Close your eyes. As you stare at the blank black walls on the back of your eyelids, open your ears. Listen as the faint reverb of guitars melds into a dark, surging melody driven by Matt Breen’s aching wail on the first track of Louisville, KY’s Emanuel’s new record Black Earth Tiger. Follow the band through the dankest, most dangerous corners of a sonic landscape they’ve eschewed familiar territory for. Watch as the songs begin to play on the shaded screens of your eyelids. This is not the Emanuel you thought you knew.
Written over the course of nearly a year, Black Earth Tiger is a response to the culture shock the members of Emanuel experienced when they returned home after three years of almost constant touring on their raucous debut Soundtrack to a Headrush. Burnt out on the road and in danger of becoming already jaded in their early ‘20s, Emanuel, which formed in 1998 while still in high school, holed up in their practice space after “returning home to a town we didn’t feel was our home anymore” and set to crafting a follow-up to Soundtrack. But unlike their debut, which was largely penned in Breen’s grandmother’s basement with no real experience under their belts, Tiger is the result of a constant process of vision and revision from a band that has learned more than a few things over the past couple years.
After the 11 tracks that ended up on Tiger had experienced multiple mutations, Emanuel went into a studio in Seattle with producer Terry Date, the man responsible for albums by Pantera, Screaming Trees, and dredg. It was with Date’s guidance that Emanuel nailed the ‘90s rock vibe, which Breen eclectically describes as “somewhere in between Alice In Chains and Sunny Day Real Estate,” they were aiming for. Influenced by revered bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Quicksand, Emanuel created what most bands can only hope for- an album that retains the best elements of their style and sound while rapidly expanding in new directions.
“We were nothing when we wrote Soundtrack, but when we wrote Black Earth Tiger it was like ‘Well, let’s see what we can do. Let’s do something different this time now that we have a wider audience,’” Breen says. “I think the new record really broadens our sound without compromising our integrity. We made a catchy record, but most importantly we made a deep rock record, which was what we wanted to do.”
The record, the title of which literally comes from a tarantula that lives underground in Asia, but is open to interpretation based on Breen’s heavy-hitting, apocalyptic lyrics, heaves and throbs with revived passion and emotion. “Anathamatics” immediately slams into you with driving, metallic guitars that dip in and out of Breen’s alternating howls and callous yelps, somehow successfully making even the coarsest moments resound with catchiness. The creeping “Cottonmouth” explores Breen’s overarching themes of the end of the world and subsequent surrender through propulsive rhythms and a soaring vocal melody.
“Self annihilation is one of the biggest themes of the record,” Breen explains. “I guess making the record was the first time I really realized ‘You’re not the end all, and you’ve got to stop seeing what you want to see.’ Black Earth Tiger is all about endings, but every end is the start of something new, and that’s what this record is – our baptism.”