The New York City-area band Pyrrhon deliver an uncompromising, immersive whirlwind of lacerating avant-garde death metal on their new album Abscess Time, which releases on June 26 via Willowtip Records. The band’s music features a straightforward helping of brutality with frequently wildly off-kilter rhythms running through the mix, and the physical heaviness and the technical prowess frequently run right alongside one another, with little sense of any element dialing down.
In the following interview, the band members explain some of their mindsets surrounding the record. It’s worth reading in its entirety — one highlight comes from vocalist Doug Moore, who shares (in a quote that appears again below): “To me, the best part of extreme music of any kind is its indomitability. Music is treated as a low-value commodity in our day, and so it is expected to shape itself in a fashion that pleases speculators. To make a kind of music that rejects that system of valuation is to live with the hope for a different world from the current one… To regard that mess as a foregone conclusion, instead of an injustice, is to accept your own destruction. It’s no secret that underground metal isn’t going to save the world, but at least it shows that we still have a fucking pulse.”
Check out the discussion, in its entirety, below!
Captured Howls: Was there a sort of key point that you returned to repeatedly during the new album’s writing process, and if so — what was it? Put differently, what would you describe as the guiding principles behind this new album’s creation?
Steve Schwegler (drums): A key point or principle we knew we wanted to try is to dial back the overt physicality of What Passes For Survival [the band’s 2017 album], and sit in more pockets of groove, or less cluttered space. We still visit the energy from that record in places on this one as well, but it’s used selectively rather than as a default setting. Personally, I also felt that Erik and I could explore more accent work and dynamics together as a rhythm section, so a lot more nuance made its way onto the album from that angle.
Doug Moore (vocals): Lyrically, I wanted to focus on telling – or at least suggesting – concrete stories, as opposed to taking a more impressionistic approach. I also wanted to write about my own thoughts/experiences less, as I have discovered in my thirties that my interiority is not particularly interesting in the grand scheme of things. As a band, we wanted to explore repetition and vamping more than we have in the past. Those techniques have always been a part of our repertoire, but we devoted a lot more space to the process of iterating through many versions of ideas on this album.
Erik Malave (bass/backing vox): I think spontaneity is explored on this record in a different way than we’ve approached in the past. From the fully improvised tracks, to writing material together in the practice space for the first time, and letting songs mutate through brutal repetition, there is a greater sense of things occurring on this record rather than being written.
Dylan DiLella (guitars): The foundational material for many of the songs is more streamlined than it has been in the past; we wanted to do less with more. I also think that we made a conscious effort to make the core of the record as tight and raging as humanly possible.
Constructing the Songs
Captured Howls: There’s a lot going on in these songs, sonically speaking. What was the song construction process like? How did the sounds of these songs tend to come together, either in terms of which components (riffs, drums, etc.) came first, or something else?
Steve Schwegler (drums): Typically, a single member crafts a skeleton at home on guitar (or bass in Erik’s case) and it is brought into the room. The four of us look it over, feel out our initial instincts about the parts, make suggestions, and tackle one part at a time from beginning to end.
This time, we introduced more “in the room” writing, jamming with each other on a few ideas, and fleshing them out together. I’ve never seriously done that with the guys before while in the songwriting phase. We spent time finding tempos that we liked, or a groove to settle into, then basically smashed the “room” songs with repetition until we were stoked with them. And there is improvisation, where we did no-shit full improvisations of tracks in the studio. We were really excited to try that on this album.
Doug Moore (vocals): In terms of my vocal delivery, I tried to make more “automatic” choices. That is, instead of listening to instrumental demos and thinking through what kind lyrical content and delivery I wanted to use for each song, I improvised along to the band in the practice space and tried to rely on what my instincts recommended in the moment for vocal approach and subject matter.
Dylan DiLella (guitars): Steve summed up the overall process nicely, how the original outline of most of these songs are put together by one of us (all of us write on guitar). There’s a lot of collaboration and individual fiddling that happens when we’re actually going over everything in the practice space (and between sessions). Each member has autonomous control over their parts. But we also scrutinize everything as a group – we have a lot of “do you guys like this part/song/etc?” types of conversations. A couple of the songs were “written” in the practice space, which produced some really bizarre results that we wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.
Captured Howls: Can you imagine something that would feel too extreme to include in your music, or do you feel more like just following along with wherever the songwriting process goes? What are your thoughts about the “outer limits” of your music — or the lack thereof?
Steve Schwegler (drums): We definitely just follow our nose through the songwriting, yeah. We don’t tend to think of things in terms of extremity, unless we spontaneously come up with something truly crazy sounding that we all love. And then it’s “we have to do this, it’s great.” We’re still finding the outer limits of our music, especially since structured or full improvisation is well within our lexicon at this point. That’s the best part of this band to me, we could probably borrow and twist and corrupt the original idea of most music, and it would fit what we’re doing.
Doug Moore (vocals): Maybe it’s just because of how little distance I have from our music, but I genuinely don’t think that Pyrrhon is really that extreme compared to a lot of other metal. There are quite a lot of bands that are much faster, louder, more technical, or more relentless than us. I think what people find challenging in our music is its unpredictability; most listeners find it jarring when a band switches codes, and we do that frequently. But at this point, we’ve been a band for 12 years and we have a fairly well-defined vocabulary, even if it’s unconventional. I don’t think you’re going to see us suddenly throw in a bebop break or a guy with a noise table or whatever. But I doubt we would ever throw anything out for being “Too Extreme!” as Dave Vincent recently put it.
