Oh wow, there's a lot going on Nesfârşite, a Romanian folk metal album from the bizarrely named E-an-na, from Sibiu which used to be the capital of the principality of Transylvania. If that sparks history, then I should add that the band's name stems from Eanna, a Sumerian temple in Uruk, which was the home of Inanna, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess, who became Ishtar to a later bunch of worshippers. That it also sounds like the sort of chant you might find in a folk ballad is probably not a coincidence.
For a couple of tracks, it's pretty consistent in a wildly diverse way. Viu runs a mere three minutes, but travels a heck of a lot of ground. It begins with crunchy djent riffs but death growls give way to flutes, which give way in turn to an accordion and suddenly we're in a Romanian village fair. Then, just to underline that this is metal, we leap into high gear in the form of the sort of drinking song you might expect from Korpiklaani. Then, halfway, we find a folk melody that's joined by a plucky bass and now we're in gypsy punk territory, not far from a Gogol Bordello sound. Viu means Alive in Romanian and it's a highly appropriate title for such a vibrant song.
If you like the schizophrenic mindset of Mr. Bungle but your tastes tend to downtuned metal and eastern European folk music, then E-an-na are your band because they keep this up on Aer. It isn't quite as outrageous but it does come close and it's twice as long to allow for other elements, like synths that show up halfway through and an interlude for piano and humming. The core here is pretty close to repetitive nu metal, which I wouldn't normally thrill to, but the sheer imagination that peppers that core with a variety of wild textures is a delight. You simply never know what you're going to hear next.
From there, it becomes a very schizophrenic album, with a couple of wildly different approaches. It's akin to tuning into two radio stations at once, one of them featuring wild, engaging music that you've never heard before and the other being the same old mainstream stuff that you try to avoid. It makes for an odd but fascinating listen.
The first of those two stations is really out there, not just exploring the folk sounds of Romania. Some tracks are instrumental, such as Fiecare gest al nostru, with its prominent violin, and a guest slot for Robert Cotoros from a gloriously named band called Hteththemeth. Others are vocal. Pielea is an oddly frenetic jazz song that made me wonder if I'd woken up with my head on the counter of a European café for lunatics. I adored it as a jaunty vocal piece with energetic stylings from Roxana Amarandi and I adored it as an intricate instrumental. This could be my favourite song of 2019.
The best songs here to me are from this side of the band's sound. Pânda is a great example, a little less jazzy than Pielea but just as folky and with an inexorable patient drive forward that feels cinematic. I'm not the first to conjure up an Emir Kusturica comparison here and that doesn't surprise me. In this mode, E-an-na are irresistible. The opening of Mashiara features a delightful vocal from Roxana Amarandi that had me grinning like a madman. It follows Pielea perfectly for a double bill that isn't going to get matched any time soon.
That other station that keeps creeping in, sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little, is a nu metal station that plays djent and metalcore. Epitaf, slated for release as a single, comes to life whenever the bagpipes show up but it otherwise combines many of my least favourite aspects of modern metal, like Korn playing djent on St. Patrick's Day. It's really not my thing.
On occasion, this notable contrast works. iO.tă could be seen as a sort of duet between the styles and it works reasonably well for the most part. More often, it jars, especially when the metalcore takes over. Early in Frica, a monotonous guitar repeats while Ioana Popescu explores a piano keyboard and it's engaging, but then the contrast vanishes and it's just palm muting and shouts. As Frica runs on, it gets interesting then boring, then interesting then boring. It's like sitting outside a couple of studios with doors open, the fascinating band on the left constantly getting drowned out by the band on the right. And I couldn't move my chair towards the accordion.
There's a lot here and the musicianship is very strong, as it has to be to put something like this together. Even Epitaf, which lost me completely, is done well and I see that it's some people's favourite song here. Different strokes, I guess. However, I tend to adore bands that mix up styles, taking diverse sounds and bringing them together to create something new. E-an-na really ought to be one of my favourite bands and, frankly, they still could be, if only they'd close that studio door on the right.