Sunday, February 18, 2018
Pyrrhon - What Passes For Survival
It all boils down to melody, chaos, and riffs. These simple elements are what make Pyrrhon’s “What Passes for Survival” an excellent album, along with the fact that it puts on a clinic on song pacing in death metal. It’s a massively heavy, intricate, and even incredibly catchy release. The band’s overall approach is adventurous and jarring in the same vein as technical death metal bands like Gorguts. Where this album succeeds compared to a release like “Colored Sands” though is that there is a nearly constant barrage of melodically forceful moments that you won’t forget after listening to the album.
Too many “technical” bands act like guitar frets should be chosen by a random number generator and they drop any concern for writing effective music. Pyrrhon though has such incredibly tight musicianship that you know they sit and practice just as much as any other band. Thankfully they lack the compulsion to try and pass off their latest sweep picking or blasting routines as songs. Instead, we have dazzling displays of wonky bass, inventive drumming, and punchy riffs. Even something as seemingly routine as the typical “brutal”beat/fill blast pattern is eschewed for a dynamic approach that simultaneously smooths out what would otherwise be jarring transitions.
It doesn’t take long before it becomes obvious that Doug Moore’s vocal performance on this album is stellar, both in it’s creative variety and powerful delivery. Just taking “Goat Mockery Ritual” as an example, he uses his standard harsh thrashy-death metal vocal approach, abyssic deep gutturals, massive drawn out howls, and straight up shouting. Without any exaggeration you can say that he has the range of two vocalists, and the closing section to “The Happy Victim’s Creed” basically sounds like two singers with its rapid trade-off between his two primary vocal styles.
It’s also important to credit Moore’s lyrics. As someone who very rarely cares about lyrics and listens to black metal more than anything else, it was hugely amusing and refreshing how “Goat Mockery Ritual” dressed down the genre’s bullshit esoterica and hypocrisy. Throughout the album the lyrics have a real genuine sense to them, and have a blatant self-awareness “You know you’re gonna keep on reading, This shit, lightweight and stripped of the meaning.” What a way to break the fourth wall without devolving into campy nonsense.
The album has some clear pacing flaws, but they really are not damning. Take for example how “Tennessee” is initially a great moment in the album, but goes on far too long and actually ends up a a bit of an energy drain. This isn’t because of the slow tempo, but rather the meandering energy flow. The song’s nearly eight minutes make it feel like a highly polished jam session rather than a planned out song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good song, but is a clear example of a problem the band has.
Overall the band dragging a bit is due to a tendency to use some structural throat clearing sections. Other examples include how the 8-10 minutes worth of ideas on “Empty Tenement Spirit” are stretched on for 12 minutes. More representative of the problem is the opening of “The Unraveling: Free At Last,” which is mostly a directionless sprinkle of the kind of pick scraping and general dicking around bands do at the very end of playing a set. Again, its important to keep in mind that these parts of the album are still pretty damn good. They just don’t quite fit in with the exceptional work elsewhere and by the end of the album you are left with the distinct feeling that it isn’t quite as good as it started off.
“What Passes for Survival” is still an incredibly strong release, despite moments where the band lets the pendulum swing too far towards relaxed songwriting. There is even no questioning the strength of the technical band’s use of simple pounding riffs like the moment around 1:15 on “Goat Mockery Ritual.” Then, on the other hand you have the Gorguts-type riffs like rhythmically dense bass and guitar work on “Trash Talk Landfill” starting at around 2:05; or the brilliant drumming in the later half of “The Unraveling: Hegemony of Grasping Fears,” which has a similar Gorguts feel. The examples could go on and on but can be summed up as exclamation marks where other bands use commas.
Pyrron has every last tool they need to dominate the technical death metal genre, they just need to refine their pacing a tad to get there.