‘Sludge metal’ is perhaps the most underexplained genre descriptor that metal has going for it. Ask five different people what they think sludge metal is and I’m willing to bet real world money you’d get about five different answers. Yet this lack of orthodoxy is also perhaps the microgenre’s biggest strength: calling something sludge metal, particularly the more modern kinds of metal that get labeled as such, is usually a sign you’re going to get something unexpected within your listening experience. Pyrithe‘s Monuments to Impermanence is a prime example of the kinds of weird and exciting places that sludge can lead someone.
In much the way that sludge metal says so much while being a descriptor that means comparatively little, Pyrithe manage to make an album that is cohesively bound together by…just doing whatever. Multi-instrumentalist John Kerr describes the ethos of Pyrithe as “to make the heaviest music we could without forcing ourselves to be ‘heavy’ in any specific way,” of which Monuments is the culmination. To give you an idea, this is an album that starts with a bang, literally. One short, sharp crack of the snare drum and instantly all hell breaks loose as the band launches into grindcore levels of intense, barraging riffs on opener “Asurviance,” before suddenly coming to a complete halt and letting cool ambiance soothe assailed eardrums for a brief moment, only to let the chaos erupt again and again. It’s this playful manipulation of form that becomes the defining feature of the music on Monuments; much of the album sits in the mid-tempo down-tuned niche that could be thought of classically as ‘sludge’ but never for long enough to comfortably have that label fit for me, interspersing both much faster blast beats and frantic guitars, the snarling crawl of “In Praise of the Enochian Trickster,” and the out-and-out spacey ambient.
Beyond touching on a myriad of genres, the band employ multiple guest members to contribute their own flair to the songs here, from guest vocalists like Doug Moore of Pyrrhon and Pyrithe’s original vocalist Vicky Carbone to friends of the band contributing percussion tracks by banging on piles of literal trash. If all of this is sounding weird to you, congratulations, you’re correct! But beyond being just weird, this is an album that is genuinely exciting to listen to. It’s a jaw-dropping experience in every way, from unexpected shifts in the music to the raw emotion and physicality put on display here. Nothing about this album holds back in any way, and you feel every note, every shuddering pause, every ‘fuck it, let’s throw it in there’ that went into the making of Monuments. It’s an incredibly intense listen, an album that feels like it’s buffeting you from all directions at once, but I never stopped being wowed by it through the entire course of it’s run time.
It is fitting then, I think, that Monuments found a home at Gilead Media, the absolute kings of ‘Doing Whatever We Want Whether You Like It or Not.’ I could easily see this being an album that is hard to shop around, as lots of labels focus on hyperspecific genres or couldn’t see something this hard to market doing much by way of sales. Gilead, on the other hand, has always had an eye for the unique and special, and the ability to let albums like Monuments speak for themselves without trying to pin them down. Particularly for someone who has found themselves more and more drawn to albums that are by design hard to categorize, the Gilead Media seal of approval means that much more on an album like this. Even with a long history of putting out nothing but heat, Monuments to Impermanence might just be one of my favorite releases in the label’s history.
I came into this album expecting to like it, but I think I was truly surprised by how much Monuments to Impermanence blew me away. This is an album that tries to do it all and somehow manages to succeed along the way where others might feel cluttered or unfocused. I wish half as many bands as I listen to were as inventive and unmoored from convention as Pyrithe have found themselves here.