's first recordings. Intense segments are surrounded by empty space and creepy ambience, courtesy of C. Spencer Yeh's screeching violin and Greg Kelley's trumpet. Any semblance of traditional, structured songwriting is cast aside in favor of improvisational drum playing (truly the album's anchor) and static, black-ambient meltdowns between songs. The vocals are not merely a tribute to Sesame Street's foremost cookie enthusiast; they sound genuinely anguished, tormented. I have hardly any complaints about Taming the Cannibals: the only thing that strikes me as out of place is the brief, spoken-word segment that closes "Foehn (Lullaby)." Otherwise, Ehnahre sound like they are playing by their own rules throughout the album, charging headfirst through seemingly improvisational songs that draw from death, black and doom metal, yet end up sounding like only themselves. This is metal at its most deconstructed, unconventional and challenging—a big "fuck you" to conventional death metal and, perhaps, any type of traditional heavy music. - Stephen Bush
REVIEW FROM BURNING AMBULANCE: 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. - Phil Freeman
REVIEW FROM ALLMUSIC: The second full-length CD by Boston-based avant metal band Ehnahre is even more abstract and forbidding than their debut, which was plenty weird already. This time, the death metal growls and occasional passages of thrash/death aggression that gave their free jazz-influenced post-metal a somewhat conventional structure have been moved to minor roles, leaving behind lots of clatter and doomy drone. The slow, sludgy riff that underpins "Foehn (Lullaby)" seems Sabbathian on its surface, but the squealing and scraping (bowed cymbals and the like) that surround it, not to mention the unhinged, raw-throated vocals and the extremely free drumming, move the music out of the realm of metal and toward something else entirely. Occasionally, when he's singing clean, the singer's voice is reminiscent of Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator, adding the darkest of early-'70s prog to Ehnahre's menu of sonic options. This is a strange but utterly compelling record by a band that sounds like no one else.
REVIEW FROM NOISE.FI: Tässäpä jotain erilaista jazzin ja äärimetallin välisestä kinkkisestä crossover-maastosta. Erinäköisiä matematiikkaprogeilijoita toki on ylitarjonnaksi asti, mutta death metallia, doomia ja muita rockin rajumpia lajikkeita soitannollisesti vapaammasta vinkkelista lähestyviä yhtyeitä puolestaan hyvin niukalti. Ehnahren The Man Closing Up -debyytti oli lupaava alku, mutta tällä kakkoslevyllään trio on onnistunut kehittämään avantgardemetallista visiotaan kaikilla tavoin vakuuttavammaksi.
Taming the Cannibalsissa hämärän abstraktit ja tiukempaan muotoon sitoutuvat elementit ovat tasaisesti edustettuina ja ennen kaikkea mielekkäässä balanssissa. Strukturoidummat death metal -osuudet mutatoituvat luontevasti doomin verkkaista estetikkaa hyödyntäviin, puhaltimiakin sisältäviin impressionistisempiin maalailuihin. Paitsi sävellyksellisen- myös dynaamisen monimuotoiset kappaleet käyvät välillä hajoamispisteessä ryhdistäytyäkseen napakammiksi metalliryöpytyksiksi. Paras esimerkki tästä tarjotaan heti kättelyssä, levyn avaavassa Clattering Bonesissa.
Vaikka perusmetallistilta tuskin liikenee kärsivällisyyttä Ehnahrelle sanoisin, että yhtye nimenomaan löytää kuulijoita (jos on löytyäkseen) metallin puolelta, koska se ei myöskään romahda täysin vapaaksi metelöinniksi. Ja hyvä niin. Metallista free jazz -fuusiota on jo tehty runsaasti, vaikkapa John Zornin ja kumppaneiden toimesta. Ehnahre on jotain muuta. Se sulauttaa sävellyksen ja improvisaation, kokeilun ja hyväksi todetun onnistuneesti yhteen. Lopputulos on haastavaa ja uskaliaampien taiteilujen kohdalla ristiriitaistakin kuunneltavaa, mutta yhtä kaikki palkitsevaa.
REVIEW FROM MUSIQUE MACHINE: Ehnahre are a 'metal ' band from Boston (which seems to be more known for hardcore-punk than metal), and this thier sophomore full-length album is totally unlike anything I've heard in the genre since maybe Abruptum. One look at their official site and they include a quote from Arnold Schoenberg about dissonance in music. You just know this band has to be special. Much of this recording actually reminds me very much of the Birthday Party except with more pronounced chaos. Yet with all the discordance this band seem to be well orchestrated. The guitar is especially very raw sounding here. It's very much akin to Black Sabbath if they were cutting-edge music students. Just the use of feedback on "Foehn (Lullaby)" alone -- and I don't mean they use the sound technique like everyone else does -- just shows how brilliant this trio really is. It doesn't hurt that they occasionally remind me of the Swans or Pure (the band that was on the Broken Flag label, of course) either. I’d be damned if I could name a subgenre to compare this to. I certainly wouldn't call it Black or Death Metal. This kind of metal just doesn't follow the rules of any kind or any treads. In spite of the rather silly title, “Taming the Cannibals” is hands-down the most innovative metal album I've heard in awhile. Rethink what you know about heavy music and check this out.