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An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master - 83%

KonradKantor, April 26th, 2012

Adaptation is something that all musicians need to learn in order to survive, and if there's one side of metal that has been seriously lagging behind its counterparts in recent years, it's death metal. The music world is, in the truest sense of the word, Darwinian; and death metal has been high on the endangered species list for quite some time now. Nevertheless, just as all hope was thought to be lost, fucking Pyrrhon comes along and changes my opinion on just about everything...

An Excellent Servant... provides the listener with more than enough evidence proving the case for the growth potential death metal still has. However, one must be very careful when mentioning the words "progressive" or "technical" and "death metal" in the same sentence, as many will immediately begin to think of the unlimited cesspool of soulless Muhammad Suiçmez copycats that have been plaguing the death metal market like a festering epidermal disease. Whether it's superficial drum triggers, endless fret masturbation that seems like nothing more than Widespread Panic in super-fast motion, or shitty vocalists who happen to be well-liked because of their enormous dreadlocks, about 99.5% of modern death metal bands that consider themselves to be technical lack anything substantive enough for a serious listener to put up with more than one or two tracks of their bland garbage...

And what of those few, well-respected bands that we refer to as "progressive death metal" outfits? Yes, what of the bands that release two-hour-long albums that, although musically sound, are far from memorable and an absolute chore to listen to. Are journalists really scratching their heads when they find out bands like this are still unsigned? ...

Need I continue this ongoing rant and mention the recent multitude of bands popping up attempting to emulate "old-school" death metal or death-core bands? While the former genre should have never climbed back out of its muddy grave, the latter should have never been invented...

Well, that's all water under the bridge now, because Pyrrhon provides enough oomph within the foundation of its song structure to alleviate the aridity contained in most albums that try too hard to push new boundaries. Each song brings new elements into the equation yet continues to solidify the overall sound that Pyrrhon skilfully creates. The group vocals are fun early on, and they don't contain too much testosterone, either. The guitars are technical and noisy, but behind all the experimentation is some solid riffage that bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan or Converge continuously seem to lack, as far as I'm concerned. Although the two previously mentioned acts have undoubtedly played a role in Pyrrhon's influence, they could actually learn a few things from Pyrrhon themselves -- like how to actually sustain a groove before shitting randomly placed notes all over the listener's face... or how to back their technicalities up with real force.

Lyrically, this shit is as bleak as the natural selection process that the Earth keeps using to rid itself of the surface nuisance Carlin himself referred to as the human race. Moore's lyrics leave us with no solutions or ways of reversing the unfortunate process we are all a part of. They simply describe a situation, as horrid and hopeless as the narrative may seem to some. The words fit well into the album and (unlike most metal albums) are both intellectual and entertaining. If there's one thing I already knew about Doug, it's that the dude can fucking write... and it's nice to know that some sledgehammer vocal deliveries help back up the lyrical integrity of the album.

Gorguts, Death and Atheist also come to mind as strong influences, but Pyrrhon never regresses in its songwriting -- its members continue to learn all they can from their predecessors but still cover new ground. Whether it's the interesting transition between "Idiot Circles" and "Correcting a Mistake," the numerous vocal distortions that occupy slower parts of the album such as "Flesh Isolation Chamber," or the guitar distortion of the title track that actually make the album ...well... quite emotional, Pyrrhon seems to have corrected everything wrong with death metal as we know it today. Pyrrhon's progression is natural, and it's bands such as this that death metal is going to need in order to see any real development in the future. If it wishes to survive, that is....

Truth be told, I don't know how many death metal bands are out there doing the right thing. It doesn't really matter either, because I know an organic piece of music when I hear one, and Pyrrhon has given us just that. An Excellent Servant... is as sincere an album as any I've heard so far this year, and all of you who thought my year-end list last year was a bit too black (even though there can never be such a thing) should take serious note, because Pyrrhon definitely has what it takes to end up on quite a few lists come year's end, including my own. Then again, the album doesn't quite have what it takes to revive an entire genre that has gone totally wrong in too many different directions simultaneously, but it's sure as hell a good start.

