Album Reviews

Pyramaze – Contingent

A couple of years ago, Danish-based band Pyramaze had a resurgence back onto the metal scene with an explosive reception after a 7-year hiatus. They finally released their last album Disciples of the Sun to much critical acclaim, putting them clearly back on the map after many thought they had no plans to return after two members left the band and they were in need of a vocalist once again. However, when highly sought after producer, musician, and long-time friend of the band, Jacob Hansen, accepted to join Pyramaze on guitar, he suggested Norwegian vocalist Terje Harøy (Crossnail/Teodor Tuff) join them on vocals as well. This combination for the quintet ended up striking gold, and though their sound shifted somewhat from their original beginnings, the elements aligned in a new balance that still satisfied long-time Pyramaze fans as well as brought in a large new fold of listeners. Riding the momentum of the success of Disciples of the Sun, they dove in quickly to create their fifth studio album, Contingent. It sees the continuation of this magical new lineup with Terje Harøy (Vocals), Jacob Hansen (Guitars, Bass), Jonah Weingarten (Keyboards), Toke Skjønnemand (Lead Guitars), and Morten Gade Sørensen (Drums) carrying on the Pyramaze banner. As they are known for their epic musicianship, they also return on this album with another conceptual album with a post-apocalyptic science fiction theme.

The opening track is Land Of Information, which begins with what many may assume is an expected cinematic instrumental opener, with the sci-fi synthesizers opening this song and album with an epic theme. Following on its heels is the entry of a guitar on a 4 chord descending riff as the rest of the band comes in powerfully with deeply emphasized beats supporting the guitar and keys, playing into the first verse and subsequent subverse. The song continues into the substantial driving chorus while the introductory motif plays underneath it in a seamless juxtaposition of both melodies. After a short re-intro, the second verse/subverse enters, returning to the chorus and into a new double-line channel that sets up the subsequent guitar solo, giving it a kind of a Masterplan-like sound with some nice blues in the vocals that are not overly done, but bring a nice touch to the new progression. A second instrumental section ensues, picking up the pace with a quick but steady beat in the background from the drums and rhythm guitars/bass while there is a tradeoff between melodic guitar and shredding keyboard solos showing off their prowess as the intro riff returns to segue back into the next chorus. It returns with a channel reprising once again as the final ending to the song, a fitting, energetic opener that pulls in the listener to anticipate what to expect for the rest of the album.

Kingdom Of Solace is a formidable second track (see the lyric video below), with a sweeping orchestral introduction with the main melody heard on chimes, no less. The band enters after nearly 30 seconds of the cinematic beginnings with a powerful punch with remnants of the orchestra still underneath. The first verse begins soon after with steady rhythms as the vocals soar overhead, and at the end of the following bridge, the instruments shift to a half-time feel from the previously rigid on-beat rhythms, giving it a kind of breathing room as a nice segue into the call-and-answer kind of chorus. The chorus on this song is one of the best on the whole album, with some wonderfully syncopated drum rhythms against the solid guitars and the juxtaposed, layered vocals that all fit nicely together. After a brief re-intro, the second verse and bridge set in, similarly as before, followed by the catchy chorus. Then, in true Pyramaze form, the song shifts altogether for quiet moment as the instruments fade out to only a tinkling melody played on the keys, like a music box playing over some string pads that enter later on, sounding very much like the instrumentals in earlier Pyramaze days. The instrumental interlude has a second section that is like a polar opposite to the first half with a full band feature pulling out all the stops with shredding key and guitar solos that even get into a portion that sounds so close to a Final Countdown quote cleverly crafted within. A new bridge soon follows, connecting to a double reprise of the main chorus. The introductory motif reoccurs at the ending (though this time with nonlyrical vocals sung over it), and the song ends with the same strings line that opened the song, giving it a singularly dramatic end.

