There’s not a band on Earth more capable of taking over the planet than PVRIS. Everyone knows that; their debut White Noise turned pretty much every head it passed with a near-seamless blend of pop songcraft with icy, borderline gothic undertones. But there’s still a few yet to be convinced, and of them is chiefly PVRIS themselves. After all, White Noise was a dark album, with vocalist Lynn Gunn diving headlong into her own demons and insecurities and not exactly coming out unscathed.
But that was three years ago, and while All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell sees PVRIS once again venturing into the abyss, the challenge this time is a lot meaner – to prove their debut wasn’t a fluke or a flash in the pan like so many that have come before (and indeed, after) them. And honestly, this isn’t the album to do that mostly because PVRIS are limiting the sound they go for this time; where White Noise favoured expanse driven by a distinct rock core, All We Know Of Heaven… draws more on their electronic side, and the result is far less potent with a fire that’s dimmed considerably.
The fire hasn’t been completely put out yet though, and All We Know Of Heaven… definitely hits its peak when PVRIS embrace that, like with the jagged, frigid stomp of What’s Wrong or picking up into a full post-hardcore instrumental on No Mercy. The fact that they’re here at all is at least something to find solace in, but the direction PVRIS take here is more preoccupied with forming the big, breathy soundscapes rather than taking them anywhere. The harp on Walk Alone and the gentle guitar flutters of Same Soul might be pretty, but there’s no edge that keeps the momentum going, and Separate lies stagnant as one of the least memorable compositions this band have to their name.
Even with regards to Gunn herself, the vocal performance on this album experiences a similar case of flatlining with only occasional peaks. As White Noise made evident, Gunn’s range from gentle coos to full-throated belting is impressive when used right, and though there’s not a case on All We Know Of Heaven… where her performance is bad, it’s seldom as gripping as it could be. Heaven, What’s Wrong and Winter are the most successful examples at tackling that loud / soft balance, but with tracks like Half or Separate, there’s no distinct peak that keeps hold of the attention, and the impact it has is unnecessarily mitigated.
Then again, there’s the feeling of All We Know Of Heaven… being a more personal, insular album with that mirrored in its overall restraint, and that can work. That sort of soul-searching has long been one of PVRIS’ strongest assets, and on this album it’s no different, seeing Gunn wrestling discomforts between her physical and mental perceptions of herself on Half and What’s Wrong, and a relationship that’s clearly toxic but provides the safety and comfort she craves on Heaven and Anyone Else. The manifestation of these two themes forms the crux of the album, whether that’s her own venemous outbursts on Winter or the desire to always be in her partner’s life, physical form or not, on Same Soul, but the underlying cause that passes through the album is her own meteoric rise to fame. There’s the realisation of her own change on Nola 1 and how much damage it’s actually caused, while What’s Wrong makes it even more explicit, showing how fame has made her own demons more noticeable, draining her to the point where she’s no more than “a goddamn corpse in a centrefold”.
That’s a powerful statement, one that puts PVRIS’ place in the music landscape into the most detailed context yet, but one whose weight feels undercut by how lacklustre this album feels instrumentally. It really shouldn’t be either; there’s nothing that’s particularly far removed from what PVRIS have made their own in the past, but there’s nowhere near as much punch here. Rather, All We Know Of Heaven… feels like a lesser White Noise, putting forward a poise and fragility that it can make its own, but having less of an idea of what to do with it here, or how to apply it to similarly cold content to make a satisfying whole. There’s enough here to go on, and in terms of PVRIS’ world domination, the door hasn’t completely shut yet, but off the back of this album, it’s only slightly ajar as opposed to wide open.
For fans of: Chvrches, Seafoal, Versa
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’ by PVRIS is out now on Rise Records.