Death Metal and Bowling Shoes: Artificial Brain and Pyrrhon Played Memory Lanes In Minneapolis
Spoiler: Artificial Brain’s Labyrinth Constellation and Pyrrhon’s The Mother of Virtues are two of my favorite albums from this year. They are both a lock for my top ten albums of 2014. The likelihood of ten albums coming along to displace them is less than one millionth of one percent. Pyrrhon displayed advanced level “weirdo” death metal on The Mother of Virtues, as unsettling psychologically as it is aurally. Artificial Brain released what could end up being my favorite death metal album of this year, a gargantuan tech death monster, whose low end gutturals and alien encrypted transmissions surprised me given its release on the premier Profound Lore Records. I got wind of their tour via the ol’ Information Superhighway earlier this year, no Minneapolis or Twin Cities dates. I felt perhaps dark forces were conspiring against me. New dates were announced later, and Memory Lanes in Minneapolis, Minnesota was added to the tour. Monday night is a work night for me; missing this tour was not optional. I decided to be a man and suck it up for the greater good of the Toilet Ov Hell. Act utilitarianism, in its purest form. This past Monday I laced up my Adidas sneakers, threw on my Cult Leader / Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne mash up tee, made sure I was packing enough snus tobacco a.k.a. “yuppie chew” for the evening, and set out to meet providence at Memory Lanes’ seminal institution, Punk Rock Mondays.
I arrived to Memory Lanes shortly after 10:00 pm. There was no cover charge for the show. Again, admission was zero ($0.00) dollars. I would have gladly paid for a ticket to see Pyrrhon and Artificial Brain; free admission was just the icing on the cake. Given the size of the venue, it was sparsely filled, but I noticed the crowd that had gathered for the show. It was a mix of metal fans, dressed in black, with beards and grvm faces, and I noticed a few hardcore and crust types as well, studded jackets and face tattoos, who I have to assume are regulars at Punk Rock Mondays. I saw very few hipster types, I was not sure if this is because it was a late show on a Monday night, due to the venue, or given the nature of the headlining acts. Much later in the evening a couple of clean shaven, fresh faced youngsters wearing metal shirts showed up for Artificial Brain and Pyrrhon. The opening band, Plagued Insanity, were setting up their equipment on stage which was located across several lanes of bowling. I wandered around the merch tables, took a look at all the tee shirts and vinyl, grabbed a Red Bull, and waited for their performance to start. Plagued Insanity played a short set of party themed thrash metal. They were pretty enjoyable for a band with which I had no familiarity; I noticed that the sound was surprisingly good for a bowling alley. There were many people bowling to the left of the stage who were clearly not there for the concert. It gave the whole thing kind of an absurd, surreal vibe, like I’m watching this metal band complete with shirtless drummer at one moment, and then looking left and seeing a BDubs Bro a.k.a. Abercrombie & Fitch pick up that spare he was hoping for to impress his date. Several of the concert attendees would walk off for a moment to bowl and then return to the stage.
After Plagued Insanity finished their set, the next act was on stage to set up his equipment. The next act was Juicy Karkass, a rapper from Portland, Oregon. Given that he was not a local artist, his appearance on the bill seemed quite strange to me. While he was setting up, I got the opportunity to talk with Doug Moore, who is Pyrrhon’s lead singer and well known in the metal blogosphere as being the former editor in charge of Invisible Oranges as well as a regular contributor to Stereogum’s excellent monthly metal column, The Black Market. This was not a formal interview, it was an off the cuff conversation which Doug has been kind enough to let me reproduce for this article. I had communicated briefly with Doug prior to this concert via email, when I had written a Toilet Ov Hell post about his band’s album The Mother of Virtues.
Hey, hello, I’m Edward, we talked once via email. Oh hey, yeah I remember, thanks for the support, how’s it going? Our conversation quickly turned to hearing protection, I brought some dollar store earplugs to the show (for the first time, ever) and Doug showed me what appeared to some pretty high tech earplugs. He told me they were quite expensive. I asked if he always played with them in, he said that he did, to which I remarked “that makes sense since you do this professionally”. Doug replied “well, professionally implies that you make money”. I pointed out that while Pyrrhon isn’t exactly “easy” music to enjoy, that they had been signed to Relapse Records. Doug told me Relapse Records is “the best label Pyrrhon had ever worked with”. He said they were such a big machine that even “flipping the switch to on” for a day did more for them than any label previous. Doug told me this was Pyrrhon’s first year “in the black”, but in their five years as a band they were firmly in the red. We also talked a bit about the heavy metal blogosphere, a subject with which I have much interest. He confirmed my suspicions that there wasn’t a treasure trove of riches to be made blogging about metal, or as we talked about prior, touring as a heavy metal band. He explained he left blogging at Invisible Oranges full time to pursue touring with Pyrrhon, as he said he was working full time and then essentially working full time again at IO. I mentioned he still contributed to Stereogum’s The Black Market, he told me he also occasionally writes stand alone pieces as well. He said Stereogum paid “pretty well”, a sentiment he echoed for sites like Pitchfork and Noisey. I joked that it was all the sites hated by “tr00” and “real” metal fans. As Juicy Karkass prepared to take the stage, Doug took his leave. Later in the evening, I asked if it would be Ok to run this conversation. When Doug gave me his email, I picked up that it was a reference to the band Botch, so that was a bit of fanboy excitement for me; Doug pointed out that he was wearing a Botch windbreaker.
