Album Reviews

Pyramaze- Disciples of the Sun

Though not a particularly large country, the European nation of Denmark certainly has produced some of the greatest musicians on the planet, particularly in the musical subgenres of melodic, symphonic, progressive, and heavy metal. This highly anticipated release from the Danish-American-Norwegian band Pyramaze is no exception. After waiting seven long years since their last release, Immortal, in 2008, the band has come back with a follow-up album that will leave no doubt that Pyramaze is still in the game for real. Much has happened in the history of the band, especially in the last seven years, including some lineup changes. Continuing are Danish members Morten Gade Sørensen (Anubis Gate) on drums and Toke Skjønnemand on guitars, along with co-founding American member Jonah Weingarten on keyboards and handling orchestrations. However, since the 2008 album, bassist Niels Kvist and guitarist and founding member Michael Kammeyer left the band, so the well-known producer and guitarist Jacob Hansen joined Pyramaze along the way in 2011 for this album. Lastly, Matt Barlow (former Iced Earth, Ashes of Ares) lent his vocals to the last album Immortal, but was not able to continue with Pyramaze, so a new vocalist was sought. That was found in Norwegian singer Terje Harøy (Crossnail) to complete the global quintet for this 2015 venture. This album packs in 12 lovingly crafted pieces for the listener to take in.

We Are The Ocean is an apropos opener for this album, and is the most reminiscent of the orchestral Pyramaze sound from the beginning. This cinematically epic instrumental is a beautiful opener to the album, featuring piano, strings, and percussion most prominently that is most reminiscent of past Pyramaze albums. It segues into the second track after just longer than a minute, and there the general similarities to the previous Pyramaze sound start to diverge.

Following the brief introductory track, The Battle Of Paridas is an in-your-face follow-up to the gentler opener that sets the stage for what kind of album the listener is in for. It is a wall of sound that nearly knocks you over as the guitars and drums dig in from the get-go with a beautiful evenly played piano backdrop with a countertheme and scale runs. This song introduces the powerful voice of new vocalist Harøy and shows right off the bat that he is more than capable of handling this album. The guitars are driving throughout the whole song, and continue to be pushed forward by the drums, only with a coasting letup during the bridges. The instrumental interlude is a nice tradeoff between the lead guitar and keyboards, with the continued driving beat maintained by the drums and rhythm guitar before the choral reprise to the end.

Disciples Of The Sun starts off with an equally powerful beginning, but changes the gears a little bit by using a less often utilized 6/8 time signature, which gives the song a moderate drive propelling forward in an easy 2 feel. The song remains fairly consistently heavy throughout, although there is a more subdued piano and keyboard solo interlude in the middle of the song that is a nice shift from the lilting push of the rest of the song, and hearkens back briefly to the trademark Pyramaze sound from the earlier days. The vocal harmonies on the chorus add an especially lush depth to the already catchy melodies that draw the listener right in. The rhythm guitars along with the drums provide the lilting foundation, with complementary keyboards and guitar solos that put together a neatly delivered package for a fantastic title track. (Listen to this song in their first band music video shown below, released as their second single.)

The fourth track starts off with a somewhat different sound and approach than the previous songs. Back For More begins with a very guitar solo-led introduction that introduces the main theme of the song rather than just a rhythmic intro. The kick drum and rhythm guitars are very tight in sync with each other throughout this song, and there is a lot of play with the beat within this song, with shifts between a driving 4/4 and a more suspended 2/2 feel, as well as a quite progressive instrumental interlude with time signature changes and syncopation. At the same time, the vocal melody is smoother and consistently rhythmed, which is a nice juxtaposition with the syncopation of the other instrumentation, which seems to hold it all together. The theme of persistence (for good or for ill) in the lyrics is also shown in the musical fortitude of this song.

Genetic Process is another catchy tune, starting off with a fast-paced triplet arpeggiation that suspends to a half-time feel as the verse approaches. This feel trades off between verses and choruses, allowing the vocals to soar during the verses and dig in with catchy melodies during the choruses. The instrumental interlude is scales back momentarily to a deeply pitched rhythm riff and is soon joined by a guitar solo that fits nicely without overplaying the song. One small but notable addition to the song is the highlight of a countermelody played by a music-boxy-glockenspiel-like sound that really brings out the line that was already played by other orchestral keys, giving a nice touch to the guitar-driven melodies. This song is quite catchy and is among one of the my favorites of the album, both lyrically and musically.

