Haggis may be tough to eat, but it’s fascinating to listen to.
That is if you’re referring to the ensemble of Trevor Lewington, Brian Buchanan, Craig Downie, Mark Abraham and Bruce McCarthy known as Enter the Haggis (ETH), the Toronto-based indie band who in some ways are Canada’s more sophisticated answer to Boston’s Dropkick Murphys. Like the Murphys they’ll spend Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, close by, but instead of packing the House of Blues they’ll play a more intimate show at The Center for the Arts in Natick (TCAN). The event is part of ETH’s “Modest Revolution” tour which leads up to the release of their latest album of the same name March 30.
And they picked that date for a reason. All of the tracks on “Modest Revolution” were inspired by the 3/30/2012 issue of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper and each of its songs has its roots in a specific story or headline. The album is also notable because it is self-financed. The band used online crowd-funding website Kickstarter to get fans to donate money for their project. ETH returned the favor by offering gifts ranging from T-shirts to a chance for fans to play or sing on the album. The marketing strategy worked and the band exceeded their initial $20,000 goal in less than 12 hours. After three months the budget for “Modest Revolution” was over $65,000.
Here they are rehearsing one of the cuts:
Like the Scottish delicacy that gives the band its name, Enter the Haggis’s discography is a complex mixture. It is an intersection of meaningful stories with the world’s musical traditions. Based on the singles posted on their Soundcloud page this latest album is no different. The first track entitled “Year of the Rat” starts off as an acoustic tune with a basic vocal part but evolves rapidly into a cinematic soundtrack with the addition of cello, Uillean Pipes and drums. It maintains triple meter throughout even when an electric guitar and bass replace the acoustic guitar about halfway through the song, two traditional rock instruments the band wanted to include more of in this album. The pipes return before the song wraps up, providing the same haunting motif James Horner used in his score for “Titanic.”
The second track, “You Can’t Trust the News,” is based on a short article about a 65-year old woman who escaped some difficult events in her life by climbing the tallest mountains on every continent. The song is both lyrically and musically uplifting with verses like “When the sunshine was brighter the laughing was lighter” sung over major chords. It would be dull if not for the inclusion of a trumpet accompaniment and solo performed by Downie that mixes up an otherwise repetitive structure. This moves into “Down the Line”, a rockabilly tune broken up with harder rock sections featuring wailing harmonica. The song keeps with the electric-instruments theme ETH was going for and provides a nice juxtaposition of smooth and distorted guitar licks. It’s also a sharp contrast to the last of the “Modest Revolution” Soundcloud tracks, “Balto”. Here the band returns to Celtic instrumentals and rhythms utilizing everything from bagpipes to the unique sound of Buchanan’s fiddle modulated through an effects pedal.
While their musicianship and performance skills are strong, Enter the Haggis can occasionally disappoint lyrically. Their choruses include lines like “trust your heart, it will swallow the dark” and “but it’s all or nothing and it’s gone” that are sometimes too basic for the deep subject matter and rich sound they are supposed to support. But considering their Celtic-punk cousins from Massachusetts can get away with chanting “the boys are back” over and over again, it may not be so bad. At least there’s an alternative to the rough-and-tumble Dropkicks on St. Paddy’s Day, even if isn’t home-grown in Boston.
Here's a full taste of one of their songs:
Dustin Wlodkowski is a sophomore journalism student atEmerson College and Assistant News Director for WEBN TV Boston. Follow him on Twitter @WEBNtvDUSTIN.
This program aired on March 14, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.