It seems like an impossible feat, but Pyrrhon have, somehow, managed to get weirder and more dissonant on their upcoming fourth album, Abscess Time. It’s been three years since the off-kilter death metal quartet released their last effort, What Passes for Survival, and things have only become stranger and less stable in that time, something that is reflected on Abscess Time.
Pyrrhon’s new album—which was engineered, mixed and mastered by Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice)—looks at the constantly-fluctuating state of the world and process the anxiety and claustrophobia with dissonance, dizzying musicianship and deranged vocals. Get a taste for it with the aptly-titled “Another Day in Paradise,” which begins with a sample from Network before jumping right into the spastic track. “Another Day in Paradise” isn’t remotely close to easy listening, even by death metal standards, but it’s unique and undoubtedly Pyrrhon.
“One of the most odious aspects of modern life is the insistence that you always act like you’re insanely lucky and blessed to be doing what you’re doing, whether it’s a job or a creative pursuit,” singer Doug Moore says of the new song to Decibel. “Projecting optimism and gratitude is basically a social requirement in most situations, even though the vast majority of people don’t feel like that at all! Performing that sense of false cheer makes me feel like an evangelist for a religion I don’t actually believe in.”
It has been three years since the last Pyrrhon album, What Passes for Survival. What have the members of Pyrrhon been up to in between?
Moore: Pyrrhon toured with some really sick bands. Steve [Schwegler, drums] and I made an LP with our death/doom band Weeping Sores. The two of us are also working with Erik on a new Seputus album, which is probably 70% done. I sang on the first album by a new band called Glorious Depravity, with some guys from Mutilation Rites, Woe and Belus. Other than that, I just ground out a few more years of rent and accumulated some new aches and pains in the process. Probably sounds familiar!
Schwegler: We did some US and Canada dates with bands that we liked or were already friends with. This included hitting the road with the amazing death metal band Succumb on the west coast, my first time out that far with the guys. At home, Doug and I worked furiously on the Weeping Sores full-length. As with any of our three bands, we are really concerned with getting the individual details right, and if you don’t write anything down you have to stay on top of things and stay practicing to remember everything until it’s been recorded. I’ve also been working toward my Bachelor of Sciences in Engineering degree at Penn State University, which has definitely not been easy to do, and making ever glacial progress with Seputus. I often feel like my brain is going to reach its critical capacity and I’m just going to shut down one day.
Dylan DiLella (guitar): I started writing riffs for the new album almost immediately after the What Passes for Survival session ended. We worked on Abscess Time on-and-off for two-and-a-half years as a group, which was almost double the amount of time that we had spent on the previous album. We strived to be as efficient and disciplined as possible in terms of songwriting, and I think it shows. Outside of Pyrrhon, I spent a lot of time auditioning for and thereafter joining Yowie, one of my favorite “prog” bands. I also released an album of improvised solo-guitar noise, which is a facet of my playing that I had really wanted to explore more extensively.
Erik Malave (bass): Aside from moving between shipping/inventory jobs, I’ve worked with Steve and Doug on the next Seputus record, played my first solo set on guitar and played two duo sets with Mick Barr (Krallice, Orthrelm, Encenathrakh) in which he plays banjo and I play cajon, a percussion instrument.
Your new album, Abscess Time, is about watching the world slide closer toward its collapse while being too busy to do anything about it. Obviously we can all relate to that with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, but what were you thinking about when writing and recording this album?
Moore: The album was finished in late February, so we were aware that conditions in China were grim by the tail end of the mixing/mastering process. But the album itself was written over 2018 and 2019, and was shaped by the cultural and political fevers that led America to so mishandle the literal fever that has us all hiding in our homes now.
That time was characterized for me by the aura of an impending reckoning—perhaps not an apocalypse in the popular sense of the term, but certainly a violent unveiling of the true state of things. During this period, most thinking people seemed to understand on some level that such a transformation was on the horizon. But none of us did anything! We were largely too busy trying to maintain our health, safety and sanity on a day-to-day basis. And that’s not by accident. When people have to work harder and harder to scrape out increasingly precarious lives for years on end, they grow exhausted, and exhausted people are easier to exploit. Fertile conditions for the scammers who run the country! So we were paralyzed by our routines, and the inevitable horrors drew nearer, and now here we are. I saw a meme the other day that showed the coronavirus as John Cleese in that scene from Monty Python & The Holy Grail where he’s charging the gate without seeming to get any closer for a long time, and then all of a sudden he’s stabbing the guards. The metaphor works for the coronavirus in particular from the current American cultural perspective, but the same thing is going to happen soon with a lot of the other slow-building calamities that we all already know about…and somehow we’ll all feel surprised again when it does. Anyway, buy our album.
Schwegler: Man, yeah… staying busy helped us all a lot. From a songwriting angle, we were mostly concerned with keeping our momentum going. We focused on one song at a time, and we talked about a lot of conceptual ideas and developing our writing. We also wanted to do a lot more writing in the room and more improvising with each other to come up with songs this time. On What Passes for Survival, all the songs were drafted by individual band members first and band input came later. But focused, dynamic, collaborative songwriting was our primary posture this time and not just going physically crazy like we did on WPFS. From my perspective, we adapted this posture as a response to the cynical energy we all felt building up, while our country was busy trying to pull its own seams out around us. I honestly think focusing on our work the way we did helped keep the four of us sane, and I’m thankful we finished the album before COVID came along and shut everything down.
