Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pyrrhon - The Mother of Virtues

By Justin C. All musical taste is inherently subjective, but sometimes I wonder why I pass over some particularly bizarre pieces of metal and not others. I'll be straight with you--I couldn't really get into Pyrrhon's last album, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, in spite of its awesome title and artwork.
By Justin C.

Cover art by Caroline Harrison.

All musical taste is inherently subjective, but sometimes I wonder why I pass over some particularly bizarre pieces of metal and not others. I'll be straight with you--I couldn't really get into Pyrrhon's last album, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, in spite of its awesome title and artwork. It just didn't click with me, but it's not like I can say it was too inaccessible. After all, I really like Portal, and I don't think there's any quantifiable measure by which Portal is easier to get into than Pyrrhon. So when Max approached me to write about Pyrrhon's latest, The Mother of Virtues, I almost passed. I didn't think there would be anything for me there. On the other hand, I pride myself on being open-minded about all things music, so I decided I needed to give the album at least one fair listen. A couple of hours later, after the third time through the album, I knew I would write about this, even though I had no idea what I'd write.

Photos by Caroline Harrison.

I've seen Pyrrhon called technical death metal a lot, but at least in the case of The Mother of Virtues, I think that's pretty far off the mark, especially given the kind of sound that phrase usually conjures up. This isn't a tightly focused blast of hyperspeed guitar riffs and turn-on-a-dime musical structures. There is technicality here, but there's also EVERYTHING else here. Calling this technical death metal is like calling Faith No More "rock." It's not wrong, per se, but it's completely inadequate. I used Faith No More in that analogy for good reason, because it's a comparison that I keep coming back to. This is in part because some of Doug Moore's snarlings sound like like amped-up versions of some of Mike Patton's characters, like the sleazy, menacing narrator of "Crack Hitler" from Angel Dust. But I think the comparison is apt in a wider sense, in that there's a huge genre mash up happening in both bands, mixing up rock, metal, jazz, funk, and plenty more. They're not really sound-alikes by any means, but if you got Faith No More together, pumped them full of stimulants, and had them record a new album, The Mother of Virtues might be the result. Like FNM, Pyrrhon makes mashing up different styles seem easy.

Photos by Caroline Harrison.

The second track of the album, "White Flag", is kind of a microcosm of the whole album. It starts out with slow, creeping doom and a low, drawn-out, "Yeeahhhh....," but it's not long before the vocals turn into a vicious blackened assault over a lurching, death-y riff. That's certainly not the end of the variety in riffs, either, since we also get some delightfully Gorguts-ian math freak outs. The madness is punctuated throughout the song's length with creepy, dissonant psychedelic interludes that I refuse to call ambient, on the grounds that there's nothing gentle or backgroud-music-y about them. I prefer to call these parts "creep-bient." And that's not even getting into the genuinely lovely melodies that rise to the surface. The icing on this insanity cake are the very well-written, rage-filled lyrics, like, "But our acid abstentions / Will dissolve the limestone beneath us / And when the sinkhole opens up / We won’t deserve to be pulled out."

Not only is this a mesmerizing stand-alone work, but it's making me go back and re-evaluate their back catalog. Given the amount of music I go through, it takes quite a musical statement to make me do that. If you're a big dummy like me and passed on this one when it came out, take a second (or third, or fourth) listen.


Tagged with Caroline Harrison, death metal, Justin C, Pyrrhon, Relapse Records, technical death metal
3 comments:
  1. normally I see technical death metal from New York and think Suffocation clone and turn the channel. This is more like a typical messed up kitchen sink Relapse band.

    Not really my cup of tea though. But calling it technical death metal is waaaay off base :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah. I tagged it technical death metal because Metal Archives says so, and for better or worse, I use them as genre-pedia. Avant garde death metal is probably less imprecise...

      Delete
    2. I remember seeing an interview with Iggy Pop, and he was talking about how late-period John Coltrane was (paraphrasing) something that "took a long time to get close to." I think that Pyrrhon is that kind of band.

      Delete