A little tension within a band often adds much-needed fuel to the creative engine, but in the case of Massachusetts sludgy doom outfit Black Pyramid it’s ended up creating a somewhat tragic tale. While the band still survives, the original trio that crafted its sophomore full-length, II, suffered an acrimonious break-up following the recording of the album. Guitarist/vocalist Andy Beresky, bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely released a much celebrated, self-titled debut in ‘09, and expectations were high for the band’s new album. But Beresky’s tumultuous exit in 2011 has tainted what is the band’s most accomplished work yet.
While Beresky has already been replaced, the aftermath of his departure lingers, as II contains some of his, and the rest of the band’s, strongest work. The album’s longest tracks, “Dreams of the Dead” and “Into the Dawn”, show a huge leap in compositional insight. Packed with temperamental instrumental passages, multifaceted shifts in tone and gung-ho solos galore, they are slathered in musical and emotional heaviness. Not only are they consummate metal epics that could sit proudly alongside the critically acclaimed work of doom sovereign Yob, they also have flashes of the same quarrelsome riffage and weather-beaten charisma of more traditional US metal outfits such as Slough Feg and Brocas Helm.
Black Pyramid’s debut was hailed upon release for its tried and true molten metal. Rough round the borders and full of promise, it traversed a similarly rugged path to that of High on Fire. II takes all that was commanding about the band’s first effort, polishes the burs, whets the edges and injects a bit more kick-ass ‘70s sinsemilla-flavored rock. Big crunchy distorting guitars, whirlwind percussion and heaving bass lines make for an album with plenty of bludgeoning strength and churning momentum, but the band also leans on a pedestal of more genial rock occasionally.
Opening tracks “Endless Agony” and “Mercy’s Bane” provide a couple of rousing anthem-like headbangers to kick things off. With Beresky firing off incendiary riffs influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Sabbath, and Gein and Neely bolstering the breakneck velocity, the electrifying chorus of “Mercy’s Bane” makes for a flawless piece of hammering, hook-filled metal. The band says it creates “galloping war metal”, and II‘s brisker tracks hurtle along with plenty of combative acceleration. Raging doom mixes with thrash-tinged bedlam on “Sons of Chaos”, and “Empty-handed Insurrection” is an instrumental sludge overload.
But Black Pyramid also adds in some enduring melodies, ensuring the songs are catchy enough to temper the album’s bite. “The Hidden Kingdom” is all churning menace at first, but its acid-fried solo turns it into a fuzzy piece of darkened psychedelia. Folk influences spring up on the acoustic “Tanelorn”, and light and dark riffs, along with a gorgeous spiraling solo, drops a tab of ‘70s prog into “Night Queen”.
Neely has done a grand job of engineering II, and the album bursts with vibrancy. In the past Beresky’s vocals have suffered from a lack of liveliness on occasion, yet here they are strong and soulful. Multitracking the guitars has dispelled any thinness, and the bass and drums have been captured with all their heftiness intact. The album sounds thick and full-bodied, packing a wicked punch.
While you might expect the album to be imbued with desolate hues, reflecting behind-the-scenes ructions, it’s quite the reserve. II sounds confident and complete, with the only open hostility to be found in the lyrics, which are not obviously self-referential. In fact, the album gives off an abundance of buoyant energy.
Although the loss of a key member will unavoidably mean a change in Black Pyramid’s temperament, it will be an enormous shame if Beresky’s leaving halts the momentum the band had built up. With a number of excellent split and vinyl releases behind them, along with an illustrious show at the esteemed European Roadburn Festival, the group was all set to ignite the metal underground. And while II is a huge step up from an already masterful debut, its position in the band’s oeuvre will always be unavoidably marked by the circumstances surrounding its creation. Although, if you want to look at things from a slightly brighter angle, then Beresky’s leaving has certainly guaranteed II‘s status as a genuinely poignant metal release.
II is a classic piece of whip-snapping metal, containing everything you could hope for from a power-trio—impressive songwriting, pummeling riffs and amp-melting solos all backed up by an impeccable rhythm section. It should be a cause for celebration, but as this album seals the tomb on one particular era in such a decisive manner, it ends up being a very bittersweet listen. It will be fascinating to hear from the band again, but whatever it comes up with, Black Pyramid will need to work exceptionally hard to better this.