PYRESHIP – Light Is A Barrier

As far as most people will be concerned, Pyreship first appeared on the sludge metal scene in 2017 when their ‘Liars Bend Low’ album appeared on Bandcamp. Its five murky sounding tracks immediately signified the band as masters of some of the dirtiest riffs, but for those paying closer attention, the material also suggested a keen interest in wandering, dark atmospherics which – in the hands of talented musicians – might just take their uncompromising noise into more interesting places in the future.

A couple of further numbers were released on a split with Forming The Void the following year, and Pyreship had plans for a timely follow up of their own. ‘Light Is A Barrier’ began taking shape in 2018 with the recording of various insanely heavy guitar parts, followed by sessions capturing some intensive vocals. Things were seemingly going well, and then, with the album finished and pretty much ready for release, the world was knocked sideways by a pandemic. In the band’s own words, that “just didn’t seem like the right time” to try and promote a new album, and so ‘Anathema’ sat on the shelf.

It was worth waiting for. Its five tracks explore deep and intense riffs in a way that fans will be accustomed, but the best material also has a moody undercurrent that teases with a deep, proggy textures, leading to a slow burning record that lovers of heavy riffs might just find a little more interesting than your average sludge and doom. ‘Broken Spire’ kicks off the album with an atmospheric intro where a broken speaker buzz, noises from a detuned radio and slowed slowed voices immediately set up a feeling of unease. With other voices fading in, the creepiness intensifies. It goes on for so long that the relatively unsettling tones actually become genuinely frightening. When the guitars finally fade in, the riff has a dark, almost downtuned vibe that fits perfectly with the ominous mood Pyreship have set in place. After a while, a second guitar adds a strong ringing riff, and settling into the meat of the number, Pyreship flaunt a brilliantly dark groove, almost taking the dark prog metal vibes of Awooga and mixing them with a very obtuse arrangement by Jerry Cantrell. The vocals are multi-layered; echoing, shouting, growling; these, too, occasionally feel more like instrumentation, but it all works well, especially once a female cry emerges above the noise. The mix so dirty that it’s almost impossible to make any lyrics, but that’s not really the point. This is about darkness, about threat and unease, counterbalanced with a very 90s moodiness that awakens a retro feel in a very inventive way. It won’t be for everyone, but those grubby riff lovers who get it will find plenty here in which to lose themselves.

Much more accessible, ‘Anathema’ opts for a semi-clean tone. Circular riffs dance above moody, grungy backdrops, before a stripped down verse delivers some superb long bass notes and more haunting vocals. Again, it’s hard not to hear more than a passing influence from Alice In Chains, but mixing that with the stoner vibes of Crowbar and another almost proggy vibe – with traces of later period Anathema themselves – this grows into a very confident piece. For those who value the band’s metallic aspects over the wandering atmospherics there’s still plenty to get excited about, since a massive sledgehammer of a riff crashes through a massive climax where distortion and sludge collide with a shouty hardcore vocal. If it weren’t clear before, this number shows Pyreship as an uncompromising musical unit, and yet still strangely compelling.

A genuine highlight, ‘Half Light’ makes an instant impression by opening with a classic doom riff underscored by wordless female vocals. Within a few bars, everything begins to feel like a distant cousin to the brilliant EMBR, before the quasi-melodic elements are swept aside for an intense heaviness. Driven by a barrage of drums, the ensuing riff takes on far more of a Conan vibe, blending traditional doom and sludge with an abrasive hardcore edge, augmented by a relentlessly shouty lead vocal. After three minutes of repetitious riffs and a lyric that seems to be stuck in as much of a loop, the band eventually break free, and a quieter interlude is on hand to remind everyone that Pyreship aren’t just about noise. Between its deep bass and a discordant guitar, the instrumental break serves up another brilliantly haunting atmosphere, but the way it slowly ascends back into heaviness to accommodate a howling lead demonstrates the band’s easy ability to shift between moods, before a barrage of wondrous sludge plays out to finish. In terms of capturing the band’s full range, it’s all very impressive. The results aren’t as easy to appreciate as ‘Anathema’, but in showing Pyreship’s strange prog/doom hybrid sound at its purest, this is a great track.

Moving towards the end of the album, ‘Forest of Spears’ fills the bulk of seven minutes with a dirty sounding riff that’ll be of direct interest to the doom purists given that its speaker-busting, distorted approach comes in heavy from the outset and then seems to get heavier. It’s here where the band’s recording “live in the studio” is at its most obvious. There are barely any elements within this number that aren’t absolutely drowning in fuzz, with amps up to eleven, and yet the band’s broad talents allow a few brilliant metal melodies to cut through. It isn’t an easy listen at any point, but the way busy, tom-heavy drumming is used to detract from any potential monotony is especially brilliant, and the band’s talent for taking heavy sounds into darker places is without question. The vocals spend half their time as if being shouted from another room, but this – again – seems to add to the atmosphere and intensity of it all. In closing, ‘Highborn’ takes some typical sludge and mixes it with a very Sabbath-y riff at first, chugging at funereal pace, almost gleefully. It’s close to pure doom, and between the enjoyable multi-layered riffing, its verses care not for melody of any kind. A sledgehammer riff is repeated and dual vocals shared between a male throat-caning shout and odd female disharmony seem keener to upset than add any sonic texture. It isn’t until almost five minutes in, that the listener is offered any genuine respite when everyone drops into a desert rock jam where echoing guitars and heavy toms come together to serve a hazy selection of riffs that are quite far removed from Pyreship’s crunchy norm. This only lasts for about ninety seconds, but that’s long enough for the listener to regroup before everything steers towards a massive climax where vague influences from Tool underscore bits of doom and sludge that aren’t so far removed from underground UK bands like Pineal. Finally, with a dual guitar part weaving in a repeated melody, the band bow out with one of their most appealing melodies of all; a hypnotically heavy groove that captures their simple, almost circular approach to a riff with ease. As the last notes fade into distortion and inevitable silence, the quiet almost feels like being emotionally stunned, with the listener left in the wake of a musical pummeling that’s never been easy, but always interesting…

The intervening years between recording and release has made this material seem much more intense, somehow. Not necessarily angrier – it would have struggled to achieve that – but certainly much darker. It could even be considered more poignant with a wealth of ominous, slow, and even oddly threatening musical passages closely resonating with an increasingly uneasy world. ‘Anathema’, in particular, shows how sludge metal can be moulded into interesting textures without losing any of its expected intensity. Pyreship, in turn, demonstrate how recordings with a moderate budget needn’t sound as if they’ve been done on the cheap. This is a sometimes frightening experience, but if you can tune in, you’ll find a great band and some insanely heavy riffs that come up winning at pretty much every time. The five numbers are often about crushing riffs rather than songs, of course, and there’s nothing here that could be easily termed everyday listening, but if it’s doomy and sludgy riffs you crave, ‘Light Is A Barrier’ will certainly not let you down.

April 2022