A Guide To Avant-Garde Metal Band Ehnahre

ehnahre

Ehnahre’s new album The Scrape of the Keel is out now.

Ehnahre are an avant-garde metal band from Boston. They bring a mix of death-doom, contemporary classical and free improv. Across six albums and many lineup changes, they have committed themselves to serving earth shattering music replete with lyrics taken from modernist poets.

The following is a guide to their full length albums. I have not included the recent Quatrain, as it is four individually performed pieces, rather than a full band effort. You can find a review for their most recent album, The Scrape of a Keel right HERE.

The Man Closing Up

Is Ehnahre’s first album, released all the way back in 2008. Lyrics and title come by way of ‘The Man Closing Up’ by Donald Justice. With five tracks (I, II, III, IV and V) and three guitarists, The Man Closing Up is Ehnahre’s most accessible release. The album starts with a dissonant death-doom section before stripping away the doom and going full steam ahead. The thick wall of tremolo-picked guitars and blast beats, ‘The Man Closing Up’ is the album that shows Ehnahre’s metal lineage the clearest.

While there are hints of Ehnahre’s experimental side on I and II, it isn’t until III that they really start to open up. While it starts off with a ferocious death metal assault, complete with an atonal guitar solo, it slows down and we hear bowed double bass behind the guitars. Performing the sort of horror movie free improv that we come to expect in later releases, the whole band works out for the remainder of the track in a sort of see-sawing of loose riffs.

IV and V continue in the experimental vein, with IV edging along in quiet improvisation until the ten minute marker when the band explodes into full on attack mode with fill-laden blast beats and death metal riffs. V, on the other hand, starts with the death metal before reaching its coda, a haunting mix of strings, horns and voices.

In conclusion, it’s a very good album but more so when performing metal than when performing the more leftfield sections.

Taming the Cannibals

Is an instant leap forward. Immediately off-kilter with circular riffs and weird percussion, the opener, ‘The Clatterbones’, gets going with a constantly hitting, stop-start rhythm. Before long, however, the black metal comes in and the band pushes ahead at full tilt. ‘Foehn (Lullaby)’ is filled with skronk and doom. Feedback and electronic noise filter in at the rear and sides of the track while the centre lurches forward between deathly screams and ice age riffs. Derek Bailey-esque guitar playing and even crooning eventually join the mix, putting a firm WEIRD stamp on the track.

The track ‘Animals’ teeters on the edge of metallic collapse until a sample of a contemporary classical piece comes in, which the band proceed to edgingly riff around, slow and doomful. ‘Birth Dues’ dives straight into metal assault located at the corner of trash and death, before mellowing out. ‘Revelation and Decline’ is a short noise track, all fizz and crackle and sine tones. The closer, ‘Birth’ is a doomful piece that strains to break free and speed up, leading to a tension that dissolves into noise by the track’s conclusion.

‘Taming The Cannibals’ does away with the full frontal assault of Ehnahre’s first album in favour of some of the elements that would become mainstays, the slow lurching riffs and the more improv heavy sections. However, it still feels caught between the two worlds of metal formalism and modernistic free improv. Lyrics are provided by F.R. Higgins, George Trakl, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers.

Old Earth

Has a very slow opening. Static and a sample give away to a moody guitar playing through dissonant chords. A choking vocal joins the mix and after a not-long seven minutes, the rest of the band joins. The band slams and rolls before taking its breath for a moment and then diving back in. The band continues to pound out slow, monolithic doom metal throughout ‘I’, the first track. ‘II’ opens with solo bowed bass, playing its way through a lilting and sombre melody and is joined by a meandering guitar. The improvised interplay proceeds unhurried, with brushed drums joining after a while. At the halfway mark, the guitar delivers a slinking, descending riff that becomes the focal point moving forward as horns join and the volume increases.

Crucially, ‘II’ never explodes until its closing moments which serve as a prelude into the much louder ‘III’. Sliding tremolo picked riffs lead the way before giving way to trudging bass. The guitar picks up a riff and almost immediately puts it back down again. The bass pushes on on that one note, endlessly. ‘IV’ opens up the field again with a descending black metal section, tremolo’d guitar and smashing drums driving the band forward. Presently, the speed goes and the band is trudging forward in choked doom.

‘Old Earth’, lyrics and title taken from Beckett’s ‘Fizzle 6 (Old Earth)’ is the beginning of Ehnahre sounding like themselves. The metal and improv sections meld fantastically and are in many instances one and the same. The meeting of tracks and repetition of riffs gives the album the feeling of one cohesive whole, a composition in four parts.

