Music

Black Pyramid: II

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.

Black Pyramid

II

Label: Meteor City
US Release Date: 2011-11-15
UK Release Date: 2012-01-31
Amazon
iTunes

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.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image