The third track is Star Men, set up nicely by the previous track. Though Pyramaze has a lot of sweeping symphonic elements, their music has become less niche and more straightforward without a ton of progginess infused into their songs; however, that doesn’t mean that they don’t introduce some change-ups throughout their songs to keep things from being too status quo. This song is an example of this, by changing to a waltzing 6/8 tempo (with a little 3/8 thrown in) rather than the usual 4/4 common time often used across the album. It works well with this piece, which also makes it another favorite track of mine. Starting off with piano alone, the band soon joins in with some measured, chugging riffs accompanying the vocals that tell the story in the concept about looking forward into space for escape from Earth and hope for a new life. A short bridge connects the verse to the rich chorus that works so well with the lilting 1-2 feel and layered harmonies. A second round of the verse and bridge continue subsequently, and a second chorus follows, with the same melodies and instrumentation, but with different, slightly modified lyrics from the first chorus. A guitar solo breaks into the track at this point shifting to a more upbeat melody, as the song generally holds some gravitas to it with its key and rhythms. Following the instrumental is a third bridge followed by the second chorus again, and after a brief re-introduction theme appears, there is a spoken narration that speaks over the eventual fading out of the song: And the search went on and on/ We feared we’d never see the sun/ Faced with few alternatives/We turned around like resigned fugitives/ But then a flash, a big bang, the divine/ Disintegrated both space and time…

A World Divided is the fourth track, and begins solely with grand piano, eventually joined by an orchestral accompaniment that is very beautiful, but in a way, belies what kind of song this really will be. The band enters in an abrupt cuing that shatters the illusion of the soothing, bucolic, and elegant nature of the song’s initial introduction, with some punishing syncopated beats, giving a kind of sonic sense of destroying an iconically beautiful environment (perhaps in parallel representation of the song’s message of dichotomous worlds, moving from freedom to tyranny). The dual stanza verse begins soon after, with a more even, standard rhythm, moving into the chorus that continues on wonderfully layered vocal melodies and harmonies over more measured chord changes with the keys and guitars while the quickly trotting beats continue with the drums. The main syncopated introductory motif reintroduces itself into the second verse and chorus cycle, but then the beat drops down more moderately for a brand new channel to enter with new melodies. It is brief, however, and the introductory syncopated riff again reprises bookends before a third appearance of the chorus, closing the song with it as well.

The fifth track is entitled Nemesis, and it slows down the pace with a full band intro that is solid but more moderate in tempo and presentation. Drawing from Greek mythology, this song shows many facets and doesn’t follow a typical pattern in many metal songs, where the verses are more punctuated and driving while the choruses are more drawn out and grooving. In addition to this kind of “reverse” composition, after the second verse/bridge/chorus cycle, there is another shift that is more common in Pyramaze songs to have a completely different channel to appear at one point in the song, but this one is lengthier than most and drops down to only piano and single guitar in the beginning, with a slow build with the band. In addition, it is one of the places on the album that really showcases Harøy’s voice in a different way that is less gritty and powerful while in a lower octave, and even has a tenderness that is much different than his usual metal frontman sound. This is followed by another double appearance of the chorus, but this rendition changes yet again with some counterpoint melodies in the background that bring an even greater richness to the already smooth chorus, while also picking up the rhythms in the last chorus as an additional revision to keep things fresh as it reaches the track’s end.

Contingent – Part I: The Campaign is the first instrumental on the album (later to be joined by its counterpart in track 10). This nearly 2-minute track consists mostly of percussion and piano that has a sweeping cinematic effect, though it does not use orchestral elements as much as other Pyramaze instrumentals have employed. The echoing percussion gives it a great depth against the recurring melodic motif that the piano brings to the forefront.

The seventh track is 20 Second Century (and their first lyric video as seen below) is a catchy, powerful tune starting off with a chugging, imperative introduction that immediately captures the listener’s attention. A clever song that talks about an ever-tyrannical government that increasingly oppresses their citizens – including controlling their arts – but shows the hope that the tables can be turned even as they try to survive, the intensity of the topic is reflected in the music as well as the lyrics. The lengthy first verse sets up the tone of the song with resonant melodies, but as it goes into the bridge, the syncopated drum rhythms that fill around the rhythm guitars is pretty amazing. The chorus stays fairly high-paced while more straightforward in rhythm while remaining quite catchy. The second verse, bridge, and chorus cycle continues with a triple reprise of the chorus at the end of the song, with a keyboard solo followed by a guitar solo as an interlude between the first and second repeats of the chorus, with no break going into the third chorus and ending with the outro reprising the introductory riff.