Juicy Karkass started performing. His “schtick” is that he is a crust punk rapper, and looked the part to perfection. Black studded vest, black baseball cap, face tattoos. I wasn’t expecting to like his music; don’t get me wrong, I am a long time fan of hip hop and rap music. I thought based on his name and image he might be like a less known version of ICP. I was mistaken. I found most of his songs to be pretty good. He had one punchline that stuck out to me “if you tell me to shhh I think you’re talking shit / you just don’t have the balls to finish it”. The crowd gathered for his set, he had a little audience participation, he did his version of a fvck the police song, and he managed to bowl a few while rapping. He rapped about a few other social issues as well. I was standing in the back, near the merch tables, and started chatting with a guy who I later learned to be Artificial Brain’s lead vocalist, Will Smith.
It did not even occur to me I was speaking with one of the guys from Artificial Brain. He introduced himself as Will, and we talked about hip hop music. He told me he didn’t really like “party shit”, but was a fan of old school hip hop and “hip hop with a message”. Afterwards, when I realized who I was talking to, I pointed out since he was from New York he was probably a fan of Def Jux. He said he was a bigger fan of Rhymesayers (based in Minnesota), so I thought that was pretty funny and ironic that I was a huge fan of a New York indie hip hop label (RIP, Def Jux 4 lyfe) and that he was a big fan of guys from my hometown. Smith told me that he had saved up money to take a leave of absence for this tour, and that he would return home and “need to recoup”. We talked about our jobs, his work with autistic adults and my work in the chemical dependency field, agreed that both professions didn’t pay much, and some future plans as well. Smith told me he had been kicking around in the metal underground for 15 years, I would later look this up to see what other bands he had played in. I got the same impression from Smith that I did from Moore, that these were down to earth guys who were involved in metal solely because they were so passionate about it.
Artificial Brain went on after Juicy Karkass. They played live as a five piece band, Will Smith on vocals, two guitarists, a bassist, and their drummer. Smith is a big and imposing dude, and he donned a pair of dark black glasses for the majority of their set. They ran through seven songs. Given the sparse crowd and the amount of space, I got to be front row for the duration of their set. They sounded very heavy live; as I mentioned the sound was good so I could pick up a lot of little details in the guitar playing. Smith was an entertaining front man, he motioned with his hands and acted out some of the lyrics from their songs, like during “Worm Harvester”. They played a new song, which on the setlist was only called “NEW”, I don’t know if the song is yet unnamed or if they are keeping it under wraps for the future. Smith alternated between low end gutturals that approached slam burps and the occasional bellow. Their set was momentarily derailed when the guitarist needed to change one of his strings, but Smith made conversation with the crowd and kept people entertained until they were ready to finish. As they finished their last song, “Labyrinth Constellation”, Smith removed his glasses and hung the microphone in a mock hanging.
The last act I caught for the night was Pyrrhon. The crowd had thinned out a little more, Pyrrhon didn’t go until about 12:30 am. They played as a four piece, and I noticed that the same drummer, Keith Abrami, was filling in for Pyrrhon for this tour. He played two sets each night of the tour! That, and he had to learn the drum parts for all of Pyrrhon’s songs they did live. Impressive. Pyrrhon’s music live was nearly as unsettling as on record. Pyrrhon alternated between fuzzed out noise and death metal, all with a nervous energy to it. They opened with “Balkanized”, announcing their arrival. Oddly, I had an easier time understanding the lyrics than I have listening to Pyrrhon on record, I picked up more lyrics than I had ever heard before. Doug Moore was a tremendous front man, he seemed animalistic and appeared like he could send the mic stand off into the crowd at any moment. Two guys attempted to start the only mosh pit of the evening, it did not catch on or last very long, however. Pyrrhon capped off their set with their self titled track “The Mother of Virtues”, and seemed to play it for its entire nigh eleven minute length.
Pyrrhon’s set wrapped around 1:00 am. There was another act slated to play after them, I did not stick around for it. In total I spent $20 for the evening, I bought a Red Bull (tipped the bartender $2.00 to open the can) and picked up a black Pyrrhon tee shirt from the merch table. The surreal vibe of the bowling alley made the whole evening more fun than it had any right to be, everything just seemed kind of funny. Artificial Brain and Pyrrhon were both great live, as expected. I found Doug Moore and Will Smith both to be personable and well spoken, and was very glad to get the opportunity to chat with them both. This tour is just wrapping up, but given the opportunity you should check out these bands live. Lastly, I’m looking forward to the follow ups to both of their 2014 records.