Originally written from

What a mess of an album... - 42%

Lane, April 8th, 2012

When a band is out-of-ordinary, a listener usually falls in love with them or cannot stand their music. New Yorkers Pyrrhon are that kind in nature with their warped death metal. 'An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master' is the band's debut full length album, after a demo and an EP releases.

Pyrrhon's gimmicky rhythms are the first thing to strike, right on beginning of the opener 'New Parasite'. Add to that some discordant guitars that play seemingly random notes and stuff, I knew it wouldn't be easy for me to listen to this album. Thankfully they turn into tech death metal, which is even a bit catchy, plus Voivod-esque part (both guitars and vocals), that also saves a lot. Definitely a hard-to-get opener, let me tell you. 'Glossolalian' is a tech death song without much of catchiness in it. It's just messy. Messiness is a trademark of the songwriting. Too much mathcorey for my liking. Most of the songs include good parts, but then they turn into incoherent compositions. 'Idiot Circles' is a point of light among more messy songs, as it is not without some truly noteworthy heavy riffage, vocals and drumming, not forgetting its more captivating nature. Yeah, the song might be somewhat straighter, but heck, it works for me much better than quirkier shit!

The guitars, as mentioned earlier for being discordant, are frantically played. Both muted deathy riffing and open stringed "jazzy" stuff can be heard, and also quite a lot of dissonant string bending. The bass plays a big part on the record, meaning there are bass guitar passages and other ways to bring it forth. The drums... Well, they are very much varying. Anything from blast beats to groovy rhythms and technical peculiarity. The vocals are angry and throat-rippingly intense with some lower growling and Jeff Walker-esque snarl. The lyrics are about the state of this world and humans, with somewhat Orwellian atmospheres. The sound is very clear and suits for this kind of music. The Colin Marston production does not lack sof heaviness or other nuances, so points for it.

I find this album to be a messy and too much "out there", if definitely different from usual. So, if you are tracking down for music that does not follow the laws of straightness in anyway, you may find this to be a gem you've been hunting for years. But consider yourself warned. Gives me headache, this...

(originally written for

Pyrrhon - An excellent servant but a terrible... - 85%

Phuling, January 5th, 2012

From the name Pyrrhon I expected a semi-gory dash of modern grindcore. Not that the word itself has anything to do with gore, but for some reason that’s what I expected. So as New parasite opened up a new world of techy, jazzy and quirky death metal I realized I was quite off base. This is the American lot’s debut album, and judging from it I can say they’ve got a bright future ahead of them, and had they only been signed to Relapse I’m sure they’d been a household name already.

In all reality it’s bloody difficult trying to describe what An excellent servant but a terrible master sounds like. New parasite starts with some dissonant guitar noise before it suddenly unfolds and morphs into full-on brutal death, which shortly breaks down into a hardcore choir breakdown, just as quickly as it goes all-out schizoid with spazzy drum patterns, screwy vocal effects and discordant riffing. And that pretty much sums up my listening experience, but to summarize such a massive album in such a generic way would be a disgrace, ‘cause what Pyrrhon have done here is actually to take technical death metal to a new level.

We’re blessed with the lack of overburdening guitar wanking, like that of Brain Drill, luckily it never reaches the core landscapes, like that of The Red Chord, and what we’re left with is a modern day technical death metal somewhere in between Ulcerate and Gorguts. Add to that a touch of the grindsters of Psychofagist (and hell, why not even a dose of Cephalic Carnage while we’re at it) and I suppose you’ve got somewhat of an idea as to what’s going on. But you’d still be mistaken, ‘cause Pyrrhon manage to pull a fast one on the listener quite a number of times, and you never really know where the hell it’s gonna end up. Idiot circles is a mammoth of heaviness; slow and overpowering, whereas Flesh isolation chamber is a spastic whirlwind of blasting in combination with angstridden sludge (imagine that combination).

