In extreme music, listeners are often praised for having high “endurance”. Music that is nasty, harsh, difficult or unusual is often placed on a pedestal for these qualities. For many fans, technicality is given higher marks than melody or songwriting. Slam metal, raw black metal, “hideous sludge”, and noise records all have die hard fan bases; these are some of the most extreme subgenres under this umbrella. Many records require the listener to visit them over and over before they even start to make sense. One of my favorite records from 2014 falls into this difficult camp. That record is Pyrrhon’s The Mother Of Virtues.
The Mother Of Virtues is a strenuous album, and I mean that in the very best way possible. This is akin to walking through the mind of a mentally ill person. It scares off potential listeners, and challenges those who mean to stay with it. It demands repeated spins. The press release from Relapse Records called The Mother Of Virtues “investigational death metal”. Kudos to the guy who coined that term, even if I’m not really sure what it means. I call Pyrrhon’s most recent album advanced level death metal. This album combines angular death metal, a dash of grind, plus noise rock that sounds like it came from Shellac’s burlier cousin on ketamine.
The opening track, “The Oracle Of Nassau”, is a furious assault. It’s a minute plus of grind before the song changes tempo and lurches into something else, and fades out with only a long scream from singer Doug Moore before it fades into the next song. The next song, “White Flag”, oozes into noise rock territory, slow moving before, it, too, changes into a different animal. The tempo changes and structural shifts in many of these songs would be enough to make The Dillinger Escape Plan dizzy. “White Flag” changes completely again before its near ten minute run time is finished. The tempo slows to a near crawl and the music gradually drops out, which leads to one of only a couple decipherable vocals on the whole record, at barely a whisper. This is the world we’ve made for ourselves. The music picks up again, not like any of the song before it. Slow, heavy, pounding. The “gentler” moments don’t provide relief, they produce anxiety.
On the fourth track and one of the advance songs for this record, “Balkanized”, we are given the only other clearly recognizable moment of Clean Singing. Near the end of the song Moore screams it’s not personal two times, before the song fragments in a different direction and anything resembling clarity in the vocals is lost. I haven’t read the lyrics to any of these songs (I rarely do), so this moment is played to tremendous effect. On tracks like Eternity In A Breath and the last track / title track, The Mother Of Virtues, Pyrrhon play what almost sounds like free form jazz. Loose, all over the place, together at times and moving in wayward directions at times; these songs and other moments throughout seem almost improvisational.
Who are the forefathers to this style? Where did this sound come from? I haven’t heard a record that sounds quite like this in 2014. Pyrrhon only displayed a hint of this on their previous efforts. This is not progression, it is an mutative leap forward. Similar not so much in sound but in tone, this record reminds me of Gorguts’ maddening Obscura; perhaps a spiritual ancestor if not a direct source of inspiration. Relapse Records has this labeled as technical death metal on Pyrrhon’s Bandcamp, but is it, exactly? You will have to decide for yourself. This is not an easy listen; it is rewarding for those who are willing to stick it out. Pyrrhon has a number of contenders for what may be the best heavy album of 2014, including Artificial Brain, Son Of Aurelius, Swans (if you include them in this conversation, and I do), and of course Pallbearer’s Foundations Of Burden due out later this year. Lucky for us, we don’t have to pick an absolute favorite until December. I will say I can’t wait to hear what Pyrrhon does next. Check this album out and sound off in the comments with some of your favorites and most anticipated records of 2014!