If you wondered why there was so little heavy metal on the last Kayo Dot album, Blue Lambency Downward (2008), here’s your answer: Four-fifths of Ehnahre absconded with it when they quit Kayo Dot at the same time in 2006. Ehnahre’s debut album, The Man Closing Up, sounds like a two-tone negative image of Kayo Dot’s colorful indulgence. It uses similar taffylike rhythmic change-ups, orchestral/improvisational touches and serialist approach toward composition, but where 80 percent of Ehnahre’s former employer used the dark stuff as just one wrench in its toolbox, The Man Closing Up breathes death-metal fire the whole way through.
Based on the works of American poet Donald Justice, with texts and music interlinked in ways that only Ehnahre will fully understand, The Man Closing Up is essentially a five-part classical tone poem writ brutal. There’s enough formal integrity here to impress the theory obsessives in the metal community that care to pull back the album’s rotting layers to reveal its internal structure. More crucial is that for all of its high-mindedness, The Man Closing Up is a beastly metal record, as primeval in its evolving, three-guitar gut-churn as it is inscrutable in its construction.
The Man Closing Up collapses endless dissonant riff shards and cyclical blastbeat patterns into its own unpredictable language, somewhat redolent of long-disbanded Finnish wackos Demilich (guitarist Andrew Hock once played in Demilich-worshiping Biolich). Piles of soul-gashing chords intersplice with momentum-cannibalizing free-form scrapes in seeming random order during “Part I,” and “Part II” goes even deeper into its own cloistered world — you won’t hear this kind of fucked-up mood music outside of Portal, and Portal never invited Jonah Jenkins from Only Living Witness to sing “He would even try stones if they were offered/ But he has no hunger for stones” in clean-toned duet with two improvising trumpeters and a doom-metal quintet.
As it turns out, Schoenbergian atonality goes together with death metal like flies and bad meat. Ehnahre’s unfailing dissonance and inherent instability become addictive by album’s end, in the same way that the best horror flicks keep us watching — Ehnahre are masters of creeping tension, the kind that might linger and disappear in its own ether or suddenly ignite (or both, as in “Part IV”). It’s rare for a metal band to possess a vision this wide-ranging without compromising its pitch-black core. The Man Closing Up may prove too demanding to inspire many followers, but that’s metal’s problem, not Ehnahre’s. This is way beyond state-of-the-art.