Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pyha - The Haunted House

Ostensibly, Pyha's fascinating Black Metal album 'The Haunted House' was conceived, composed and recorded by a 14-year old living in Korea.

Remarkably for music made by an adolescent, one of the tracks on the album is called 'Song of the Elderly'. Indeed, the youthful age of the musician contrasts strikingly with the music, which suggests images of the geriatric body rather than images of the vigorous, juvenile body. The music suggests a body slowly sliding into death: greying, wrinkling, weakening, becoming bald, crippled and senile, sagging, expiring, decaying, decomposing, crumbling, pulverizing ...

In its musical portrayal of the aging process, the music reminds me somewhat of Tony Scott's much-maligned 1983 film The Hunger, in which David Bowie plays the role of a vampire who at a certain point starts to age very quickly, spending the main part of the movie desparately searching for a cure for his progeria-like condition.

How does The Haunted House manage to mimic aging and age?

The way Pyha employs elements of the typical, lo-fi Black Metal production style somehow gives the impression of oldness: that style is frequently described as having a ‘necro’ sound, the "in the red" recording making the music sound blurred, making it sound as if it is wrapped in bandages of tape hiss, making it sound as if the recording itself has aged and slid into death. But the Black Metal production style in itself is not enough to 'explain' how Pyha manages to mimic age and aging. After all, on 1995 albums like Immortal's 'Battles In The North' and Emperor's 'In The Nightside Eclipse' that very same production style managed to convey a sense of youthful 'Sturm und Drang' vitality.

Other than with Immortal's and Emperor's 1995 albums, the tempos on 'The Haunted House' are not fast but a wobbly mid-tempo at best, the shakiness suggesting geriatric infirmity. Furthermore, it is the sense of fragmentation which pervades the album with age: in a way reminiscent of early Skinny Puppy or Download's 1995 'Charlie's Family' album, Xasthur-inspired Black Metal drones are broken up by "shimmering synths, and the sounds of war, speeches, soldiers, sirens, weeping mothers, crying children ... crackling campfires, crickets, warm whirring synths way off in the distance, ghostly gurgled disembodied voices, whipping wind, all interwoven with tape hiss and buzzing synths, creepy noises, and all manner of sonic detritus." (Aquarius). These fragments can be heard as drifting memories, as the mnemo-sonic flotsam of twentieth century Korean history - in fact, the album's at artwork features many grisly photographs of that wartorn nation's recent past. Thus, the fragmented music point towards the retrospective contemplation that many elderly persons delight in, but also towards the decline in the ability of aging people to bind information together in memory. Newton wrote that "absolute, true Mathematical Time, of itself and from its own nature flows equally without regard to anything external"; Pyha warps this rational, uniform time like age warps memory and the human body.

One might regard it as odd that Pyha would create a Black Metal album centered on age and aging. However, as Jean Baudrillard notes in his 1976 book 'Symbolic Exchange and Death', the so-called 'Third Age' has become abjected: "Old age has become a marginal and ultimately asocial slice of life - a ghetto, a reprieve and a slide into death." Seen from this perspective, it comes as no surprise that Black Metal, as a musical cult of the abject, appropriates old age and uses it for its own purposes.

Nevertheless the infirm, geriatric character of Pyha's music is at odds with some cultural strands of Black Metal: it effectively questions the hysterical aggressivity, overstimulated belligerence and pompous heroism so prevalent in some Black Metal subgenres. According to Tumult's website, the musician behind Pyha is "staunchly anti-government, anti-war, anti-military, he's a pacifist and an anarchist" - unusual political positions for a Black Metal musician. Politically too the music is reminiscent of Skinny Puppy.

In fact, Pyha's 'The Haunted House' is what Skinny Puppy's disappointing 1992 album 'Last Rights' should have been - a beautiful and horrific, kaleidoscopic meditation on body politics and the political body.


Invisible Oranges said...

I've had many of the same thoughts myself, though you summed them up and expressed them much better than I ever could.

Interesting how the suicidal strain of black metal sounds so weak and almost not metal, yet metal-archives counts that as metal, and not, say, much more metallic-sounding varieties of metalcore.

The Pyha album doesn't come with lyrics, and, as you noted about the one-sheet, seems to be politically-oriented. Thus, I don't think it's "centered" around aging. But I do agree that it has a necrotic vibe.

fishskull said...

The photos in the CD booklet seem predominantly taken from the 70s-80s struggles between Korean students and the military junta that ran the country at that point. There is a theme of decrepitude to the album, of decay and collapse that could apply to the titular house or the right wing geriatocracy that dominated South Korea in the 70s and 80s. It is a great album, metal or otherwise and reminds me a lot of industrial records, too.

valter said...

Thanks for your kind comments!

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to an earlier Pyha release in 2004 -- this is the one he did when he was a middle schooler. Translated, Pyha means "ruins."