An excellent servant but a terrible master is definitely jazz inspired, at least in the drum department. The seamless movement from über-fast blasting to unorthodox drum patterns in all paces imaginable never falters, and the variety is vast. The same goes for the riffing, which offers both brutal and powerful brutal death metal as it spaces out completely with dissonant melodies and discordant noise, but never does it hitch. Vocally it constantly switches character on you; one moment taking on the role of a murderous monster, the next a rampaging lunatic and suddenly some pissed, over-aged hardcore fellow stuck in the 80ies (A terrible master is the best example of the latter). The pitch and style never remains the same for too damn long. And despite the chaotic recipe Pyrrhon pulls it off without a flaw. Instead of spacing out too much, going all-out technical (which after a while becomes bloody tedious to listen to, albeit you might find it cool to begin with), they’ve paced themselves enough to deliver an album filled to the rim with quirky and jazzy technical death metal, finding pretty much the perfect balance between technicality and progression. Not a bad start for this band, and they’re definitely a contender for the throne.

Originally written for My Last Chapter

Always being watched? or Never being seen? - 95%

sobermetalheadduh, May 16th, 2011

I've been debating for a while which album I should review first, but I think this one deserves the honor of FIRST REVIEW for me.

I'm listening to this record for the 5th time all the way through. I didn't want to write this review until I had enough knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the music herein to preclude any fanboy bs. There is so much to discuss so instead of writing a long introduction, I'll begin reviewing the actual music.

To begin with, the guitars are absolutely pristine. The tone is exactly what I look for in death metal, which is slightly dirty yet with a real cutting edge to them. The riffs are huge. The sonic landscape presented reminds me of some of the stuff that Immolation did on their most recent album crossed with some of the strange push-pull seen in Gorguts' "Obscura". There is obvious jazz influence present which makes for an intriguing listen and is different from much of the "tech-death" that has been coming around recently. This is not the jazz-wankery of Behold... the Arctopus, or the neo-classical virtuosity of a band like Necrophagist (not to sound negative, I actually love Necrophagist, just making a point), this is something I personally haven't really heard since "Obscura". The riffs are acrobatic, precise, and f***ing heavy! For me, the most perfect example of this Gorguts-like dynamic is in the song "Idiot Circles".

Moving along, the vocals... this is probably where this album loses points for me. I don't know why, but some (not all) of the vocal lines are taking a little too long for me to get into. But like with most wonderful pieces of art, perhaps this will change as I experience this album more and more.

Like with most (good) modern death metal, the bass is definitely there and adds to that Gorguts-like push-pull that I'm so darn fond of. Just for the record, this album is NOT just ridiculous Gorguts worship. These guys definitely have their own vision, albeit a very bleak and sludgy vision. My point is that they are unique enough within the death metal world that the only band I can compare them to without sounding like a completely asinine fool is Gorguts because they share that same sense of discord, heaviness, fog, darkness, jazz, and insanity.

My favorite part of this album is the drums. Alex is more than just a person to hold the rhythm of the songs. He adds his own sense of interesting fills and blasts as he sees fit. Honestly, I've known Alex since 7th grade, so I'm a bit biased, but I watched him grow from a frenetic Jazz drummer in middle school to one of the most proficient dm drummers I've ever met. This album shows these two styles of drumming being combined to perfection.

If you are looking for deathcore, sterile tech-death, mallcore, or any other form of metal bastardry, stay far away from this release. But if you are like me and have craved a new good death metal album, this is for you. I'm very excited to see what these guys do next, and hey, maybe they'll get signed to a label someday!

Queasy, dissonant death metal craftsmanship - 85%

Djol, April 14th, 2011

You and I and your grandmother all know that overly technical metal follows the law of diminishing returns: the first squiggly insane bit blows one’s mind, but keep it up for too long, and squiggly insane bits number two through x will assuredly fall on tired ears. Thus, New York’s own Pyrrhon succeeds where a lot of ultra-technical death metal acts fail by actually allowing the listener to get her rhythmic bearings before going off on a fret-abusing tear (see “Glossolalian” for a prime example of this at work). Too many of the glitchy meth-or-Red-Bull-heads in tech death bands start by writing frantically technical parts, then attempt to wedge them into loosely recognizable songs. Pyrrhon’s approach is the opposite: creating a solid frame of a song, which is then adorned with and debased by flights of sheer heart attack (see “Correcting a Mistake,” where the bass-only opening is not simply a solo spot, but actually previews the skewed melodic riffing of the guitars).

