August 10, 2017

Pyrrhon - What Passes for Survival

By justin C. My relationship with Pyrrhon has been an on-again-off-again one. I really enjoyed Mother of Virtues, but in spite of the excitement around it, I had a very hard time finding my way in to the Growth Without End EP
By Justin C.

Artwork by Caroline Harrison.

My relationship with Pyrrhon has been an on-again-off-again one. I really enjoyed Mother of Virtues, but in spite of the excitement around it, I had a very hard time finding my way in to the Growth Without End EP. Nothing Pyrrhon does could be considered easily approachable, but for whatever reason, the full-length Mother of Virtues drew me in and the EP didn't.**

I didn't expect to be reviewing their new full length, What Passes for Survival, but here I am. "Tennessee" was the track that caught my attention, a track that starts out with a doomy, bass-driven feel and a glumly melodic riff that comes in and out of focus as dissonance intrudes. In typical Pyrrhon style, the track doesn't really stay in that place, but those flashes of dark beauty among the chaos was enough to draw me in.

That's not to say that Survival is an easy listen or falls into an easy categorization. Call it avant garde death metal, although summing it up as "death metal" is like summing up a Category 5 hurricane as a "rainstorm." As with previous work, Doug Moore is the frontman who does ALL THE VOCAL THINGS. Screeches, shouts, super-low gutturals, you name it. He plays "bad cop vs. worse cop" in the album opener, finishing the track off with the repeated refrain of "Make me what I am / Make me the servant I was meant to be." The instrumental part of the music matches Moore's intensity. Every kind of slashing, stabbing, bruising riff is represented here, and the bass tag-teams with both guitar and drums to great effect. I found myself scribbling down descriptions like "frantically rolling bass," "insect swarm riff," and occasionally "!?@#&!?!?@!"

What really hooked me are the repeated motifs and brief bits of melodicism, sometimes struggling to break through to the surface. The 12-minute mini-epic, "Empty Tenement Spirit," has a very satisfying descending riff that the first section of the song keeps tumbling back into, even as the song structure tries to tear itself apart. Wait another six minutes, and you can hear vocals that sound like an angry giant, matched by an earth-shakingly heavy, stomping riff.

There's really no substitute for immersion, though. Parts of this album will reach out and grab you, but you're not going to wander around humming parts of it after a half-assed listen or two. You need to find a way to crawl inside it and live with it, even when it's viscerally uncomfortable. The last two minutes of the album still give me the heebie-jeebies, both because of the challenging music and because of a sound effect that I can only liken to someone being beaten with a sack of chains. The cover art uses beautiful colors and shadings to surround an animal trying to chew its own leg off to escape a trap, and there's probably no better metaphor for the sounds themselves. Fight it, struggle with it, and resist it, but definitely engage with it.


**Even if, like me, you had a hard time with Growth Without End, I do highly recommend the track "Turing's Revenge," which shows off Pyrrhon's cerebral side. The lyrics talk about Alan Turing, a brilliant English mathematician who spent World War II cracking German codes. He was what most people would label a war hero, but he was criminally prosecuted by the UK in 1952 for homosexual acts. He chose chemical castration as an alternative to prison time, and he died two years later from what was very likely suicide. The government found it in their hearts to to pardon him posthumously...in fucking 2013.
Tagged with 2017, Justin C, Pyrrhon, technical death metal, Willowtip
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