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Believe it or not, a strain of avant-garde experimental improvised jazz has always existed together with death metal and grindcore, at least since John Zorn and Bill Laswell teamed up with Mick Harris to form Pain Killer way back when in the early 1990s. It was a short-lived project but other bands took up the challenge of playing and extending the scope of experimental improv jazz / death metal / grind. In the past decade it seems an underground scene around jazz improv and death metal has grown up in Boston.
"The Man Closing Up" is Boston-based band Ehnahre's debut album and first major recording. The album divides into five parts which may represent five movements of one work. "Part I" is a full-on brutal attack of fast and heavy rhythm grind and deep guttural vocals reminiscent of Japanese doom band Corrupted. The song has an unusual structure that stops, starts and stutters, mixing up its rhythms and strangling the guitar's flow. The texture is very gravelly. Surprisingly though the rhythm, all over the shop it may be, allows plenty of space for more peaceful tones and effects to pass through. "Part II" seems a more relaxed piece with a slower, more doomy rhythm though the vocals can be tortured and anguished. Pauses between slashing chords give a more epic feel to the song. As it continues, the song becomes more stupendous and bombastic with an operatic pure-toned vocal and doomy riffing.
"Part III" starts as a faster melodic beast with a lot of lead guitar twiddle solos over a rhythm that jumps around constantly; it then changes its mind about the 2nd minute and transforms into a sludge doom monster heavily laden with crushing guitar chords and squiggly horn melodies in the background for good measure. Much of the rest of the track is spent in this way, luxuriating in heavy plunging drones of abrasive texture around which snippets of other instruments wind and slip. More doom-burdened riffs of a near-sludgey hardcore sort follow in "Part IV": what's different about the track though is the series of feeble stringy noises surviving through the riffs on an IV drip. The track becomes more fragmented as it progresses and quieter, more modest instruments come to the fore. The music suddenly resuscitates about the 10th minute with a vengeance: frantic drumming and guitaring drive the vocalist's urgent, panicked lyrics and hysterical bubble lead guitar careens everywhere looking for an exit. Then the track fragments again. Bringing up the rear, "Part V" hurriedly packs in all the death metal that should have been present in some of the middle tracks. Trumpets and other horns add to and end up dominating the general hell that breaks out here but it all has the feel of being an afterthought. After a climax dense with guitar noise storm, a choir of women singers lament the music's passing.
So far there's been a lot of epic doom metal with fairly conventional death metal singing mixed with pure-toned voices in a couple of tracks. There's plenty of death metal on the first and last parts of the work. What is missing though is a real go-for-broke, risk-taking attitude with the style of music and its mood. There seems to be just one mood across the album and it's one we're all familiar with (an angry existential angst kind of mood) as metal aficionados. While there's plenty of improvisation here, it does rely a lot on the maintenance of a regular rhythm and drum-beat, and so the music tends to feel earth-bound, not soaring high as it should in parts.
The album does feel uneven with the death metal parts pushed to both ends and the middle tracks dominated by a slower, more doomy style of music. Not much scope here for more delirious experimental jazz to make itself felt and heard, and for a more varied range of moods and atmospheres other than a bleak and despairing attitude to permeate the music