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Live Report: Cleric, Pyrrhon & Seven)Suns @ Saint Vitus

As soon as Cleric drummer Larry Kwartowitz started warming up, you knew you were in for a treat. It was just a simple drum roll and double-bass thump, but executed with such taste and restraint that it was hard to miss. This was next level playing. The whole band followed suite, playing a dimensionally spiraling set Thursday night, with horizons deep, and angles expanded. The Philadelphian quartet released their first record in seven years this past December, Retrocausal, to wide acclaim. As much avant-garde jazz as it is technical metal, the album is a masterclass in precision: a little Fantômas, a little Naked City. Live, the group pulls it off and then some, extending the studio versions with a rawness that is pristine and human. You can tell free jazz is important to these guys, the collective collapsing together in harmony after long extensions in disparate worlds. It’s technicality played with a jazz spirit. Movements are more than songs to Cleric; they’re universes to experience and ponder.

SEVEN)SUNS opened up, appearing like a well-oiled classical chamber group, then forging into nightmare Bernard Herrmann Psycho-scapes that were piercing and maddening. The string quartet’s heavy metal via classical music act is serious: this is a group fully committed to the world of experimental and avant-garde composition. They performed a few covers (something string quartets playing heavy metal typically do), but those songs were performed in the same ballpark as their original works: limber, airy, and then totally devastating. The group’s sharp wits and prominent presence has led to collaborations with The Dillinger Escape Plan and Daniel Bernard Roumain. There’s something beyond the music. A psychological bent: a wanting for immersion. Halfway through their set, the band performed a song from their latest record For The Heart Still Beating based on their visits to Rikers Island Correctional Facility. It was hallucinogenic and shifting, like an open surgery into the minds of the inmates.

NYC’s Pyrrhon has come a long ways in eight years. Always leaning towards the experimental and chaos-is-king bent, the group has managed to harness that ideology tenfold. Last year’s What Passes For Survival is an exhibition in extension and cubist reinforcement; live, the group manages to get slicker with each performance. The band hopped on stage Thursday night and immediately ignited toward the Nexus region. Sparks of stardust smelled in the dark air as riffs piled on blast beats, piled on human scorches, piled on feedback, piled on equations from the dark side. Pyrrhon never waste any time, perpetually driving to the center of all things; and this takes its toll: you’re left shell shocked, in a good way, panting for air and thinking you’ve just witnessed an excursion of truth. Nice job.

Pyrrhon is like Cleric in their stormiest and chaotic moments, but Cleric offers an almost medical-like examination on each section they deliver, one stacked on top the other: never settling for the ultimate moment. They’re also darker, even though the darkness is more subtle. Cleric utilizes their space excellently: ultimately acting something like an M.C. Escher maze, where each door leads to another door. The jazz dimension is crucial to this space. It offers the chance to sculpt dissonant riffs and harness the extremeness that heavy metal can offer. Ultimately, it comes down to taste, and Cleric has a shitton of it. There are sections where Kwartowitz starts pedaling backward as the rest of the group plunges forward, then he switches, and then they do too. The sculpture created is a lighting-rod of math: lights are flickering and then dimming, and then there’s the exit sign, another imaginative haze. There’s no escape: this is a religion led by a freethinking, all-encompassing leader; you’re sucked in, and for once, you enjoy the sermon. Thanks Cleric.
photos by Christopher Harrington

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