Dan DiLella – Guitars
Erik Malave – Bass, Backing Vocals
Steve Schwegler – Drums
Doug Moore – Vocals
Recorded/Mixed/Mastered by Colin Marston
Sometimes, an album comes along that seems to just perfectly capture the feeling of it’s time. Given the tension, anxiety, and strife in the world today, such an album would have to border on insanity, and for my money, Pyrrhon has delivered just that album.
Brooklyn natives Pyrrhon have been tooling around in the progressive/technical death metal scene for a little while now, and while they may not have yet achieved household name status (or gotten as close to it as playing tech death allows), they’re definitely among the top “to follow” bands in the genre to me. After getting dropped from Relapse Records (who apparently expected a band of this ilk to sell a lot of records), they’ve signed to the Pennsylvanian label Willowtip, who were also responsible for Ingurgitating Oblivion’s stellar Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light earlier in the year (among others, of course), as well as being the origin of Ulcerate’s seminal Everything is Fire. Being on a smaller label more open to “weird” death metal makes tons of sense for these guys. Which begs the ultimate question: how is this album?
What Passes for Survival furthers the sound that previous full length The Mother of Virtues already managed beautifully. It’s discordant, chaotic, and deeply unsettling, fusing jangling, breakneck riffs with sludgy slower passages and twisted free jazz extrapolations. In feel it reminds me of what a coked-up Ulcerate might sound like. The feeling of tension and unease is very similar, but where Ulcerate would throw in an air, dissonant passage to ease the assault, Pyrrhon is more likely to come down even harder and more aggressively. The atmosphere is similarly suffocating, but in an infinitely more panicked manner. Aiding this is the beautifully done production by Colin Marston. “Perfect” production is down to opinion, of course, but Marston’s production is wonderfully organic and punchy, with every element totally audible and sitting at precisely the right level.
The music itself could best be described as an even more deranged offspring of the Obscura-era Gorguts school. The music is rugged, jarring, and follows no patterns typical to contemporary metal, and yet somehow coalesces into something unmistakably complete. Shorter, blistering tracks like The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip and the Unraveling trilogy hit like a ton of bricks, while sludgier, longer tracks like Tennessee and Empty Tenement Spirit play up squeamish, tense atmospheres with bursts of frenetic energy. It’s an album of all the worst feelings, all perfectly portrayed through whatever musical means necessary.
As far as musicianship goes, all players involved here bring their absolute a-game. Dan DiLella completely nails a balance of utter chaos and rigidly tight playing, making ever tortured, twisted note count. The rhythm section, meanwhile, handles impeccably. Erik Malave’s bass playing is tremendous, never content to follow the guitar for long, rather weaving dissonant webs of textured playing as easily as he does pulsating groove. Steve Schwegler manages a phenomenal drum performance across the board, somehow reigning in all the chaos and keeping it all moving forward with aplomb and style.
Special mention goes to Doug Moore though. His vocals run the gamut from stellar growls to anguished screeches, and seem to have a life of their own. Trying to follow the music would be impossible, but his detached performance only serves to make the album more psychotic. His lyrics are one better, dealing with such matters as the woes of life under capitalism (first two tracks), abuse of the institutionalized (Tennessee), slum life (Empty Tenement Spirit), and even a hilarious send up to those style-over-substance-type black metal bands out there (Goat Mockery Ritual). And while agreement with his lyrics isn’t necessary, one would be hard pressed to deny that the guy writes eloquently and with passion. Double kudos given for taking the high road and writing about matters often skipped over in current extreme metal.
What Passes for Survival is gripping from the opening chaos of The Happy Victim’s Creed to the monolithic doom closure of Empty Tenement Spirit. Will it be everyone’s cup of tea? Most assuredly not. But if, like me, you always find yourself looking for the next excellent experimental, dissonant death metal album to consume and love, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better recent release than this. Give it a spin. And another. And one more. This stuff will take time to fully appreciate, and it won’t be comfortable, but it’s oh so worth it.