There are remarkably few bands that I listen to and have absolutely no fucking clue how they do what it is that they do. Brooklyn’s Pyrrhon are near the top of that list. I first got hep to them in 2014, with the release of their second full-length The Mother of Virtues. My puny human mind wasn’t even remotely prepared for the sonic assault of that album, but I found myself completely enthralled by their cacophony just the same.
While frequently referred to as a tech-death band, lumping them into that genre really doesn’t come close to doing their music justice. Most of what characterizes tech-death as a genre–the relentless million-notes-a-minute riffs, triggered-within-an-inch-of-their-life drums, and all that bloody sweep picking–are largely absent from the band’s sound. The easiest way to describe their sound is ‘impenetrable,’ but in the best of all possible ways. Their music is dense, and you’d be hard pressed to find much you could call melody, but it never comes off as self-indulgent. In other words, their music isn’t just riff salads and shredgasm solos. They actually write songs, and they’re surprisingly catchy given how mind-fuckingly challenging their arrangements and instrumental performances can be.
Just in case it isn’t clear at this point, let me state it unequivocally – I fucking adore this band.
With Pyrrhon’s third (and easily best) album What Passes for Survival scheduled for release via Willowtip and Throatruiner Records on August 25, the band is about to embark on a short run of Midwestern dates, including a stop at Indy’s Black Circle Brewing Co. on August 8. Vocalist Doug Moore (also of Seputus and Weeping Sores) was good enough to answer a few questions for us via email in anticipation of the gig.
Indy Metal Vault: So first of all, I see that you were recently voted the “Sexiest Dude in Metal” by Toilet ov Hell readers, just edging out the late, great Peter Steele in the final round. So…congrats? Seriously though, the whole ‘tournament’ they set up seemed kind of cool and subversive, and it does point out how ridiculous and awful those “Hottest Chicks in Metal” features really are. Did you know anything about what the site was doing beforehand, or did it come as a surprise?
Doug Moore: Haha, thanks, I guess. I wasn’t informed that I’d be included beforehand, and frankly, I would’ve opted out if they’d given me the choice. But I appreciated the spirit and humor of the thing, which you summarized accurately — all “hottest musician” contests deserve to be lampooned. And I suppose having won is flattering, though I’m not going to be holding it up as scientific proof of my hotness any time soon.
IMV: I was able to get a promo of the new album What Passes for Survival, and it is an absolute beast. I really liked The Mother of Virtues as well, but the new material just feels ‘more’ in almost every way, if that makes any sense. Was there anything different about the writing or recording process this time around?
DM: There weren’t really any radical changes to our process this time around — we started with skeleton compositions written by individual members and then hashed out all the details as a group in the practice space, which is what we’ve always done.
That said, there were a few other factors in the runup to WPFS that may have catalyzed us. One is our ‘new’ drummer, Steve Schwegler (though he actually joined the band in 2015). Steve’s got an extremely aggressive, frenetic playing style that fits the rest of the band perfectly, and he’s a committed songwriter himself, so he was able to contribute a lot to structuring and arranging the material on top of his instrumental performance. Another is that we’re a much more experienced band now, and we actually toured on the material for WPFS in 2016 before recording it. We felt much more comfortable performing it when it came time to record as a result. A third big one is that we recorded in a proper professional studio for the first time ever. Our past recording sessions have mostly involved various sorts of janky DIY or semi-DIY conditions. Working with Colin [Marston, of Krallice/Gorguts/Dysrythmia/Behold the Acrctopus fame] at Menegroth involved far fewer environmental stress factors and allowed us to bring our full energies to bear on the performances.
More broadly, I’d say that we just had a clearer picture of what we were going for with this material than we’ve had in the past. I don’t think we really established the full dimensions of Pyrrhon’s sound until The Mother Of Virtues, and we were still struggling to make all the moving parts work in synchrony on that album. It’s been 4 years since we finished writing that one, and our collective vision of what Pyrrhon could be came into much greater focus during the interim.
IMV: One of the things I like best about Pyrrhon is that (to my ears anyway) you might be the might be the most deliberately difficult band in all of extreme metal. As the vocalist, I’m not sure how involved you are with or how much you can speak to how the riffs and arrangements come together, but I’d guess that the music feels far more structured to the people playing it than it might to the listener. What I’m curious about is how you find the right place for your vocal lines in the arrangements. Given how chaotic and anti-melodic the band’s music seems, is it ever a challenge to suss out where the vocals might best fit?
DM: For my money, there are a lot of metal bands out there that are more “difficult” than Pyrrhon — not to say that I think our shit is especially easy to listen to, but it’s essentially rock music at its core that revolves around discrete riffs, no matter how many bells and whistles we attach to them. Bands like Mastery, Jute Gyte, De Magia Veterum, Encenathrakh, etc. make us sound like Kiss by comparison.
As for your question, it’s definitely a challenge to write memorable, cohesive vocal patterns over Pyrrhon music at times. It was much tougher for me early in the band’s career than it is now; just learning to follow such rhythmically involved music was difficult then, and stringing words over those rhythms was often a matter of groping blindly at the part in question until I hit upon a timing and delivery that made sense to me. However, now that we’ve been a band for close to a decade and have put a lot of material together, I’ve developed clear instincts that guide me through the process with a lot less flailing around than it used to involve.
