Technical death metal outfit Pyrrhon returns with their most captivating record in What Passes for Survival, establishing their position in the pantheon of the genre.
Spawned in the technical death metal scene in 2009 with their Fever Kingdoms EP, Pyrrhon was rightfully considered one of the most promising bands of extreme metal. In their debut, An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master, the New York based quartet displayed its raw and devastating sound, through a brutal death metal rampage of a record. Still rough, it was apparent that there was room for improvement when it came to the band's compositions and technical aptitude. Aware of that fact, and in their effort to thrive in the scene, it took three years for Pyrrhon to unleash their sophomore release, The Mother of Virtues, returning with a more complete offering, with more complex structures, better songwriting and in-depth technical exploration alongside the already furious sound.
What Passes for Survival marks the third full-length from Pyrrhon, and even though the leap forward is not as substantial as it was from debut to sophomore records, the band is still able to improve further, displaying a clearer vision and highlighting more clearly the intricacies of its sound. This is in part due to the sound engineer behind the recording, mixing and mastering process who is no other than Colin Marston, known from his participation in bands like Gorguts and Krallice. Marston is the most appropriate guy to bring this record to life, not only due to his numerous credits on fantastic works, including Artificial Brain, Castevet, and the Howling Wind among more, but also as someone who is producing music that is extreme, and that requires a high-quality technical skill set. Also, having mastered the two previous Pyrrhon albums suggests that he was already very familiar with their sound.
This beast is something truly different, and Pyrrhon projects its brutality through the twists and turns of this work, morphing through the various aspects of technical death metal. Lightning fast pace and Doug Moore's schizoid vocals wreak havoc, coupled with dissonant leads for a more impactful result. At their more upbeat, as is the case with “The Happy Victim's Creed” they explore the jazz influence in extreme music, conjuring a maniacal state. What is interesting, however, is the investigatory process of the band, leading to moments where technical death metal blurs into other sonic representations. The ending of “Goat Mockery Ritual” presents a slower moment of impressive grandeur, with heavier riffs and an easier-to-follow tempo. Other tracks follow a similar pattern, as with “Tennessee”, displaying a groove induced characteristic. Making the track more elusive and at the same time retaining the same level of technical aptitude and experimental spirit, it projects an immersive experience that verges towards a drone/death hybrid state.
Through the various configurations of Pyrrhon's sound, it is in part the stunning guitar work of Dylan DiLella that acts as the focal point. Coming across as an alien-like interpretation of the technical death metal style, even within the context of fellow genre virtuosos, DiLella establishes his own language. At times brutal and inharmonious, manic and expressive, his leads and bends are forcing the whole soundscape of the tracks to be altered around them. On the other hand, new drummer Steve Schwegler and bassist Erik Malave, raise the level of intensity. The rhythm section is the backbone of this work, shifting through different time signatures and grooves, always arriving with conviction.
The album itself is structured around a very well rounded pacing, something that is vital in crafting a fluid and captivating narrative. The first three tracks grasp your attention, brutal and unyielding they display the more direct and in-your-face facade of Pyrrhon. “Tennessee” acts as an interlude between the unhinged mode of the band, attaining a focus on the groove and slower, doom-laden aspects of Pyrrhon, before retreating to the scorching “Trash Talk Landfill". Not as fast and intense as the openers, but still tight and aggressive, it leads the way to the short trilogy of the record, “The Unraveling”. Bursts of energy containing all the energy, dirt and grit are explored in short duration, almost like a grindcore-esque interval.
It feels like everything, in the end, is leading up to closer “Empty Tenement Spirit”, which contains all the elements that make What Passes for Survival such an intense and intriguing ride. Beginning as one of the catchiest parts of the records concerning the riffs, the band allows repetitive themes to arise and create the illusion of a more straightforward composition. That is until the tempo drops moving into a sludge-oid representation of drone majesty, containing at the same time the jazzy, futuristic improvisation. It is the appropriate tour de force to round up this record and expose all the underpinnings of Pyrrhon's foundation.
What Passes for Survival is the apex moment of Pyrrhon. Having taken their name from the Greek philosopher, Phyrro, it is interesting to consider an analogy of his life to the road the band is currently on. Phyrro developed his philosophy, a way of thinking that was said to give rise to skepticism and is considered a close relative of both stoicism and epicureanism. It feels like Pyrrhon is working towards that achievement, in crafting their brew of technical death metal, and each step they add on to the mileage makes them wiser and more complete. And What Passes for Survival is a very significant milestone in this process.