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Sunday, January 9, 2022

N + Ehnahre - Jacob (Glossolalia, 2021)

By William Rossi

Putting the underground aside, which has never stopped delivering quality bands and new and exciting artists, over the past couple of decades or so metal especially and rock in general had been stagnating a little. The same thing happened to jazz when it became toothless elevator music but its artistic merit was always carried forward by the free and avant-garde jazz scene. With the rise of nu-jazz and the more overtly political artists jazz has made a comeback of sorts, its free jazz scene flourishing like never before, and I feel that metal and rock have been following suit, often hand in hand with jazz itself. From the wonderful collaborations between Keiji Haino and Sumac to Chaos Echoes and Mats Gustafsson or MoE and Mette Rasmussen, just to name a few, it seems that those looking ahead in both genres are on the same page and more than willing to collaborate to create something new.

This brings us to Jacob, the collaboration between the criminally underrated and overlooked Ehnahre (already a band prone to improvisation and experimentation) and Hellmut Neidhardt's prolific drone alter ego N. It's a dark and monolithic album, meant to be listened to in one sitting, that despite its cohesiveness treats the listener to many different moods and atmospheres.

Dusty drones by N flow around Jared Redmond's fragile and sour piano chords before being swallowed by cathartic explosions of extremely distorted guitars and bass complemented by drummer Joshua Carro's virtuoso playing, showcasing the band's ability to create a chaotic, heavy and massive sound. Ryan McGuire's vocals always fit the mood perfectly: from the sickly, whispered spoken word that accompanies the dialogue between N's organ-like drone and Redmond's jagged piano improvisations on "Regions of a Great Heresy" to the animalistic screams on the emotional peaks of "An Exiled King" and "The Cockroach''. All three songs on the release revolve around this formula of alternating relentless heaviness and ominous quiet.

The album wouldn't be the same without the dissonant improvisations by guitarist Richard Chowenhill, who really takes advantage of the polyphonic quality of his instrument to create something that sounds more akin to Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho than a guitar solo. The bass playing is also very impressive, often carrying the songs both melodically and rhythmically in lockstep with the drums. Neidhardt's drones and Redmond's piano are often in the background but they're ever-present and are instrumental in tying the songs together and allowing the album not to sound one-dimensional. Considering how purposeful every sound on this release is, to think that the music is improvised makes things even more impressive.

Trying to describe any of the three songs in detail would be futile as there are so many different layers and different things going on at once that attempting to unravel their intricacies would lessen their impact. I recommend everyone reading just dive into these songs and let their darkness cradle you. I feel this album is the perfect representation of a great collaboration: everyone serves the music first and foremost, no-one is the protagonist but everyone is key and is given their moment to shine. A fantastic and expertly crafted offering all-around, this is the kind of music that I, as both a metal and free improvisation fan, hope to see more of soon, especially if the music is of such high quality.

For the analog fetishists among us the vinyl is sadly sold out but Glossolalia Records was kind enough to offer the digital version this ugly, dark and wonderful work of art for free on their bandcamp page.

Highly recommended.


Nick Ostrum said...

Interesting review about a very compelling release. Thanks for covering it, William! I am not sure how I ever would have discovered it otherwise.