Erik Malave (bass/backing vox): I don’t feel like there is anything “too extreme” but I think there are plenty of directions we naturally avoid. Then again, the album we’ve recorded is different from anything I could have imagined us making prior, so sometimes everything and anything feels like fair game sonically.
Dylan DiLella (guitars): “Extreme” is an interesting word to ponder because it’s so subjective. I think that if we were to do an acoustic ballad, that could be really extreme (not BS’ing). Something like that certainly isn’t outside of our potential scope. I think the only limit we have is that whatever outside influence we bring in, we need to incorporate it fluidly. I think that sometimes “experimental” bands get too heavy-handed with the way that they combine influences.
Musical and Thematic Inspirations
Captured Howls: Are there particular guideposts, whether in the form of particularly inspirational fellow musicians or anything else, that you feel really informed your sound development, particularly on this new album?
Steve Schwegler (drums): Some of my guideposts are basically always the same; Neurosis, Morbid Angel, Botch, early Dillinger, Filth and Cop-era Swans, Discordance Axis… I probably listened to more rock/jazz stuff too. Mahavishnu Orchestra, newer stuff like Chris Potter’s Circuits album, Yussef Kamaal, Dan Weiss’ Starebaby, and on and on. As far as fellow musicians, I can’t really point at one person or one band. So many people are important. It’s everybody we see on a regular basis in NYC or Philadelphia, and all our friend bands that we’ve toured with in the past. It’s a collective influence.
Doug Moore (vocals): As I said earlier, I tried not to think too much about my aesthetic choices on this album. Looking back at my performance, I was drawing on my noise rock background more than usual, particularly with all of the layering and looping I did. I also had a bunch of physical health issues while we were writing this album, and at risk of sounding dramatic, I was just screaming in pain and frustration much of the time.
Erik Malave (bass/backing vox): I think the bass on this record draws from more unorthodox places than before. Minimalism played a bigger role for me this time around, with Steve and I grooving relentlessly at times, as well as in the improvised sections of the album. Plenty of great no-wave and noise rock has informed us over the years, right alongside the more obvious grindcore and death metal.
Dylan DiLella (guitars): I was listening to a lot of post-punk and noise when we were putting this record together. Public Image Limited, Polvo, Brainiac, Cherubs, Swans, Merzbow, Kevin Drumm, John Wiese. I probably listened to more non-metal over the past few years than I have in years. I could talk about influences and favorite records alllllll day long, but I’ll spare you.
Captured Howls: Throughout the lyrics, there’s a seeming real antagonism towards some of the most strangling social processes that we’re all too familiar with. “The Cost of Living” stuck out particularly, considering the current spotlight on calls for rent and mortgage payment forgiveness amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Broadly, how did you guys become attuned to these issues in the first place? What are some of the sparks behind the lyrical themes of this album?
Steve Schwegler (drums): The four of us are anxious dudes, so we can’t help but to stare at potential hostility as it floats on by. The funny thing is, we wrote and finished all this material just months before the really ugly virus shit started going down. I personally feel like there’s nothing I can do for society so much of the time, so I just smash my instrument until all the bad energy is offloaded.
Doug Moore (vocals): I just read the news. The looting of our world is going on in broad daylight and has been for years. People who don’t see that are looking away on purpose because they think that they can get in on the action by pretending it’s on the up and up. These songs were all written well before the pandemic, so any topicality they might seem to have in that regard depends on the way that it has accelerated all of the exploitation that was already happening.
Erik Malave (bass/backing vox): Personally, I find it difficult to see how people make music about anything else, though residing in cities like New York and Philly has a way of pushing certain injustices to your line of sight, if you’re not busy committing them. This pandemic crisis is exposing systemic problems that plenty of people have been writing lyrics about for decades, and we happen to be another group of pissed off and anxious people making heavy music.
Captured Howls: What sort of takeaways, in whatever form, would you hope come across for listeners from your new album? And more broadly, what are your thoughts about the general capacity of extreme metal to confront the issues raised in the lyrics on Abscess Time?
Steve Schwegler (drums): I want people to take away the level of attention to detail and effort that went into this thing. It’s a selfish cliché thing, but dive into this album with headphones. You could bang What Passes For Survival on speakers and get the point just fine, eventually. We put way more nuance into the songwriting, and worked really hard with [producer] Colin [Marston] to get the sound production right where we wanted it. We’re really proud of it, and I hope people can use the album to convert some of their negative energy into positivity.
Doug Moore (vocals): To me, the best part of extreme music of any kind is its indomitability. Music is treated as a low-value commodity in our day, and so it is expected to shape itself in a fashion that pleases speculators. To make a kind of music that rejects that system of valuation is to live with the hope for a different world from the current one. I’m not going to pretend that I have any genius ideas for cleaning up the mess we’re all in, and my lyrics are obviously quite pessimistic at times. But to regard that mess as a foregone conclusion, instead of an injustice, is to accept your own destruction. It’s no secret that underground metal isn’t going to save the world, but at least it shows that we still have a fucking pulse.
Erik Malave (bass/backing vox): I would hope that people listening enjoy and embrace what makes this album different from others, and let their own tastes meld and expand and create or enjoy as much new and interesting music as possible. Brutality and aggression and anguish and despair can be expressed in so many ways, you might as well do so in your own unique way.
Dylan DiLella (guitars): I hope that listening to this record makes you feel less alone.
Photo via Caroline Harrison
Check out music from Abscess Time below! Click through for pre-orders or find them at this link.