Artist: Pyro, Ohio
Album: Before the Sun Sets
Label: At Your Command Records
What we have here is a failure to communicate. Or, well, reconcile might be a better way of putting it. Pyro, Ohio have gargantuan potential. Such is evident from the very opening strains of Before the Sun Sets, which builds on the promise signalled by their 2012 debut EP Welcome to Pyro, Ohio. It’s hugely ambitious and monolithic in scope, smashing through its instruments with aggressive precision. However, it is also a lesson in how to let bad singing ruin a potentially great band. The heavy vocals are perfect – just as gnarled and sinister as the music is intense, and complementing it well. It’s the clean vocals that let the side down, and make an otherwise great record utterly painful to listen to at times.
Essentially, Before the Sun Sets feels imbalanced. The music has pace and power – the percussion is especially good – and I can see what they’re aiming for in the contrasting vocals. Clean vocals can bring harmony and grace to heavier records, ensuring them more widespread appeal and making them more accessible for less hardcore listeners. But there is a fine line between some poised harmonies and caterwauling, which is what you get here. Vocalist Peter Verity genuinely sounds like he’s straining himself towards an aneurysm, bringing to mind the old adage about notes only dogs can hear. The shock dies down on further listening, but only because your ears have likely learned to put up a protective wall of resistance.
But I don’t mean to be hyper-critical. This failing aside, Before the Sun Sets is quite magnificent, and definitely worth your time and utmost attention. After a prolonged, suspenseful build-up, opener “NY Spins” unfurls a drumming arsenal that powers the entire album. Lyrically, it’s completely incomprehensible, but so fierce and deranged that you’re scarce likely to care. “Out West We’re Strangers” debuts the clean vocals which bode so ill, but if you can blur those out a bit the song has a lot to offer. Walking a fine line between madness and brilliance, it’s wild and antagonistic and completely relentless, each note serving to further hammer the tune into your head. It is unfortunate in this sense that the singing should prove so grating, as it undoes a lot of this power and brings it down to something more precocious. “Priorities Lose Company” is also just about brilliant. It’s rare to come across music of this quality in the genre – it’s heavy, but it has tone and rhythm and clarity and isn’t content to just play the same riffs over and over. It reinvents and explores and the music is richer and prouder for that, and the band win plaudits for their boldness and confidence. To have so much going on only for it to be drowned out by a guy who’s one notch away from autotune is shameful. It’d be like throwing down in a circle pit only to turn round and find your kid brother wailing desperately and demanding you take him home.
The ironic thing is, then, when the slower songs roll around the vocals are toned down a notch and sound much better for it. “Feels Like Frostbite” and “Where Are You” aren’t amazing musically – I don’t think softer sounds are their forte – but they have their moments, particularly the latter, which builds a good deal of atmosphere through its thoughtful guitars and driven percussion. Verity takes things down a notch, albeit only for a time, on these songs and his voice is much more likeable. This brief glimpse of restraint makes the failures on the other tracks all the more galling.
There is so much to love and commend here that it feels churlish to mark down Before the Sun Sets for its one flaw. It’s a seamlessly realised slice of ferocity and venom and displays more vision and talent than many of its peers. On this evidence, Pyro, Ohio will definitely go far but I would suggest they mull over the proverbial fly in the ointment first.
Review written by Grace Duffy