Ehnhahre’s 2010 album Taming The Cannibals is one of the most willfully abstract Hardcore/Metal albums I’ve ever heard, one of those records that seems to put so much effort into being awkward and unorthodox that at time they seem to have neglected anything else.  Two years on, Old Earth seems to have pulled off the trick of being both more and less weird than its predecessor.  Clearly, this is going to require some explanation.

Their basic sound is a mix of dirty, filth-encrusted Goatsblood style Sludge and an abstract, “progressive” Death Metal similar to Obscura-era Gorguts, but over the course of Old Earth’s four long tracks they bend, twist and chop this style into some fairly obscure and unrecognizable shapes.  Unlike Taming The Cannibal’s more orthodox album structure, Old Earth is a single long piece divided into four tracks (I really want to say “movements”, but then I’d have to kill myself) which link into each other.  The album begins and ends with a fog of audio samples and ambient noises which creates a pleasingly disconnected feel to the music in between.  “Disconnected” is a good word, in fact – there’s a real sense of dislocation here, as though riffs and beats have been broken down and reassembled in an order that defies you to make sense of it.

So far I’ve made it sound like weirdness for its own sake, and that’s not a totally unfair description, but Old Earth also flows a lot more coherently than Taming The Cannibals.  It makes more sense as a whole than you’d expect from the sum of its parts, and tracks 3 and 4 in particular carry pounding momentum that at times hides just how obscure the music is.  It sometimes works against them – at times it fades into the background far more easily than you’d expect from music this abstract.  The first two tracks are more difficult, with the first one slowly and carefully building up a Sludge/Death momentum that seems about to break when they stop it in its tracks and turn track 2 into a sinister slow-build of strings and keys that takes roughly ten minutes to get back to where they were, but builds up the atmosphere quite well.

As the last paragraph makes it clear, this is fairly difficult music to describe, and it captures the atmosphere of oddness and abstraction that the band are clearly aiming for well.  It’s music that clearly very keen to be thought of as Art Metal, and it’s certainly easy to get pretentious about the music on Old Earth, talking about the dream-like quality of the songwriting or the broken way the album flows and jumps across its four tracks.  This is also the source of one of the album’s biggest problems, though – like a lot of music which is self-consciously “arty”, it’s not always clear how much actual depth Old Earth possesses beyond its weirdness.  It sometimes seems so abstract that there’s little room for actual emotional response – as though its describing nothing other than its own weirdness.  Compared with Portal (who they don’t really sound like, but are similar in the extent to which they deconstruct their chosen genre), the music on Old Earth sometimes seems quite superficial, a dense and writhing framework of abstraction covering not very much.  Conversely, the album is surprisingly short and to the point for its style, and lends itself well to replaying.  I’ve listened to it rather a lot over the last week, and each time I’ve enjoyed it but come away not feeling entirely satisfied.

A challenging and distinctive album, then, and one that’s recommended for people who enjoy the more abstract and out-there flavours of Death Metal or Sludge – but don’t be surprised if, once the novelty of their playing and song-writing has worn off, what’s underneath leaves you a little cold. [7/10 – RICHARD THE INFERNAL OVERLORD]