Throes of Production: Pyracantha and Hellchant
In the comments for his excellent review of Haunter’s Thrinodia, my esteemed colleague Richter opined, “For a solid two years now I’ve found myself craving that weird haze that hangs over shitty-sounding albums.” As my friend so eloquently put it, terrible production can have its own charm and offer a unique sonic aesthetic apart from the general trend toward further fidelity you find in many spectra of metal. I’ve gone on the record defending the artistic merit of bad production, but to reiterate my own point, production should be viewed as an artistic choice and evaluated for how it conveys the theme and tone of the album rather than whether or not it meets some acceptable DRM scale. Today I’d like to introduce you to two lo-fi bands making a joyful racket.
As far as I can gather, Pyracantha is a one-man black metal band from Las Vegas. There may be other collaborators, but I have trouble believing that this kind of depressive/suicidal black metal took more than one person to conceive. Daybreak really only has two things going on throughout its three short tracks: somber, slightly melodic chords squelched out at a sluggish pace and a steady, unwavering backbeat not unlike the main drumline in Metallica’s “Fight Fire With Fire.” In fact, at one point the guitars in “Wandering Woods” even drop out into a wash of distortion while that constant boom-crack of the kick and snare rolls on almost identically to the segment featuring only Lars’ handiwork just after the solo section in the aforementioned thrash anthem. It’s an odd, incongruous stitching of elements that shouldn’t really work, but the singular, mechanical drum beat’s lack of variance lends a cold, mechanical, and oily feel to the smoky notes. It’s a tactic that worked perfectly for Legion of Andromeda, although the effect here is more a constant reminder of despondency rather than a perpetual hammering sensation, as though the only thing linking you to the misery of existence is your own treacherous pulse.
There are vocals at play too, the kind of raspy indistinct sort superstitious Victorians would have ascribed to banshees in the mist. They do little more than add an extra layer of grief to the atmosphere, but for the minimalist approach taken by Pyracantha on this release, it’s just perfect. Daybreak succeeds because it uses only the bare essentials to convey its central tone: shiftlessness, longing, misery. A clean production job would only detract from this tone by adding clarity to it. By drenching everything in a dense, hissing fog, we’re encouraged to lose ourselves rather than peering too closely at the distinct elements. Compare the production here to the slightly crisper job on The Long Night. The guitar lines are quite a bit more complex on that EP and demand a greater level of discernment. Instead, Daybreak presupposes nothing and merely invites you to sit beside it in the dwindling twilight.
Hellchant tackle the fidelity question from a decidedly different approach, and for good reason. If the overtone of Daybreak is lachrymose restlessness, that of Temple of Abominations is unfettered rage. As you can likely guess from the excellent album art above, Hellchant’s debut is a slipshod, cantankerous mess of bestial black metal. Everything is cranked up to 11, but the vocals are given an added punch and taken just one notch on the dial higher. The end result is a loud album with loud guitars, loud drums, and even louder vocals. Picture a snarling lion bellowing out to ward off would-be usurpers of its pride while cymbals crack and sizzle like an overhead electrical storm, ushering forth little bursts of ball lightning and kindling wildfires. The riffs are a shapeless mess, coiling and heaving in an old-school death metal snarl of muscle and sinew, as though the ravenous lion is tearing into a competitor in a jumble of teeth and nails.
The production on this album, too, is fuzzy, but that only lends to the ferocity. The drums, especially the cymbals, sound almost as though they’ve picked up conversion artefacts while the vocals burst out from behind a ski mask. It’s perfect for the raw bloodlust this young Swiss band is attempting to conjure, and the vocalist’s shriek of “ABOMEENASHUN!” in “Temple of Abominations” would likely lack some menace if the production was cleaner. Like Daybreak, this is an album without guile or artifice; there is no need for clarity because the blasts and riffs are one-dimensional. There is only boiling rage and hate burbling out like burning petrol from a crack in a pipeline to hell.
P.S. I just love that the last track, “KAOS” is way louder than everything else and features a jackhammer bass drum and just sounds like absolute war being unleashed. Perfect.