Sounds Heard: Ehnahre—Old Earth

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Old Earth
by Ehnahre
(Crucial Blast)
Performers:
Ryan McGuire (bass)
John Carchia (guitars)
Ricardo Donoso (percussion and electronics)

Arnold Schoenberg famously preached the liberation of dissonance, but left implicit the symmetric relation in that statement: that dissonance can, in and of itself, be pretty liberating. Ehnahre, the Boston-based experimental metal group, has a knack for dissonance, amplified into bone-crushing clouts of familiar overdrive distortion. But the real, dark fun of Old Earth (Crucial Blast) is the way the music, fueled by dissonance, constantly slips free of such genre expectations.

For the group’s third full-length album, Ryan McGuire (bass), John Carchia (guitars), and Ricardo Donoso (percussion and electronics) stretch out in full experimental sweep; laid out as a continuous, four-part track, Old Earth covers a lot of ground. (The album represents something of a swan song for the group, at least this iteration of it: Donoso has moved on to focus more on electronic music; McGuire and Carchia, having recruited three more musicians (Brandon Terzakis, Rich Chowenhill, and Jared Redmond), are about to start touring with the new lineup.)

Schoenberg is a particular and acknowledged inspiration for Ehnahre; 12-note techniques lie at the heart of much of their material. Serialism has been hanging around the edges of various heavy metal subgenres for a while, especially technical metal, with its pursuit of ever-increasing noise and virtuosity. But Ehnahre goes further, borrowing not just the theory, but something of the aesthetic as well: a thoroughly expressionist fascination with death and decay, aiming for nothing so much as the venerable sensation of the uncanny, the intersection of terror and clarity. The group has a poetic streak, too—their previous album, Taming the Cannibals, found lyrical inspiration in such writers as Whitman, Jeffers, and Trakl. Old Earth turns to none other than Samuel Beckett, adapting his “Fizzle 6.” Not that it’s entirely intelligible translated into a full, guttural doom-metal howl—but the mood translates surprisingly well, precise but fugitive glimpses of nature’s brutal indifference.

There’s metal to be had, of course—the third part, in particular, is a crunching, asymmetrical pummeling to be reckoned with. But much of the album unfolds in heavy, slow-moving clouds of sound. A long, musique concrète-tinged prelude; dark chimes from Carchia’s guitar; a moody arco double-bass solo from McGuire—at times, Old Earth feels more like a free-jazz album, albeit one with all the knobs turned to ten. The group draws forth the extreme quality of metal but also pushes it in different directions: extreme restiveness, but also extreme stasis, extreme haziness. Switching between shadowy warmth and carpet-bomb assault, Old Earth envelops the ear in harsh and gleeful hair-trigger possibilities.

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