Obsession starts with a sound of a record player needle crackling on the surface of the album, with the beginning of the guitar introduction muffled, but it soon bursts into full sonic force with the main introductory motif that recurs periodically throughout the song. The first verse comes onto the scene with syncopated vocal lines over the rhythmic guitars, giving it a little different treatment than typical verses on the beat, but the following bridge is smoother and on-beat with layered harmonies. The main chorus follows the style of the bridge with a bit more drive. There is a brief segue that has a kind of middle eastern/oriental flavor to it (reminiscent of something you might hear in a Myrath song), a continuation of the introductory motif, but then the song returns to the syncopated second verse with the bridge and chorus again following. What comes next is a channel, as often is the case with Pyramaze song structures, a section of the song that is completely different from all the other stanzas in the piece. The melodies are unique to this section and it is not repeated anywhere else in the song, and the tempo feels like half-time in comparison to the rest of the track with the vocals having a kind of Beatles-esque flavor to them – another neat gem to discover within the song. It slips seamlessly into the subsequent guitar solo and reprise of the introductory riff as a second chorus appears (same melody but different lyrics), and the original chorus follows it up into the end of the song.

The ninth track is Heir Apparent, and is a continuation of the theme in 20 Second Century. This track, however, is more measured in tempo than its sister track, and has some wonderful lyrical trickery and vocal melodies. Following up with the removal of the tyrant and the subsequent leader that seems to be the heir apparent to follow with hopeful newfound freedoms. Starting with a piano line, the band enters for a moderate accompaniment to the main piano melody, and the scale back to foundational rhythmic instrumental support during the first verse, shifting a bit into the bridge with more syncopation and layers, and then builds into the chorus. The introductory motif returns as an instrumental segue into the second verse, bridge, and chorus. A new channel enters after this second chorus that has a different feel that I really like (and for some reason reminds me of some latter Galactic Cowboys songs in that brief moment), which stands out as a unique portion of the song. Following this is a guitar solo that plays off the main theme with some nice scalework, and the chorus has a triple reprise after the instrumental break, although each time is presented differently. The first chorus is delivered typically, the second chorus – and of note – juxtaposes the aforementioned unique channel underneath the chorus as a kind of countermelodic section, and the third chorus is more vocal-driven with a significant reduction in the instrumental contribution.

Contingent – Part II: The Hammer of Remnant is the second instrumental on the album, beginning with a synth-heavy opening, but shifts into a more ethereal section with the simple echoing piano melody with electronica bass beats in the background, giving it a kind of sparse, science-fiction feel to the music. Then the soft, ethereal, choral-like changes continue slowly underneath the entrance of an almost guitar-like sounding effect with a new energetic melody that moves into the second half of the track that is very reminiscent of the Legend of the Bone Carver music, almost like an updated nod to their prior musical roots. Percussion soon joins to help play out the section to the outro, which segues into the next track.

The eleventh track, Under Restraint, starts off with keys, but then explodes into the intro with powerful drums and rhythmic guitar work, giving it a measured, yet heavy, opening right out of the gate. The first verse commences with a similar, yet scaled-back, rhythm underneath the vocals, but then as it reaches the bridge, the rhythm seems to suspend into a more half-time feel, picking up again in the chorus. The introductory motif returns to segue into the second verse, bridge, and chorus that continue again similarly as before. However, the song takes on a different tone as a new channel appears, unique to any other part of the tune and showing all the facets that are Pyramaze. It drops to keys/piano only as the rest of the band sustains and fades out, and Harøy ‘s vocals drop to a lower octave and with a different timbre than he usually sings – not exactly softer, but cleaner, smoother, and less forceful – and is wonderful to hear this side of his voice. This change fits the musical shift effectively, and shows Harøy’s versatility to bring the voice that fits the sound that is presented in the best way possible. Following this channel is a guitar solo, playing very nicely over the established rhythms as before as a new second chorus arrives (same melodies, different lyrics) and is followed by a repeat of the first, original chorus to play out the last vocals of the piece. The outro is also different than other parts of the song, using the same chord progressions as the intro, but played solely on guitar with quarter note strums while maintaining a root drone underneath as it comes to a close. Though there are so many great tracks on this disc, this one in particular is one of my personal favorites.

