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Experiments in textures and abstraction - 90%

MutantClannfear, June 28th, 2013

While in the process of singling out all the albums in my collection that don't have reviews, for the purpose of giving them some for this challenge, I somehow managed to totally forget that Taming the Cannibals fits the criteria. It's weird, in my mind I'm always imagining this album as being a super-popular underground gem, like the next Antediluvian or something, but I think that's mostly a figment of my imagination. Well, phooey to that! This deserves a review and I'm going to give it one.

Taming the Cannibals is a very strange and unique album. Apparently Ehnahre feature members of Kayo Dot, who I'm not too familiar with, but they're cited quite frequently as an example of a "weird" metal band and this is definitely weird enough for me to believe that. To simplify this album's formula to a fault, it basically sounds like a sparser, noisier, and more textural version of Portal. The production isn't nearly as dense or massive as Portal's, which I suppose is fitting because Ehnahre capture an entirely different mood with their music. The band definitely aren't going for dense Lovecraftian horror here - if anything, Taming the Cannibals has the atmosphere of a traipse through an Escherian piece of architecture. The music is both extremely angular and droning at times, and spreads itself in impossible directions that sound like they're at risk to break at any moment merely because of how unstable they are.

Portal's particular breed of demented, dissonant riffing is definitely here, but Ehnahre have managed to somehow make it even more inhuman than it was on albums like Outre' and Swarth. Strictly dissonant, barely-held-together chords somehow mesh together long enough to form streams of horrendous, unnatural tremolo that buzzes through the sonic space like some sort of mechanical hive of cyborg hornets. While it's generally the tremolo riffs that you remember most about this album, they're not the meat of the music at all. Ehnahre also use an extremely diverse range of musical textures to an extent that is rarely ever seen outside of pure noise music: harsh, Khanate-like feedback spikes are constantly spreading out and corrupting the guitars, the ridiculously technical and nuanced drum performance - particularly on the snare - puts rhythmic emphasis where you'd least expect it, and a lot of the more minimalistic droning sections quite simply have no discernible rhythms at all, just complex chord structures that change notes at seemingly random intervals. There are more specialized examples that probably support my point better, like the extremely unnerving and fractured-sounding pick-scraping in "Foehn (Lullaby)", but I could spend three whole paragraphs trying to tell you about every single use of a one-time piece of texture on this album. Suffice to say, Ehnahre are an extremely adaptive band, and aren't afraid to throw little pieces of flair into their songs to suit the textural needs of the songs.

Ehnahre's vocals are a bit more grounded in convention, but only barely. They sound somewhat elderly, mentally disturbed, and unleashed, like a restrained old man in the corner of a padded room spewing throat-rending babble. They're surprisingly catchy: Ehnahre play off of the rhythmic complexity (or at times, lack of rhythm) extremely well, to the point where the vocals are actually pretty easy to just settle into. I'm not entirely sure if the style is what I would've chosen for this music, but they're executed well.

I think what I appreciate most about Taming the Cannibals is that the music doesn't lose any of its magic once you get past the sheer otherworldly atmosphere around it. As much as I love bands like Portal, I'll admit that my appreciation for them has changed since I first discovered them; I mean, I'm no longer a 14-year-old kid getting his pants absolutely blown off by "Abysmill", I've heard enough Portal songs and Portal clones to become somewhat familiar with the sound. Ehnahre have held up their original presentation surprisingly well, though. For one, I've listened to this album somewhere between 20 and 30 times and I'm still discovering odd bits of textural interplay that I had never noticed about it before. Aside from that, the songs are just really fucking good in a traditional sense of songwriting. The songs are long but incredibly focused on their endpoint, and are constantly moving towards it whether they're blasting, staggering, or not really "moving" at all. This is a flat-out great album, arguably a masterpiece, and if you have even the slightest interest in the avant-garde you definitely owe it to yourself to hear this.