Being able to observe the entire evolution of a band is a rare privilege, but through my friendship to vocalist Doug Moore (of this site’s past and Invisible Oranges’ present), I’ve had exactly that ability with New York’s Pyrrhon. After a demo and EP, full length debut An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master really solidified the band as contenders with their technical, cerebral, Gorguts-by-way-of-Starkweather death metal. But despite the album’s high caliber, the band was still very much a result of their influences, as if the pull to remain a “death metal band” was too strong.
No longer. With The Mother of Virtues, Pyrrhon has shed any remaining boundaries. But more than that, they’ve just gone wild. Their unpredictable, laboratorial songs employ death metal only as the basic formula, utilizing deconstruction as a compositional tool, and noise as an invasive texture. While always an accomplished band, the massive leap in maturity here is nothing short of staggering.
This growth means that Pyrrhon’s music is no longer easily or solely defined as “death metal,” but those roots remain as dominant a thread as The Mother of Virtues weaves. The moments of serious neck wrecking (opening of “Sleeper Agent” is irresistible) are both abutted by and layered with a whole heap of other sounds: smatterings of sludge, touches of math (“The Parasite in Winter”), noisy metalcore à la Converge, loads of improvisational spasti-jazz used in place of hooks, and the kind of progressive rock that would horrify the likes of Steve Howe (the monstrous title track).
Pyrrhon’s oft-suffocating, teetering-towards-self-destruction din works because they are one confident, brash group of dudes. Guitarist Dylan DiLella deftly crosses brutality with riffs that can only be described as “zippery” and “alarm-esque.” Drummer Alex Cohen’s natural prog tendencies feed off of the chances to explode with some relentless blasting. Bassist Erik Malave moves in and out of the main motifs while showing no hesitance in going as bonkers as his bandmates. (Plus, that thick bass tone may be the greatest benefit of a fine Ryan Jones production and Colin Marston mastering.) Moore uses a variety of effects to enhance his many voices – a full range of maniacal growling, screaming, yelling, ranting, and preaching – while delivering an album’s worth of nuanced, intelligent lyrics. During “Implant Fever,” he spews forth with “I can feel the dials in my forebrain turn / Someone’s in there, tampering with the controls,” as if dropping a meta-comment about what this music might do to you.
Point is, for all four guys, monotony is not an option, and this leads to an impressive and multifaceted implementation of dynamics. They employ the standard quiet/loud form to great effect, as the shifts in “White Flag” and atmospheric second half of “Invisible Injury” (which includes a great, almost rocking solo by DiLella) are some of the album’s most immediate and memorable passages. But they also focus greatly on the balance between chaos and order, introducing, rejecting, and warping ideas to remain unpredictable, while utilizing the spaces between the order and chaos as a kind of inverted progressive rock tool. It’s a sneakily complex form of songwriting that many a listener might miss because they are too busy trying to keep track of the individual elements.
If fault has to be found, it might be that The Mother of Virtues asks a lot of its listeners, due both to a nearly hour-long runtime and the draining nature of the music. That there will be a learning curve for certain listeners cannot be prevented; this is exhaustive, confrontational material, but the details and rewards are plenty. A bit of trimming may have helped to combat the curve, but finding filler to cast off would prove difficult, particularly when one considers how well the album flows and transitions from track to track.
In all likelihood, the learning curve will not be a problem to the right audience, but it does bring us to the one major caveat: Pyrrhon, with their obsession for abrasive experimentation, are not playing music for everyone, or even the average metalhead. If the new Benighted album gave you a hankerin’ to go on a slam dance rampage through the bro zone… this probably isn’t for you. But if you dug something like say, the Artificial Brain disc, have a strong taste for apparent chaos and noise, and feel like falling another mile down the rabbit hole, then The Mother of Virtues is going to give you one seriously severe Oedipal complex.