Two weeks ago, it became clear that Kenoma's members were separated by more than just 75 miles of interstate highway.

Two weeks ago, it became clear that Kenoma's members were separated by more than just 75 miles of interstate highway.

The instrumental metal masterminds, whose sound bridged low, slow doom metal and Mogwai-style post-rock, couldn't bridge the gap in priorities between the band's Dayton and Columbus contingents.

The guys down I-70 wanted to invest in personal pursuits that conflict with being in a band. The dudes here in town just wanted to rock.

So Kenoma amicably went on hiatus, and its Columbus component - guitarist Garrett LoConti and drummer Aaron O'Brien-Eichman - started a new project tentatively titled Before the Eyewall.

This all happened just a few days before Kenoma was scheduled to play Circus last Tuesday with a fleet of likeminded heavy-hitters from out of town. So LoConti and O'Brien-Eichman scrambled to put together a set and debuted their duo in Kenoma's stead, taking the stage rather early for a Circus show at about 9:40 p.m.

Ironically, I had been planning to finally check out Kenoma at that show, but I was treated to something quite different by the band's remaining players.

Rather than thick, monolithic dirges, the pair performed stripped-down riff rock that varied in tempo and timbre. Despite the reduced girth, this music sacrificed little of the previous band's epic scope.

They plan to find a bass player soon, but there were moments last Tuesday when it barely seemed like they needed one.

It wasn't as punishing as Big Business or as virtuosic as Hella, but this music surged and wailed like a grand symphony of stalled automobiles, with liquid low-end sputters giving way to screeching high-register blasts. A laptop and some sort of MIDI controller provided slight atmospherics to fill in the cracks and deliver eerie, minimal interludes.

Other times, when Before the Eyewall played it straight, the need for more low end was more apparent. LoConti's naked high-end riffage yielded lots of sonic drama at first, especially when complemented by occasional plunges into the gnarly depths of detuned power chords.

It's tough to keep up such startling dynamics with just two musicians, though, and as the 30-minute set rolled on, adding another element to the mix seemed mighty enticing. Bassists, you know who to call.

The pair wrapped up their debut performance by descending into a sound collage that found O'Brien-Eichman leaving his kit to man the MIDI keyboard.

Awash in ethereal guitar and keyboard chords, the duo shepherded its performance out like a dragon soothing its offspring to sleep after a rigorous day of fire-breathing destruction. It wasn't as climactic as I hoped, but the dreamlike outro was a needed wrinkle in a set that was beginning to flatline at the end.

Not bad for their first time out.