Pyrrhon- “What Passes for Survival’
Stream and purchase the album here.
Pyrrhon is a New York technical death metal band that formed in 2008 in a subway station, which is probably the most New York way I’ve ever heard of a band forming. Between then and this brand new LP, the group has released five studio projects, all of which have truly revolutionized death metal. In a genre that is filled with bands either blatantly ripping off The Faceless’ Planetary Duality or trying to sound dense and atmospheric like Gorguts, Pyrrhon is doing something that I have never heard before: combining death metal with mathcore and harsh noise. There really is no other band I can think of with as unique a sound as Pyrrhon, and given how well they make this chaotic, angry, heavy sound work, I can confidently say they are the best band in modern death metal, even with competition like Artificial Brain and Cthe’illist. To say I have been looking forward to this LP since it was announced is a dramatic understatement. Pyrrhon’s 2014 LP, The Mother of Virtues, was something that very few bands in the genre could release. It’s without a doubt the most experimental thing I’ve heard in death metal in years, so I really looked forward to how the group was going to top themselves. Were they just going to get more experimental and expand their boundaries even further?
As soon as you start this record, you are introduced to what Pyrrhon has been known for all their career in the underground metal scene: their bizarre, almost schizophrenic rhythm. The introduction to “The Happy Victim’s Creed” is just absolutely insane, and this continues throughout the entire song, constantly changing rhythmic patterns, going from dissonant riffs to some of the sickest breakdowns to something even more bizarre. Drummer Steve Schwegler shows off the most on this track, managing to keep a steady beat through the chaos of Dylan DiLella and Erik Malave’s guitar and bass work, respectively. That’s arguably the most beautiful thing about Pyrrhon: they’re able to do all of this chaotic shit, and somehow make it effortless and beautiful. This concept is continued throughout the rest of the LP, actually getting stronger and more insane as it goes along. There some of the traditional Pyrrhon on tracks like “The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip,” but also tracks like “Tennessee,” which bring the band's sludge side to the table while keeping the technicality in check before becoming a super intense death metal trip during its latter half.
Death metal is a genre that I feel has a lack of variety when it comes to vocals. Even in the few bands I really like in the genre, I can only think of a few of them that stand out. I’ll go as far as to say that vocalist Doug Moore is tied with Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation as the best vocalist in death metal. Being a fan of Pyrrhon ever since I saw them open for Car Bomb at 285 Kent Ave in 2012 has shown me how amazing a vocalist this man is. The Mother of Virtues made the case for his prowess, but three years later, the man proves himself. He can perform standard death metal vocals as on “The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip,” but also pull off a blackened style on tracks like “Goat Mockery Ritual” and a mathcore flavor on the three-part composition occupying the latter half of the album, “The Unraveling.” New to Pyrrhon’s music are Moore’s clean vocals on “Empty Tenement Spirit.” They’re really gritty and sludgy sounding, adding another dimension to his range.
I am not very fond of death metal lyrics, but Pyrrhon really kills it on this one, writing a loose concept record around being controlled by external forces. “The Happy Victim’s Creed” shows the ignorance of the individual toward his controller with lyrics like “Prideful inmate sworn to stress” and “Make me the servant I was born to be.” As the LP progresses, we see the character become more aware of his issues, especially on tracks like “Tennessee” with lyrics such as “They held you down and peeled ripelike back/ The curl-crested crown of a child planted their alien seeds / cruel furrows in trusting clay.” On “Free at Last,” instead of seeing the character break free, we get a glimpse of them succumbing and committing suicide, along with the shout of “What wild spirit could thrive on such pain? What primal will would cling to this place?” on “Empty Tenement Spirit.” Analyzing and understanding these lyrics, the title of this LP makes a lot more sense. What Passes for Survival is about the struggles of living a life according to something that isn’t you. It passes for survival, but in reality, is something far worse than death.
Back in 1998, Gorguts did pretty much everything that could be done with death metal on Obscura, so the only way an LP in the genre could surpass it was if it thought way outside the box. What Passes for Survival is that album, and I can say with full confidence that this is death metal at peak perfection. This LP is everything death metal has been leading up to since its inception in the 1980s. Instrumentally, this album is completely bonkers in the way it incorporates multiple genres but still maintains form, and every performance is absolutely incredible. The production work, done by the one and only Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice), is absolutely perfect for the intense, atmospheric sound of the LP. Each song connects to the concept of the LP, but they’re all strong enough for standalone listens as well. If you’re a fan of extreme metal music and want something completely otherworldly, look no further. Seriously. It’s a bold claim I’ve made, but What Passes for Survival justifies it and then some.
- Alex Brown