[Artwork by Caroline Harrison]
I could just say, “Pyrrhon has just released their new album, Fuck You, The Musical,” and it would be a 100% correct and sufficient review. But I get paid by the word (I don’t), and Pyrrhon deserves more than that (they do). You see, Pyrrhon (pronounced “pyre-hun”) cares a great deal. Not about you, of course. But about their instruments and the craft of complex heavy metal. About injustice, the bullshit of the capitalistic modern world, and telling small minds what they really think (ironically, in words those small minds would struggle to comprehend).
Now that I’ve shaken all the casual readers, let’s continue. Committing to a Pyrrhon (pronounced “year-on”) album is a bit like staring at a fifth of whiskey, snarling “Just you and me, ya bastard,” and downing the whole thing before you pass out. Not everyone will make it to closer “Rat King Lifecycle,” and it will take fortitude and a well-trained liver if you plan to survive.
Pyrrhon has few pyrrs (I am not sorry) in the realm of Fuck You Metal (FYM). Perhaps Yautja, or Psyopus, with their angular, asymmetrical riffs. Portal’s existential dread certainly fits as well, maybe even the sarcastic disdain of The Locust. Bands that do not give two shits about their listeners and only look to push their own dissonant, ugly, incredibly precise envelopes. The kind of band that can open every show with, “Hello, we’re [FYM band],” and then launch a washing machine full of hammers down the stairs for an hour. But each crash down the flight sounds exactly the same.
Of course, we saw this coming. Pyrrhon (pronounced “no-ripe” backwards) has been assaulting delicate sensibilities since their demo in 2009. With debut LP An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, the band strode past the confines of death metal but remained in that recognizable territory. On 2014’s The Mother of Virtues the band was awash in giant bass and fury, dropping even more of death metal’s familiar patterns for esoteric riffage. “It’s not personal,” my ass. And in 2017, on full length number three, Steve Schwegler brought his deft touch to the drums and What Passes for Survival explored the interstitial spaces of conventional metal, exposing the roots of rock through twisted lenses.
In 2020, a year that has stripped the skin off rotten skeletons in government, finance, and social order, Pyrrhon is ready to evolve again. Unlike past releases, the quartet birthed Abscess Time collectively, writing together in the same room and jamming as only four unstable but drift-compatible musicians could. The angry chaos continues in their deftly reined violence, again leaving spastic noodling to the amateurs. It’s a masterclass in trashing expectations at every turn. Even with repeated listens, you will be left behind, chasing past where you thought a particular riff or beat was supposed to go.
It’s puzzling that the US military uses coherent music like Metallica to torture “detainees” when something like Pyrrhon (pronounced “pee-arr-roan”) exists. If you do not enjoy and actively consume extreme, avant-garde music, Abscess Time has to be like tiny drills ripping your brain apart. Nothing ever settles into a recognizable groove for more than a few seconds. Every rhythm and riff is ephemeral: trotted out to cause unease, then tossed aside for the next punishment. Moore and bassist Erik Malave growl and howl and leer menacingly over dissonant, disconnected riffs. Pyrrhon would never agree to have their music used by the military for such purposes, but it would damn sure work. If sonic warfare was instead aimed at the soulless masters of wealth and power, well that might be a different story (and that warfare is aimed at you if you purchase the vinyl version with a bonus track that plays endlessly until you lift the needle).
As always, the lyrics of Abscess Time are absolutely worth reading. “It’s time to recoup what you owe / It’s time to make some margins grow / You joined the portfolio at the moment of birth / Time to cover your cost, time to yield your worth,” Moore howls as he holds a mirror up to the free market in “Human Capital.” The band also makes excellent use of samples, with quotes from Taxi Driver in “Down at Liberty Ashes” and Network in “Another Day in Paradise.” My favorite of the bunch is the otherwise instrumental track “Overwinding” that wields samples from The Hudsucker Proxy like a frantic grindcore vocalist.
Abscess Time also gives you chances to educate yourself, like when you have to look up “Teuchnikskris” and discover it is a German portmanteau describing the vicious cycle of creating technology to solve problems created by other technology. Pyrrhon introduces the concept via another short grind track with muddled guttural vocals, precision blasts, and squealing pinch harmonics amidst frantic riffs. Or when you learn that “Solastalgia” is the existential dread caused by environmental damage and collapse, and then listen to an almost jazzy noise interlude with light rolls and fills from Schwegler that stretches into 4 minutes of, well, existential dread.
Moore pulls zero vocal punches on Abscess Time. In fact, I have concluded that he is a cybernetically enhanced, venomous ball of hatred. Like Rennie Resmini of Starkweather, he is delightfully unhinged, continually pushing even further into the fetid fringes of extreme metal. He vomits all over Dylan DiLella’s naked, bendy guitar introduction to “The Cost of Living,” and the oozing mass coalesces into a righteous off-beat march of rage. It’s a standout track that manages to constantly build in intensity despite starting at full bore and lasting over eight and half minutes. DiLella eschews conventional hooks (duh), but noodling intros like the above or the quick wobbly lead in “State of Nature” have a way of getting stuck in your head and creating recognizable signposts when Abscess Time has bludgeoned all sense of time and direction.
Official Band Engineer Colin Marston is back, and as with What Passes for Survival, he recorded, mixed, and mastered Abscess Time. Marston’s studio in Queens, aka Menegroth (pronounced “mee-nee-growth”), aka The Thousand Caves (it’s just the one), has been home to a lot of challenging, complex music since opening in 2006. His work as a musician in Behold…the Arctopus and Dysrhythmia makes him a perfect partner for Pyrrhon, and he has mastered all their recordings. This familiarity from a fellow weirdo results in a fantastic final product of the Menegroth sound: a democratic mix, natural tones, and exactly as punishing as the band intended. The wobbly feedback of the title track gets equal space as the staggering bass and drum stomp. Moore’s manic howls and deep growls get equal footing, and still fit perfectly within the mix even if those howls are pushed well into the red.
Abscess Time is another indication that Pyrrhon will continue to challenge the notion of riffs, the ideas of heavy metal, and the ears of every single listener. More than a few metalheads will hate this. But Pyrrhon’s discography will remain, dissected in the headphones and music rooms of the dedicated and probably also insane among us. To some folks, it will still be directionless noise, or metal that was deconstructed and the budget ran out before they could rebuild… or, uh, a washing machine full of hammers tossed down the stairs. But music is emotion. And emotions are complicated, intertwined, occasionally hard to decipher little bastards. Without that bottle of whiskey, not everyone is ready to stare their emotions in the face, especially the ugly ones that Pyrrhon conjures.
It doesn’t normally take this long to write so many words while having said so little about the actual music. But if you know Pyrrhon, then you probably didn’t need this review. If you’re new here and made it this far, go ahead and strap on a helmet and click that Bandcamp link above. If you just can’t live without a succinct opinion: Abscess Time is the best thing Pyrrhon has done until the next album.