Douve

Is stupefyingly brilliant. It marks two crucial additions to the band, Jared Redmond on piano and Richard Chowenhill on guitar. The album heavily invests its serialist and 12-tone influences from the off, with the acoustic guitar, double bass, piano and screamed vocals coming off like an Anton Webern composition. A double album, with its literary cues taken from Yves Bonnefoy’s ‘Douve’, this is Ehnahre at their absolute best and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest albums of all time.

On ‘Douve’, the band manages to strip away most of the metal influence that one could point at and say ‘Oh, this comes from x or y’. There are riffs and sections that are obviously death or doom influenced but more than anything else, they are very clearly the Ehnahre niche of these genres. The pull-and-push tension conjured by the power trio part of the band is immense and pervades all the heavy distorted sections of the album. This is due in a big part to the improvised aspect of the music. There are glorious moments when a riff will emerge from the chaos and lead the whole band forward. Examples of this include ‘At Last Absent From My Head’, ‘The Door Opens’ and ‘The March of Suns’.

Aside from the glorious riffs, much of the album is acoustic, with piano and double bass featuring heavily. There is Mongolian throat singing, pieces filled with droning, unadorned guitar. This is an album that covers huge ground without ever changing its aesthetic, a true masterpiece.

The Marrow

Has the unfortunate job, in my eyes, of following up ‘Douve’. Like ‘Old Earth’, ‘The Marrow’ seems to be a cohesive composition broken into four sections. The opener, ‘The Crow Speaks’, is a slow burn, twenty minutes of tension building. Fleet footed bass constantly edges, creating a constant, shifting figure rather than a melody. Guitar, electronics and cymbals join it in this exercise, a swelling and abating tension that constantly threatens to burst.

You are denied the chaos, however. ‘A Wandering Fire’ begins with foley-styled free improv that continues when the atmospherics join. Tentative, distorted guitar seesaws on a high pitched riff while bass and piano ripple back and forth underneath. In the second half of the piece gives us guitar and piano slammed chord backed by noise and samples. ‘Godhead’ is the pinnacle of the album, with much of track featuring a cycling, twisted guitar riff over the roiling rhythm section, punctuated by the piano and bass.

‘The Marrow’ closes out the album and possesses an echoing, horror movie-ambience, emphasised by Ryan McGuire’s tortured screams. With lyrics from ‘The Marrow’ by Theodore Roethke, ‘The Marrow’ is the closest thing Ehnare comes to ‘post-metal’. There is a rise in volume before the fall-off ambience of the closer and the lack of riff and beat throughout. Eschewing the serialist free improv and riffs of ‘Douve’, Ehnahre opted instead for atonality, density and tension.

The Scrape of a Keel

Is the sixth and most recent release by Ehnahre. It represents another shift in style, away from riffs and serialism of ‘Douve’ and the atonal longform of ‘The Marrow’. Based more in drone and ostinato, the guitar is the star of the show for much of the album. The album is five individual pieces and there is something of a focus on form. The opener, ‘Colossus’, opens with a blasting, blackened section before giving away to a doomier section with vocals. ‘The Birds Have Vanished’ follows this and is entirely piano led, contemporary classical-styled free improv.

‘I Gave Up Before Birth’, parts 1 and 2, are slow, doom metal pieces, made up of four or five riffs that slowly give way to and overlap one another. The music drones and circles over itself, trudging ever onward. This pair of tracks is followed by ‘It Is a Light That Goes Out in My Mouth’, a cleaner spacey track. Droning through echo and a fading in and out guitar riff, the track features a surprise in the vocoder vocals that join, though they don’t feel out of place.

‘The Scrape of a Keel’ is a guitar and drone focussed album that brings Ehnahre into yet more spaces while maintaining their identity. Spacier than previous efforts, it features lyrics courtesy of Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett and George Trakl.


For me, Ehnahre’s music is made up of three chapters. The first is from The Man Closing Up to Old Earth. Across this trio of albums, Ehnahre increasingly strips their music of distinct metal influences and attempts to bring together their free improv and contemporary classical side with their metal one, to glide seamlessly between them and also to marry them.

The second chapter is Douve, a towering inferno of serialism and riffs that is completely self indulgent and eighty minutes long. The band now has one guitar, one piano, one bassist and one percussionist and they complement each other perfectly.

The third chapter is the post-Douve chapter of The Marrow and The Scrape of a Keel. For me, this is Ehnahre trying to recover from the cataclysm of Douve. Pointless to replicate it, they have to invest themselves in other avenues.

I doubt this is how the band sees it but for me, a fan who lives far away from them, it is the unfolding of a great musical drama, the playing out of a career of a band that I hold to be one of the best metal bands ever and definitely my own personal favourite.

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