“You took my heaven away,” sings Lynn Gunn on “Heaven,” the first track of PVRIS’s new album All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. This sentiment — anguished and accusatory, the lyrics backed by a hard swell of rock — sets the tone for the rest of the album, a self-assured musical exploration that is as angry and troubled as it is fierce.
All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is PVRIS’s second album after their well-received debut, White Noise. It includes much of the emotional force and honesty that originally made White Noise popular, and refreshingly, it accomplishes the rare feat of not reaching too far beyond itself. The rock-infused approach to songs like “Heaven” and “No Mercy” is hard and dark, but not oppressive, and the lyrics are dramatic, but don’t come across as presumptuous or overused. This is especially true on “What’s Wrong,” with the repeated line, “You don’t need a metaphor to know I’m miserable.” The result is an album that is sure of itself, well defined and enthrallingly catchy.
It’s also very cohesive; the hard-edged guitar chords and ripped-raw lyrics carry the listener through anger, desperation, sorrow and finally numb resignation in the span of 10 songs, and at no point do the transitions feel jarring or unearned. This is in part because one of PVRIS’s strengths is their ability to balance soft, contemplative melodies with active, livid rock, often within the space of a single song. For instance, “Separate” starts out with a gentle (albeit dark) electronic ambience that, through steady drums and mounting production, escalates smoothly into a chorus that feels at once angry, waking and alive. The most surprising thing is that the transition is so seamless — it’s difficult to notice it’s even happening until it’s already over. The album comes full circle particularly in its final track, “Nola 1,” which incorporates the tune of the chorus of the earlier track, “What’s Wrong.”
An especially appealing aspect of All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is that while it was clearly carefully produced and arranged, it doesn’t lean on its own skillful production to carry the meaning. The lyrics also hold up to scrutiny in their own right. Early on, “Anyone Else” cuts to the bone with lyrics like “’Cause I could touch a hundred thousand souls / But none of them would ever feel like home,” and “Nola 1” closes out the album with skewed and scattered images of a house once haunted. Things do get a little cliché and melodramatic in “Walk Alone” (“I was the smoke in your lungs tearing you apart,” “Darling, I always knew that we were doomed,” etc.). However, every song on the album puts in at least a strong effort where lyrics are concerned, both in terms of visibility and description and in terms of honesty.
For all its merits, it must be said that All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell doesn’t take PVRIS very far away from White Noise in terms of artistic direction. It’s darker and feels more complete and realized, but doesn’t mark any drastic new risks or interesting incorporations of new genres. Every once in a while it feels generic, because when you’re singing about relationship turmoil and tension from a frame as broad as heaven and hell, it’s hard not to get a little generic at times. But this is only the band’s second album, and it still stands alone as a dark, snappy and quality piece of work. The lyrics, production and melodies all contribute an equal effort to make the album: A strong representation of the turmoil that comes at the end of a relationship, and what that can mean emotionally for all involved.