DiLella: Musically speaking, we’ve always projected things like uncertainty, anxiety and claustrophobia. I’d say that we pushed that angle as far as we could with this album. With all the insanity going on in the world today, I think that a lot of people can relate to the overall discomfort of the music. And aside from socio-political turmoil, I find that my own personal struggles really inform our creative direction. All four of us were bursting at the seams while preparing for and making this album, and I think it shows.
Malave: Writing for Pyrrhon has always been a very instinctual process for me. Tension and anxiety coat everything I bring to the table on bass or backing vocals, but there’s always an underlying feeling of freedom and carelessness involved in the writing process, which leaves plenty of room for the unconventional pieces we end up with.
Pyrrhon worked with Colin Marston for the mixing and mastering on this record. Did his experience with weird and experimental bands allow you to push the envelope further than with a different producer?
Moore: Colin is the man! He’s actually worked on every Pyrrhon recording in some capacity—at first he was just mastering our stuff, but he’s mixed our last three recordings and tracked the last two. So he’s seen us ‘grow up,’ so to speak, and knows our sound really well. Beyond his skill as an engineer and his familiarity with the band, Colin has a really broad knowledge of music and understands the combination of influences we’re working with better than almost anyone alive would, engineer or otherwise. Plus, few people share our granular appreciation of Metallica’s post-good era (that’s from 1990 onwards; I don’t make the rules) like he does, and he’s just generally very easy to work with. In fact, if you’re reading this and you have a project that you need mixed or mastered, I suggest hiring him to work on your shit remotely. He’ll do a great job, and I’m sure he’s lost a lot of booked sessions for the next few months due our society’s dangerous malarkey levels. We would worry for his mental wellbeing if he ended up listening to Timeless Necrotears for 13 hours a day because he had no work to do.
Schwegler: Marston is probably the best dude in the world for us to work with. We did all the live and individual tracking with him for WPFS, and after that experience, I think we all knew we were going to go back to him this time too. Colin’s experience is extremely valuable to us, both as a veteran musician and engineer. He knows exactly what our references are, knows how we are trying to use them and knows how to capture our sound. I really can’t say that about anyone else. He suggested a lot more “producer” type ideas with us this time as we went along too, and we shared a lot of laughs over what we came up with together. We kept a lot of his ideas in the finished product, if not all of them!
DiLella: Colin Marston’s music and engineering work was a huge reason why I decided to commit such a large part of my life to making and appreciating music. So it’s kind of been a dream come true to become one of his peers and friends, and to have such a great working relationship with him. With the new album I think that the synergy between us reached a new high. He pushes us in ways that we don’t necessarily expect, and I’d like to think that we also challenge him in new ways with each session.
Malave: Absolutely. Colin has always been fully prepared to record/mix/master whatever weirdness we’ve written. He is an essential piece of avant-garde heavy music coming out of NYC
Doug, where do you find the inspiration for your lyrics? They read more like poetry than typical death metal lyrics.
Moore: I know this is a shit answer, but: the basic ideas come out of some mysterious opaque zone in my head, and all I do consciously is gradually chip the raw material into the appropriate shape for the musical compositions. I don’t “find” anything, really. Info goes into my brain in accordance with my general interests; some weird subconscious processing occurs; song ideas fall out the other end, to be pursued further or not. This process takes on a life of its own once you are in the practice of writing songs regularly. To me, the interesting part is the refinement and crafting that turn the inspiration into the final product. My skills in that area, such as they are, come primarily from lots of general reading and lots of practice. Though I do love a lot of poetry, the most direct influences on my lyrics are mostly other lyricists. It’s a really good exercise to learn lots of other singers’ material, preferably in a broad variety of styles – doing so makes you think about the way the words interact with the broader composition, how the person who wrote the vocal part organized the lyrics around the rhythms of the song, how the delivery adds additional meaning to the text, and so forth. This helps you to develop a clear sense of what kinds of things you want to do, which can guide you through a lot of the detail choices.
Who did the artwork for Abscess Time? Was it the band’s idea for how it would look or did you leave it up to the artist to interpret the album?
Moore: The artwork is by Caroline Harrison, who has done all of the Pyrrhon album art to date. In the past, we’ve given Caroline some specific guidance regarding the content of the album art and then let her implement that guidance on her own. For this one, we just had some general conversations about the thematic content of the album and then turned her loose. Pyrrhon’s creative approach is all about trusting each other to make creative decisions and Caroline obviously understands exactly what is needed for our music.
Schwegler: The artwork is all Caroline, as usual. As far as I’m concerned, Caroline has been the fifth member of Pyrrhon for as long as the band has existed. I don’t understand how she manages to bring such a visceral rendition of what we’re doing to life, but I am always excited to see the art progress as we finish writing our songs. I hate to sound like the proverbial broken record, but just like Colin, nobody in the world could do for Pyrrhon what Caroline does. The art always feels exactly right, and so we let her interpret our work the way she wants to, one hundred percent.