“New York City’s PYRRHON emerge with a mind bending album of surrealistic death metal for fans of Gorguts, Ulcerate & Portal!” Brave words, promo guy, brave words. I as much as I admire your confidence, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. When you invoke Ulcerate and Gorguts in order to hawk your wares, you’ve certainly caught my attention, but lying won’t go unpunished. Besmirching the name of my favorite band of Kiwis is a cardinal sin, so either Pyrrhon has their shit really together, or an overzealous Relapse employee is going to find rat feces in his Cheerios tomorrow.
I’ll spill the important part immediately; The Mother of Virtues is without doubt the most challenging record I’ve heard this year. It took more listening to get used to than From all Purity or Labyrinth Constellation, this year’s previous stalwarts of inaccessibility, and I know for a fact I’m going to be listening to it again and again in an attempt to totally figure out what’s going on. If you’re looking for a puzzle, you can stop here.
There’s really no good way to attack this album in order to appreciate it immediately, but a relatively safe (here meaning least dangerous) place to start would be the bizarre (single?) “Balkanized.” The song is not so much monstrous as it is sociopathic. In the beginning, its absolute violence and angularity jut forth like rusted nails poking out of the splintered floorboards it stands upon. It shuffles and limps like a landmine victim, propelled by a constant rotation of 5/4 and 6/4 rhythms locked in by a tireless bass groove. The second half of the song swaps out the 6/4 for a 4/4, but the bassline never relents, even as the guitars become less dense, meandering dissonantly into the song’s climax. The bloody shout of “It’s not personal!” releases the song’s pent up energy, snapping like like a spring into a tortured waltz before it cleaves itself off. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
If “Balkanized” isn’t your cup of tea, The Mother of Virtues isn’t your album. It only gets stranger, more abstract and more disturbing in a way that’s not easy to confront. The album is a mix of dark psychedelia, noise, and brutality that constantly shifts from reeling grooves to doomy riffs to pummeling death metal blasts. The guitars, when two are present, often disagree entirely on what to play, constantly screaming out different notes that attack each other through stifling reverb. This appears most prominently on “Eternity in a Breath,” a slow-paced, doomy song that ends in a series of glitches and hisses that, when contrasted with the long song they close off, are viscerally disturbing. I can’t help but cringe and shudder at them.
If “Balkanized” is your cup of tea, Pyrrhon is probably your new favorite band. All of the disorienting guitar work, prominent bass grooving and frenzied, shifting drumming carries over to the rest of the songs, whether in the deathgrind-oriented opener “The Oracle of Nassau” or the intoxicating “Invisible Injury,”,whose ending solo is a work of pure wonder feeding off of the song’s opening motif. The last moments of “Invisible Injury” are the absolute zenith of The Mother of Virtues. That’s not to say that the rest of the album is weak, but it’s this performance that truly drew me in to the album the first time through, convinced me that there was structure on this violent, squealing mass of sound.
This is an album I don’t love, but it’s an album that I feel compelled to listen to over and over again, because it is so unapproachable that I can see myself loving it. My best point of comparison for The Mother of Virtues is Converge’s Jane Doe. The two are sonically quite similar in guitar tone, bass playing, production and vocal approach as well as similar in their experimental content, though this feels more improvisatory. The album is disturbing not in the existential way that an Ulcerate album is disturbing or the body horror way that most death metal is disturbing, but on a sort of primal level. It is disturbing because of its defiance of conventional structure and tonality and sound, because when you hear it you have no way of understanding it. It channels war and sickness and the incomprehensible into sound and offers them to you from a hand with the wrong number of fingers. A more difficult album is hard to come by.
So now that all is said and done, let’s assess promo guy’s honesty. Did it sound like Ulcerate? No. Did it sound like Gorguts? Not really, but I guess promo guy didn’t really say it sounded like those bands, only that the album was best for fans of them. Am I a fan of those two bands? Definitely. Did I like it? Certainly.
Your cereal is safe, Relapse employees.