This is technical death metal not on the model of Decrepit Birth, Obscura, or any of that other relentlessly modern fare, but more on the queasy, churning darkness of Ulcerate. Or, perhaps, imagine if Gorguts had written an album halfway between the styles of "The Erosion Of Sanity" and "Obscura." All of which is a roundabout way of saying, Pyrrhon is technical as all shit, but the guitars aren’t just senselessly puking up pinches and squeals and taps – when they do appear, they function as effective rhythmic landmarks (see the opening of “Flesh Isolation Chamber,” for example). Just as one’s senses are ruthlessly toyed with, jerked half a beat this way before being yanked entirely in another direction, there are always little footstools of solidity, fleeting though they may be.

Check out the guitars at around the three-minute mark of “New Parasite” and the clean guitar section in “Gamma Knife” for some excellently woozy pitch-bending, sounding like some alien deep space radar, quietly pinging out the dead oceans of time. Dylan DeLilla’s solo sections are wonderfully psychedelic, and very atypical for this kind of death metal – see especially the midsection of “The Architect Confesses,” with Erik Malave’s thick, purling bass backing an otherworldly spaghetti Western Hendrix. Alex Cohen’s drumming alternately blasts and breathes, smoothly cocooning the broken shard guitar riffing. “Idiot Circles” is a fine example of the monomaniacal dismantling of the tenuous border fences between the great bruising beatdowns of hardcore and the harrowing land of avant-garde death metal, throwing in some Suffocation influence to complement the skronky dissonance of Deathspell Omega and the jerky time-stretch fuckery of Gorguts and Ulcerate that prevail throughout "An Excellent Servant…"

Doug Moore’s vocals are a hugely versatile instrument used to great effect throughout the album. “Gamma Knife” in particular is a great vocal showcase, featuring a huge range of techniques: spacey effects, deep, throaty bellows, and mid-range snarls. The overwhelming effect, though, is that the vocals are always nervily focused on throttling intensity of delivery rather than dry perfection of techniques. You may also find yourself quite the paranoiac, constantly stealing glances over your shoulder during the spooky clean section of “Flesh Isolation Chamber,” which shows off the clean enunciation of Moore’s dangerously-unhinged vocals. The song, in fact, is probably the best one on the album, as it displays the full range of Pyrrhon’s stylistic touches, plus the way it keeps lurching and threatening to come apart at the seams toward the end is a nice effect.

Since I’ve made a right fuss about Moore’s expressive vocal delivery, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the man’s lyrics are a masterful blend of evocative imagery and forceful economy, one that finds a certain apocalyptic resonance not in the overwrought violence of world wars or collapsing cities, but rather in the quotidian tyranny of alienation and disaffection. The lyrics to “Gamma Knife” read like a Kafka-esque version of Tom Waits’s “Alice”:

“A great, silent heart
Sprouting vein-trees and capillary branches
Rendered obsolete
and spinning lonely through the ice.”

The lyrics also invoke a blighted urbanism, rather like a resigned instead of revolutionary version of Alan Averill’s fanatical protagonist on Blood Revolt’s "Indoctrine." One of the absolute finest phrases in this style comes from “Flesh Isolation Chamber”:

“Which is worse:
Always being watched
Or never being seen?”

Moore’s lyrics are most clearly distinguished at the most crucial point, the last lines of the album: “I don’t give a fuck what happens to me / All I want is to go to sleep.” What follows that final exhortation is yet another twisted guitar solo section, singing for all the damned world a demented lullaby. "An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master" is delightfully entropic; or, at the very least, its musical text can be read as a dialectic between order and chaos, surging, heaving, lunging onward to respite or ruin. But tending – as always, with everything – to entropy.

(Note: Originally published - in slightly altered form - at