Pyrrhon – Abscess Time Review

Where do Pyrrhon go next? It’s a question that, to my surprise, I had not truly considered. In pushing the walls as far out as they would go with 2017’s stunning What Passes for Survival, the band became torch-bearers in death metal’s unexplored corridors. The quartet synthesize techniques from technical death metal, noise rock, and free jazz to craft ungainly structures and cut winding new paths through the labyrinth, resulting in two of the most original and contentious records of the 2010s. In Abscess Time, the band have a chance to explode into the new decade with a bold new direction.

It’s an opportunity they miss. Abscess Time only reaffirms the band’s approach on Survival while expanding somewhat on Pyrrhon’s noise rock influences, often scaling back on speed and complexity. On “Abscess Time” Erik Malave’s simple, ragged bass work leads the lurch while Dylan DiLella scrapes and shreds his guitar strings in what feels like a Swans song being dissolved in an oil drum. “State of Nature” follows the same course, and Steve Schwegler seems just as potent punctuating these slogs as he does when ricocheting across skins and cymbals in the insanity of “Teuchnikskreis.” Even though the band are performing at their peak, these slower songs feel thin and predictable, especially when compared to the band’s challenging back catalog.

For some, a less obtuse Pyrrhon record is welcome. The Mother of Virtues and What Passes For Survival are outré enough to repel even some of the biggest death metal junkies out there, and a less confrontational record might change their perspective on the band. Yet I doubt Abscess Time was ever intended to widen Pyrrhon’s audience, and for listeners who were blown away by previous records, it can feel wanting. The record doesn’t quite hit a stride until “The Lean Years” kicks in, and though it’s followed by a strong sequence of mid-album tracks, only “Human Capital” can conjure the excitement I felt when first listening to songs like “Balkanized” and “The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip.” At just under an hour long, Abscess Time is a sizeable release, and weaker tracks like “State of Nature” and “Overwinding” become unnecessary after a few listens. The pacing of the record isn’t tight enough to feel cinematic, and the contrasts between its songs appear incidental rather than planned.

Though Abscess Time lacks some of the musical luster of Survival, it’s Pyrrhon’s most lyrically compelling release yet. Doug Moore’s retches and howls may be difficult to decipher, but beneath the effects pedals and vocal grime, his lyrics are still some of the most powerful metal has ever seen. While other death metal bands imagine horror, Moore documents it with incredible specificity. “Down at Liberty Ashes” is an ode to workers in some of America’s most brutal industries, and Moore articulates their deaths and suffering artfully and unflinchingly.1 Moore’s recounting of the deaths of Wyatt Whitebread and Alex Pacas is inhumanly chilling.

“Submersed in the corn, crushed out of shape

Like his Busch cans, their livid limbs

Twisted and washed out with the feed

Hours later, the fruits of subsidy

Still studded their cold skin, like a golden plague”

Where else can you hear lyrics that satisfying in a metal song? Where else would they be followed by an unhinged guitar solo played in 11/4? Even on a weak release, Pyrrhon are a joy to experience.

Abscess Time is a challenging and accomplished album, and one that only Pyrrhon could produce. While the band aren’t breaking new ground, I’m at a loss to say what new barriers they could attack after What Passes for Survival. My misgivings about the record are mostly restricted to how it holds up in comparison the band’s own work, and to a preceding record that I still maintain is as close to perfect as they come. While the back catalog is an indispensable lens through which I can examine the record, it’s not the only one. Listening to these songs without my site-issued critic’s cap on, I come away deeply satisfied. Though the record is a bit less exciting and a lot less powerful as a package than What Passes for Survival, I still know I’ll be coming back to Abscess, time and time again.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 26th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Kronos sidebar: I spent a little while tracking down the actual events referenced in the song. It’s a rabbit hole for sure, but one worth digging down into. Here are a few long reads on the hellish conditions in New York City’s sanitation industry, the enslavement of prisoners at meat processing plants in the American South, and the crushing deaths of teenage farm workers in Illinois.
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