Enter The Haggis – Gutter Anthems (Music Review)

Gutter Anthems cover

Enter The Haggis - Gutter Anthems

Perhaps it was unfair of me to introduce myself to Enter The Haggis at the same time that I was listening to the Dropkick Murphys’ latest album. Though the band isn’t bad, there is a reason that they have such a small fanbase compared to the Murphys. On the other hand, it might be unfair to make that comparison at all: They may both be American bands with Irish influences, but while the Dropkick Murphys combined that with blue-collar punk, Enter The Haggis dabbles in more straightforward pop.

That’s not to say that the Irish-punk movement has passed by the band completely. Gutter Anthem’s first song (after the instrumental opener) is a hard-rocking ode to alcohol and overindulgence. But, while it’s a good song, it just doesn’t sound natural coming from lead singer Brian Buchanan. His declaration that “we’ll sing a gutter anthem till the day we die!” sounds less like honest self-destruction and more like the stubborn partying of a fresh-faced student who knows that once the hangover subsides, he’ll need to start studying for those finals. The band sounds much more natural singing earnest pop songs about the importance of raising children right (“DNA”) or the way people need to face up to their responsibilities (“Real Life/Alibis”).

That’s not to say that any of the songs are bad. In fact, most of them are well-written. It’s just that the more rocking tracks sound like play-acting (The liner notes for “Noseworthy and Piercy” actually take the time to inform us that 19th-century fishermen had dangerous lives, in case anyone doesn’t understand that from the song), and the poppier ones feel somewhat mundane. The band deserves a small, devoted following, probably near a college somewhere, but it’s only the popularity of Irish fusion that has brought them to national attention. (Also, those aforementioned liner notes do help. Not all of them are necessary, but when they explain inside jokes or tie into the songwriter’s life, I’m sure it helps to turn casual listeners into fans.)

Gutter Anthems also features three instrumentals that testify to the band’s composition and performance skills. Two of them are too short to work as more than glue for the album, but “Murphy’s Ashes” shows how interesting Enter The Haggis can be. Adapting a band-member’s industrial experiment into a legitimate-sounding Irish instrumental was a bold and tricky move, but it turns out that the bagpipes make an effective replacement for synthesizers. It shows that while the band may need some more time to figure out what kind of music they do best, they definitely have the skill to write interesting songs if they figure that out.

Grade: C+

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