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This album takes place on a beach. An endless, lifeless shore stretching out into each direction grey in grey, not too different in hue from the desolate cover art. The waterbody chewing into this beach is an equally colourless and still entity, with few things disturbing the equilibrium of its liquid, if any at all. It is and reflects, in the truest sense of the words, bleakness and utter hopelessness made flesh by OPTICAL input alone.
This scenery seems to be the album's ideal stage, the album's natural environment and finally the picture that the album should and most likely will conjure up in your head by AURAL input alone. In doing so, it's one damn nasty motherfucker.
Where to begin musically? Well, firstly, "The Man Closing Up" is best viewed as a homogenic whole. Although it's split up into five distinct parts, those "songs" largely flow into each other and feel more like different elements of a higher entity. This fact is not surprising, as they are not directly named and all advertised as being lyrically based on an eponymous work by a poet named Donald Justice. I can only assume that the band wrote the music with these texts in mind and not the other way round, that is, inserting the lyrics afterward because they seemed to fit. Overall, the album has quite a bit of an improvisational feel about it, so that presumption seems pretty likely. "The Man Closing Up" can be viewed as a concept album around the cryptic and unnerving poetry that provides the lyrics, divided into five "acts" each with sonic landscapes of varying diversity and slight mood changes yet united under an umbrella assembled by general sound and atmosphere.
So, the album is a continuous body. But what does this body look like after you're done running your fingers up and down its whole length?
The body in question in itself is an otherworldly thing, so otherwordly in fact, that things like "beautiful" or "hideous" don't really apply, but rather merge together in the aforementioned greyish nihilism. While maybe sounding pretentious and ultimately empty from a pure descriptive standpoint, it's a pretty accurate description of the album's sound. Sure, the atmosphere can definitely be called "dark", "sinister", "pessimistic" and all the things that necessarily come with the imagery described in the first paragraph. But in the end, the effect "The Man Closing Up" has on the listener can be pretty neutral to these polar values. Crudely put in terms of clichés, this release is not strictly "good/uplifting" or "evil/evil" sounding, but simply radiating an indifference to emotion like an ancient rock on said beach. And it is this primordial, cosmic indifference, that summons up the only response humans can have while facing such an uncaring and removed creature: Realizing the insignificance of their own values and goals and entering into a disillusioned hopelessness, which sets the album's theme of just being bleak as fuck.
As the first seconds of the album unfold, strangely and frantically timed drums introduce us to the world of Ehnahre, quickly followed by the vocals, whose approach can be neatly described as death-metal-like as the main vocal delivery on the album is somewhat oddly enough a gravely death growl, some of the few things contributing to the "death/doom" tag. (other than overall tempo) These growls are sometimes replaced by a more shrieking variety and occasionally also by clean vocals if the sonic surroundings demand it.
As the first song goes on, Ehnahre's soundscape unfolds: Eerily atonal noises made up by cleanly strummed guitar strings (I think) layered underneath the growls reciting the lyrics, then sudden changes in paces, hitting you as hard as the sudden panicked epiphany a loner in the beach world might have when he realizes that he is trapped there forever. Then, as his madness begins to seep in, again more deceptively tranquil phases with aimless guitar tremolo bar/fret/etc. noises and clean doomy melodies.
When the band floors the gas pedal, these changes are characterized by a merciless approach in all areas. Distorted guitars, spasming to and fro, energetic tortured shrieks, with the drums joining in on the chaotic carnage. This interplay can be said to continue throughout the album, and although I don't want to deny the different parts a bit of their own character and taste, it's, as I said, more of a continuous journey through the album as a whole. There are a few interesting idiosyncrasies nonetheless, like the pained tremolo-picked passage with its odd clean but equally pained vocals at the end of "Part II", the shredding part in "Part IV" and one thing that could very well be labeled an "outro": the incredibly haunting, wordless female singing passage at the very end of "Part V", finishing off the album on a note reflecting its vibe.
Lastly, it is crucial to note, that over all this looms something that defines Ehnahre even more (and also makes them pretty unique even in the avant-garde metal scene, I think). This aspect winds through "The Man Closing Up" like a golden thread and contributes greatly to the underlying unnerving character the album has. As with all my reviews I won't presume to talk about musicological facts and terms like I knew the first thing about them, but I can try to bring a bit of my fragmented knowledge along for the ride to drive my point home.
Ehnahre use a very arhythmic and atonal style throughout the album, a style often managing to keep you on your toes even when things slow down noticeably. The band utilized -quote- combinatorial 12-tone music -unquote- as the basis for this release and then ventured on from there into -quote- other regions of atonality -unquote-.
What does this exactly mean in terms of listening experience and effect on the song structuring? As mentioned, it produces music that is both very heterogenic and untraditional in rhythm and chromatic/disharmonic in tonal interaction, speaking drum-, guitar- and bass-wise. This has the effect of reinforcing (or even being the starting point of) the bleak, restless, menacing and chaotic mood of the album. Nevertheless, there is of course order in this entropy: themes, motifs or whatever recognizable form crystallizing out of the controlled tempest the music provides. But don't let this fact fool you; this piece of art is not meant to be a formulaic race on a closed track, but rather an eclectic journey from point A to point B. The album, while being one of the most demanding and hard-to-stomach pieces of music I know, is also one of those that succeed the most in turning out to be a worthwhile and accessable listen after a few spins. For me, the first time I played the album it practically flattened me, due to its surprising unconventionality and avalanch of sound. With the passing of time it still very much flattened me, but this time due to how well this very avalanch flowed down along my mental hillside and hit certain anticipated spots. A simple rule of thumb holding true for many good records also applies here: With growing familiarity comes growing enjoyment.
In summary, this album works. If you have recurring periods of pissed-off-ness or more nihilistic moods that require the proper soundtrack, if you're also enjoy listening to music with the dominant and defining quality being texture as opposed to taste, if you're generally into nasty, demanding, contrasting, diverse, unusual, dark and doomy music, then -by all means- dare to set foot on this eternally ravaged and yet eternally indifferent shore and give "The Man Closing Up" a try. I for myself can't wait for Ehnahre's next output.