One helpful step in learning to sing for Pyrrhon was realizing that vocal parts don’t always need to have a specific rhythm that maps smoothly onto the beat map of the underlying music. A lot of extreme metal vocals are very tightly tied to the pulse of the music, which gives them this drumlike staccato effect — the kind of thing you hear in most conventional death metal. But that approach often doesn’t work in music that’s as rhythmically unpredictable as Pyrrhon’s. So in a lot of instances, I adopt a delivery where I basically just scream the words over a certain phrase in the music in whatever way feels most aggressive to me at that moment, rather than adhering to a prefabricated vocal rhythm. This approach produces the “ranting” effect you hear in a lot of Pyrrhon vocals
As an aside, I do compose some of the basic song structures for Pyrrhon, as all of the members do at this point. But I’d credit our guitarist Dylan as our lead composer and captain of our musical ship, so to speak.
IMV: Sticking with the vocals for a minute, your vocal performances on record sound just as intense and demanding as the rest of the music. How do you keep your voice healthy while on tour so you can replicate those performances every night live?
DM: The short answer is “with difficulty.” My voice isn’t especially durable by nature, and you’re right that I push it very hard in Pyrrhon. As a result, I’ve always struggled with vocal endurance, and it’s taken me quite a while to learn how to maintain it on the road. In my experience, there are a few key elements to keeping my shit together on tour: maintaining good breath support and technique onstage; using my voice sparingly when not performing; sleeping as much as possible; and keeping the alcohol consumption to modest levels. I am a lifelong insomniac who likes to booze and to goof around with bandmates and showgoers, so this regimen takes some self-discipline to sustain. Touring is more like work than play for me as a result, but it’s rewarding regardless.
IMV: I want to ask you about your approach to writing lyrics as well. Obviously, I love metal – but a lot of metal lyrics are absolute nonsense that I’m totally fine with not being able to understand. Your lyrics, on the other hand, seem far more thoughtful and carefully crafted than the average, and not just in terms of their subject matter. You use vivid, unexpected imagery and pay attention the sound of the language in each line much like a poet would. Where does that come from? Are you an avid reader? Do you have an English Lit or creative writing background?
DM: Thank you for the kind words about the lyrics. Writing was my first creative passion by many years. I really didn’t start thinking of myself as a “real” musician at all until maybe ten years ago, but I’ve been pursuing writing in one form or another since I was a small child. My education involved a lot of writing, and I was a creative nonfiction writing minor in college. But I was primarily trained as an essayist, and have received basically no formal instruction as a poet or fiction writer. Most of my published writing as an adult has consisted of music criticism for sites like Stereogum and Invisible Oranges; my interest in more literary stuff post-high school has largely amounted to consuming lots and lots of novels and poetry on my own time. I have also been attracted to lyrics as a form since I was young, as they have the power to imbue the abstract beauty of music with much more personal specificity and meaning — this marriage of my two biggest creative interests holds a lot of potential for me.
All of this said, I don’t think I have any great unique talents as a lyricist. My process consists mostly of listening carefully to my internal monologue, identifying images or phrases that have taken on special emotional or conceptual significance for me, and then using them as starting points to craft full lyrics that try to crystallize that emotion or idea. This process of reflection on my internal preoccupations and iterative expansion on what I find there is more a matter of patience and diligence than of divine flashes of inspiration or whatever. Anyone who reads a lot and is willing to expose their inner selves to the light of day could do what I do, and probably succeed artistically as often or more so than I have. But as you suggested, a lot of people who write metal lyrics seem happy to gloss over the process as fast as possible without investing anything of themselves in it. And given how much attention people usually pay to lyrics in extreme metal, who can blame them?
IMV: The cover art for What Passes for Survival is really striking, just as it was on The Mother of Virtues and last year’s Seputus record Man Does Not Give. In all three cases, it also really complements what’s happening on each album both thematically and musically. How do you choose your cover art? There are several stylistic similarities between the images – did the same artist do all three?
DM: Yep. In fact, every Pyrrhon album cover to date and the vast majority of our merch designs — as well as the art for the recent Seputus and Weeping Sores albums — were created by one person, an artist named Caroline Harrison. Caroline is my significant other and we have known each other since we were teenagers; we have developed a deep reciprocal creative bond on top of our romantic relationship, and every Pyrrhon cover comes out of extensive conversations about the aesthetic and thematic contents of the album it appears on. Her arts practice and our band have grown up together in a sense. The vast majority of metal album art is a parade of shitty, boring, redundant imagery, so it’s a huge boon to us to have such a close relationship with a highly talented artist who isn’t beholden to the genre’s stock tropes. Caroline also started taking on commission work from other bands recently, and while I’m obviously quite biased, I’d recommend working with her to any musician who would prefer not to have another fucking skull or inverted cross on their album.
IMV: Speaking of Seputus, what’s the current status of that band? Since drummer Steve Schwegler is now also in Pyrrhon, the two lineups are identical save for guitarist Dylan DiLella. Will there be more music from Seputus, or has Weeping Sores taken its place?
DM: Seputus is still going strong. Steve is in the final stages of composing a new LP, and expects to begin tracking drums for it in the next month or so. Seputus has more or less become Steve’s solo songwriting concern over the years — Erik and I basically play supporting roles in that band as accessories to his compositions, as opposed to the more democratic and collaborative songwriting process that Pyrrhon uses. The new material strikes a more contemplative tone than Man Does Not Give, with less emphasis on grindy and frenetic passages, but I don’t want to say too much more than that. Weeping Sores works basically the same way except that I’m the songwriter / primary instrumentalist instead of Steve, and that project is also proceeding apace. I’ve written the guitar skeletons for a debut Weeping Sores LP, and will be fleshing it out in parallel to work on the new Seputus album. We like to keep busy.
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the final word to you – anything else you want to add?
DM: Thank you for asking thoughtful questions that didn’t read like they could be reasonably directed to literally any band!