Oh, I’ve heard death and I’ve heard black. I’ve heard prog metal albums that I thought would never end. I’ve heard so much shit that it’s all started to blend, but I never thought I’d see Pyogenesis again. Those old enough to reminisce about the 90’s might recall them as hangabouts in the burgeoning gothic metal scene. My rung on the generational ladder caught them in the early 00’s, power chording it up with acts like blink-182 and Green Day. Fast forward another decade to the re-resurfacing of Pyogenesis, with 2015’s A Century in the Curse of Time shambling along like a steampunk Frankenstein with a knack for vocal harmonies. Realistically, A Kingdom to Remember should not work, not for one second. Yet here I am trying to explain why, at least on some level, it does.
Are Pyogenesis metal? I don’t think they could care less. Their genre-bending subverts expectations not only based in their equally enigmatic reinvention, but constructed within Kingdom from one song to the next. While pop punk remnants heavily permeated aspects of Century, Pyogenesis allowed for star-crossed idiosyncrasies that invoked bands as diverse as Dropkick Murphys, Weezer, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation. Kingdom takes that commitment one step farther. The album shifts constantly beneath your feet, effectively eliminating the concept of a singular emblematic sound. Bouncing from strained bombastic heights on “Every Man For Himself and God Against All” to Dorian Gray-inspired pop-industrial “I Have Seen My Soul” to echoey, 80’s-inspired “A Kingdom to Disappear (It’s Too Late),” keeping up with the many sounds of Pyogenesis could exhaust Tom G. Warrior. The dichotomy of dual highlights “We (1848)” and “Blaze, My Northern Flame” isn’t head-scratching, it’s downright Jaguars-esque. The former smashes Matchbox Twenty into blink-182 before Sabaton’s Joakim Goddamn Brodén of all people1 panzers through, lugging a huge solo and big league catchiness. The latter, despite raised suspicions whenever “blaze” and “north” come within 100 feet of each other, offers an excellent impersonation of In Mourning’s Tobias Netzell and the best In Flames riff written in 15 years. On an album this eclectic, the inclusion (and success) of something so simple as melodic death caught me completely off-guard. Then again, everything about this experience is unexpected.
But surprise does not necessarily equal success. Uniqueness aside, the quality of the songs struggle to reach the bar set on Century. With a uniform simplicity and sparse development holding them back, the tracks rely on their quizzical variety and sing-along vibes to keep themselves afloat. Even those attributes cannot cure all ills, as in the case of “I Have Seen My Soul.” Additionally, Kingdom turns to soft moments and vocal digression far more often than its predecessor. They rarely collapse, but often feel like simple buttresses for the rampaging earwvrms of Pyogenesis’ stronger tracks. Only “Everlasting Pain” crashes and burns beyond saving. With their stores of tenderness and Joy Division-ethereality cashed in on “New Helvetia” and “That’s When Everybody Gets Hurt,” the finale’s attempt at long-form emotion stretches 3 minutes of material into 13 never-ending minutes of Propofol drip.
In the down moments representative of Kingdom’s shortcomings, the music’s remarkably vocal-dependent nature rescues the album from coming unhinged. Led by unrivaled frontman Flo V. Schwarz, Pyogenesis’ microphone triple-threat offers a smorgasbord of harmonizations, growls, and cleans that are squeaky, gruff, and everything in between. One minute, the Germans channel the Dropkick Murphys‘ barbershop quartet; the next, the soaring vocal harmonies of Blind Guardian. Though the pungency of ripe cheese occasionally strays close to laughable, Schwarz’s leads represent the most endearing and auspicious aspect of the album. Backups Gizz Butt and
I.C. Weiner Malte Brauer join in on the vocal party, but it truly is Schwarz’s show.
In many ways, Schwarz’s performance is the microcosm of a band that has talent and shortcomings in spades. Pyogenesis’ founder is the only original member left and as he goes, so goes A Kingdom to Remember. With peaks that will likely compete for Song of the Year and lows that induce snores and snorts in equal measure, I suspect opinions on Kingdom will be as varied as the music itself. The record does not top Century, but Pyogenesis will find themselves with a few new fans nonetheless.