The sixth track, Fearless, is the first single from the album, viewable in the lyric video they released shown below. The impact of the song from the first note parallels the theme of the piece with high energy, catchy hooks, and a relentless attack of notes and tempo. There is an occasional highlight of keyboards with a more delicate expansion of the guitar themes, but overall, this is another song like The Battle of Paridas that is practically a wall of sound throughout filled with many runs, arpeggios, and 16th note beats throughout the drums, guitars, and keys. There is also a depth to the tuning that continues to undergird a solid foundation that anchors the song, filled further with the layered vocal harmonies as well. The guitar solos are energetic and fit the song well with a right amount of balance between aggressiveness and melody, and the vocals with their catchy melody and well-crafted harmonies and complementary lines have a powerful delivery that also emphasize the drive of the song.

Perfectly Imperfect dials back the tempo on this track with a solid guitar riff opening at a much more moderate pace, and scales down to include a nice 12-string guitar accompaniment as the first verse begins. It builds back up into the chorus and maintains the continuing pattern of build for the remainder of the song. This piece has a somewhat melancholy tone with a semi-plaintive guitar solo during the instrumental interlude, which seems to fit the theme of the lyrics as well. For me, this is a particularly poignant and meaningful song because, especially in my day job as an art therapist, I see the effect of perfectionism on clients as far back as early teens. This mindset shows how there is no room for mistakes or falling short of the expectations that they or others have made for themselves, which can further be perpetuated by our culture and society. One of the phrases that I and others have used to help them be more accepting of who they are as human beings is that they are perfectly imperfect, just as everyone else is in the world, and that even though they can strive for excellence, they need to extend more grace to themselves and others rather than trying to live up to rigid and unreasonable expectations. This song perfectly captures that mindset, so this one hits closer to home for me, and is a song that really speaks an important message today.

The eighth track, Unveil, starts with a chugging guitar line and low rumbling bass to get it started and even the entry of the vocals is much lower than the previous songs. The deepness of the music reflects the darkness of the lyrics. Despite this, the vocal melodies are catchy and memorable over the highly rhythm-based straight and syncopated grooves, showing a good sample of Harøy‘s vocal range. Especially during the verses, the guitar lines sound somewhat ominous, setting the stage for this dark song, and then change the key after the second chorus reprises following the solo interlude for an interesting twist. This song is a bit more straightforward than some of the other tracks but is still worth its weight, both musically and emotionally.

Hope Springs Eternal begins differently with an organ introduction, joined by guitars for a very syncopated rhythm that smoothes out into the verse, but continues to reprise underneath the solid, on-beat rhythm guitars and vocals. The drums and rhythm guitars are locked in intricately throughout this song, providing an anchor for the twists and turns with the many syncopations and counterrhythms that fit nicely together like a tight puzzle. The choruses are more soaring while the verses are more staccato in nature, and the bridge later in the song provides yet another variation including vocal triplets that give subsequent sonic interest just before the instrumental interlude. Though there is variation throughout the song, it is relentless throughout, much like the theme about holding out hope against all costs.

A song in a moderate 4/4 time, Exposure has a kind of crunchy, workhorse kind of sound to it. Much of this song is supported by straight 8th and 16th note chords (during the bridges and choruses) or a syncopated 8th note rhythms (mostly during the verses). This song, though fairly straightforward, features some moments of keyboard wizarding that give it a sense of pizzazz as well as a shift during the channel about 3.5 minutes into the song. This composition is relatively safe and solid musically, but its placement fits well on the album with a bit slower pace and a good foundational basis with catchy vocal melodies.

When Black Turns To White picks up the speed a little bit and has a introduction that has some nice intricate and varied drums and keys over the more foundational guitarwork which sets the theme for all the instrumental introductions. Even as the first verse starts, it has a nice play with the vocal rhythm shifting between straight and triplet eighth notes even as the time signature alternates between 6/8 and 4/4 throughout the song, changing between the introduction/instrumentals, verses, bridges, and choruses seamlessly in a way that fits quite well with each other. The lead guitar and keys duel together during the instrumental interlude with interesting and complicated parts that show off their skills. This whole song is like a tricky puzzle that somehow fits all together very snugly when pieced together properly, and I enjoy these subtle (or not so subtle) intricacies.

The last song of the album closes it out with a ballad, and starts off immediately with the vocals with no prior instrumental introduction. With limited keys, light arpeggiating guitar, and minimal percussion, Photograph has an extra special beauty to it in my book, simply because of the inclusion of English Horn in the subdued arrangement, its melancholy timbre adding another layer to the somber nature of the piece. It is the shortest vocal track on the album and is an appropriate bookend to the shorter instrumental introductory track.