The Tides That Won’t Change is the only ballad on the album, and it is a beautiful duet with Terje Harøy featuring Kristin Foss on vocals (those of you who follow Jonah Weingarten’s solo work may recall her singing on Love Me Back to Good on Dance of the Mourning Child‘s album The Fire Maple). Beginning only with piano, Foss’s silky vocals start off the first verse, bridge, and chorus, complete with harmonies; then Harøy’s vocals enter only on the second verse, while Foss again sings the bridge, and they come together on the second chorus. The ending shifts from the waltzy 3/4 to a slower 4/4 time signature with the piano taking the lead solo to play a beautiful continuation of the song with its own melody. The song ends with the chorus reprise with Foss’s voice delicately starting it off, but it builds as Harøy’s voice joins her and several layers of melodies and harmonies ensue for a beautiful finale.

The thirteenth and final track on this album is Symphony of Tears, a song that poetically expresses the effects of grief trying to live every day and moving on from an unexpected disappearance of a loved one, but shows a tough façade in the music. This song opens with a futuristic synth opening, joined soon after by the band in full, setting the stage for the first verse to enter. Again, this track has a measured, andante tempo, and after the first stanza of the verse, a B verse comes in with more layered harmonies and begins to pick up the rhythmic pace into the more driving – though not faster – chorus, the first half of which really seems reminiscent to me of something one might hear on an Anubis Gate album. There is an instrumental connection to the second verse with the recurrence of the introductory theme, and the second verse enters with a new first stanza but the B chorus remains the same as in the first verse. A second chorus resumes, though with slightly different lyrics than the first chorus, with a tag ending to it in a half-time rhythmic delivery. The beat picks up in the following instrumental break with a soulful, melodic guitar solo. The original chorus returns soon after, immediately followed by the revised second chorus, which is also delivered at the most frenetic rhythm picked up mostly by the kick drums in 32nd note blasts before easing back into the re-intro motif as an appropriate bookending to the song.

Pyramaze wanted to ride the momentum from Disciples of the Sun, and that they did. Jumping into the songwriting for Contingent right away, they also brought in other amazing people in the business to help create this masterpiece. Even as the Pyramaze members wrote all the music for the album they enlisted the assistance of Henrik Fevre (Anubis Gate) to write the lyrics and vocal melodies for nearly all the songs, except on The Tides That Won’t Change (lyrics by guest vocalist Kristin Foss), Land of Information (the vocal melodies he collaborated with Jake E. [former Amaranthe]) and Star Men (vocal melodies he collaborated with Toke Skjønnemand from the band). Of course, it helps also to have a world-class producer in the band, and so Jacob Hansen produced, mixed, and mastered the album to its sonic perfection, as to be expected. In addition, the striking artwork was created for the cover and illustrations by Felipe Machado Franco (Blind Guardian, Rhapsody of Fire, Iced Earth) with additional artwork and design provided by Jan Yrlund (Apocalyptica, Korpiklaani)

Pyramaze has stood the test of time and their perseverance has most definitely paid off. In this kind of second era of the band’s history, they have found a chemistry that works very tightly together that allows each member’s talent to shine both individually and as a collective. On this album, we get to hear the complex rhythms and melodies of the guitars with the foundations held down solidly by Hansen (holding down both rhythm guitars and bass) and spotlighted by Skjønnemand time and time again in every song with melodies and solos that fit each song’s particular needs. Sørensen‘s other-worldly drumming is always a pleasure to hear and his fills and complex polyrhythms bring great depth and character to each piece in a way that I find absent with many other drummers in the metal world. Weingarten‘s fondness for both cinematic/classical and metal genres add the icing on the cake with his panoply of sounds to augment each song, whether in the single classical piano line, sweeping orchestral sections, or non-musical effects that bring the soul of the music to life. Harøy‘s vocals are as ever powerful on this album as before, but here we get to see a wider range to his voice that I think should be heard more often to show his true versatility. Pyramaze has a formula that works in their songwriting and in their playing together that shows a connection between them. They have developed a sound that has altered since this current lineup’s inception but is clearly congealing and maturing quickly as they continue to own it with Contingent, as they are defined by the styles of their current songwriting collaborators. There are no signs of stopping at this point in their career, and Pyramaze fans should be very pleased with this new fifth studio album – it would not be an understatement that Contingent should be a blind buy that will not disappoint.

Album teaser to “Contingent:”

Lyric Video to “20 Second Century:”

Lyric Video to “Kingdom of Solace:”

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