I’ve wanted to do a feature on Enter the Haggis (ETH) for quite some time, but other timelier blog ideas popped up and kept me from following through on that promise until now. My love of artists that fuse multiple musical styles and genres is well-documented, and this band definitely falls into that category. In fact, their name invokes a food, haggis, that is an amalgamation of ingredients that don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. And that’s kind of how ETH operates.
They were formed in 1996 in Toronto, Canada, and released two studio albums before attracting wider audiences with their 2004 album Casualties of Retail and their 2006 album Soapbox Heroes. Despite forming in Canada, their music had a more Celtic rock feel to it in the beginning, as demonstrated by this instrumental, “Lancaster Gate.” Listen also for the syncopated rhythms from then-drummer James Campbell.
But there’s more to ETH than just the Celtic rock shtick. They also incorporate elements of folk and roots music into their songs, as prominently demonstrated in “One Last Drink,” which is probably their most well-known song:
ETH incorporates a whole smorgasbord of instruments into their songs as well, including the glockenspiel, tin whistle, octave mandolin, bagpipes, harmonica, sax, tambourine, and many more. Two of my favorite examples of their varied instrumentation occur on their 2009 album Gutter Anthems. The first is “Cameos,” which shifts between many of the different instruments.
The second is the rousing “Litter and the Leaves,” in which the bagpipes form the main riff:
In their more recent work, Enter the Haggis has strayed a bit from the Celtic sound and have embraced a more mainstream rock sound. Their 2011 album Whitelake features more acoustic guitar than before, and a less frenetic tempo than some of their earlier work. That doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned their other instruments, though. The banjo and fiddle make an appearance on “Devil’s Son,” a song that is much more bluegrass-influenced than anything they’ve done in the past.
Recent projects include 2013’s The Modest Revolution, in which the delved into lyrical innovations rather than instrumental ones. The band took the March 30, 2012 issue of the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail and wrote an entire album of songs inspired by stories they found in that randomly chosen issue. They even ordered 1,500 copies of the paper and mailed them to the first fans to buy the album. Lead vocalist Brian Buchanan talked about what it meant to focus so intensely on one day in history: “You start to see all of the little things that are so inspiring. Everything from the front page through to the personal stories that fill the obituaries, you realize there are so many stories going on every day. There’s so much more than the talking heads on television or the headlines themselves.” Predictably, the songs on this album run the gamut of topics, such as “Can’t Trust the News,” which is about a 65-year old woman’s quest to climb the highest peaks on each continent to distract herself from recent traumatic events in her life, and “Copper Leaves,” which is the lead singer’s lament on the growing irrelevance of the penny.
Presently, ETH is working on a new album that they are crowd-funding through PledgeMusic, with another interesting concept behind it. They are asking fans to submit their “craziest and most amazing true stories” to base the songs on. So it’s something of a similar idea to The Modest Revolution, but instead the stories will be more personal and likely more interesting. Like their music, ETH’s fans are quite varied in age, occupation, hometown, and such, so it will be interesting to see the songs that arise out of the stories people submit. In short, Enter the Haggis is one of those bands that frequently flies under the radar of contemporary music, but they’re definitely worth checking out. While their style isn’t for everyone, I think it does have wide-ranging appeal.