So thus ends the new offering by the reinvigorated Pyramaze. This album, when compared to the first two albums especially, shows a somewhat dramatic shift in the Pyramaze paradigm. The first two albums, Melancholy Beast (2004) and The Legend of the Bone Carver (2006), were epic, sweeping concept albums with a more progressive and symphonic style of melodic metal that were fantastic in their own right. 2008’s Immortal started the shift in the sound slightly, especially with vocalist Matt Barlow at the helm, which communicated a much different vibe than Lance King‘s vocals on the previous two albums. This album was less cinematic in nature and was a part in the natural progression of Pyramaze’s sound. On Disciples of the Sun, the songs are more straightforward, less progressive, and generally have a more accessible sound that may draw in new or different fans from before. I believe this shift has occurred especially with the departure of Michael Kammeyer from the band, whose playing and songwriting style primarily defined a lot their previous work; with a mostly different songwriting team and band members, their individualized and collective influences have naturally affected the musical outcome. With that being said, however, I personally don’t mind the change – because it is still great music that can be appreciated on its own merit. Those who may be Pyramaze purists might vocalize criticism to this natural evolution – especially because when any of us finds a band’s music that we like in the style they originated in or during which we were exposed to them, accepting any deviation can be difficult – and they end up decrying the fact that anything changed at all. However, not all change is bad, and in this case, I think Pyramaze has come back after seven long years with a vengeance and renewed energy, albeit packaged in a different flavor.

The musicians of this iteration of Pyramaze are all greatly talented and collectively bring a lot to the table. Kudos are bestowed to the continuing members of Pyramaze who form the foundation of the group and keep its banner waving high. Morten Gade Sørensen is a figurative and literal foundation of the band on his drum kit, and is one of the best and perhaps overlooked drummers in the world. He can keep a simple, straight beat with finesse and yet can handle some of the most complex polyrhythms that complement and cement together the other instrumental parts, as well as bust out a feature when the appropriate opportunity presents itself. Toke Skjønnemand has really risen to the occasion, now handling the lead guitar duties as well as songwriting contributions for the album. His lead solo lines have been stellar and are very complementary to the songs, and it is wonderful to have his continuing presence in the music. Keyboardist Jonah Weingarten‘s sound is also very foundational to Pyramaze’s sound, and even though the band’s style has morphed over the years, his undeniable and highly recognizable orchestral and classical contributions especially stand out and continue to give Pyramaze its sonic identifiability.

Even the “newcomers” to Pyramaze are veteran musicians in their own rights and brought a great amount of experience and professionalism that help form the current (and hopefully future) sound of the group. Jacob Hansen wore many hats on this album, not only providing guitarwork, but also covered the bass duties and songwriting contributions as well as producing, mixing, and mastering the album. Those who know his past recording work with bands such as Evergrey, Epica, Amaranthe, Volbeat, Anubis Gate, Signum Regis, and many more will know his trademark for sonic excellence, the standard of which remains high on this album.

Terje Harøy‘s voice is both very melodic and powerful. He has a medium timbre that has enough of a roughness to it to compete with the driving power of the music, but yet has a pleasant vibrato and solid tone that keeps it very melodic. By comparison, his voice is not as theatrical and large in range as King‘s from the first two concept albums, but it isn’t as coarse as Barlow‘s on the third album, and with the somewhat different direction of musical style, Harøy ‘s voice fits in the current Pyramaze just right. I personally hope he stays with Pyramaze a good long while throughout their future ventures, especially if they decide to stay in this vein.

In addition to the band personnel, Pyramaze also gained assistance on this album from their Danish brethren from Anubis Gate, including keyboards contributed by Kim Olesen on Fearless, and Henrik Fevre, who wrote all lyrics as well as the vocal melodies on Fearless, Back for More, When Black Turns to White, and Photograph (as well as Genetic Process and Exposure in collaboration with Jacob Hansen). In addition, Dutch keyboardist Joost Van Den Broek (Epica, former After Forever, ReVamp) also contributed orchestration assistance for the opening piece.

Overall, Disciples of the Sun is a wonderful melodic metal soundscape for the ears. The vocal melodies are catchy and memorable throughout the album and are a high point along with the equally hooky riffs and beats of all the songs. The songs are bold and unabashed in their delivery and keep a good energy throughout the album, and the lyrics continue to be thoughtful, covering a gamut of scenarios on this disc. I think this album will satisfy longtime Pyramaze fans, as well as likely draw new fans into the fold who may not have been aware of the group during the seven year gap since the last album. Pyramaze has certainly been a phoenix, rising from the ashes of potential disbandment and returned with a vengeance for all to hear. Disciples of the Sun should be a must-buy disc of 2015 for melodic metal clientele.

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