Sunday, 14 June 2015

Pyramaze's 'Disciples of the Sun' - Album Review

It has been quite a while since since the world last saw a Pyramaze album. It was in 2008 that the Danish power metal band released their third album Immortal - which was the result of a short-lived collaboration with the then-retired Matt Barlow (Iced Earth; Ashes of Ares). A reunion with Iced Earth scuppered any long-term relationship between the two parties, and Pyramaze forged on with Urban Breed (Tad Morose; Bloodbound; Serious Black) on vocals. Since the short tour that followed the release of Immortal in 2008, the band have basically been dormant. Snippets of news would appear on Facebook every so often, but in all honesty I thought the band to be dead in the water. This opinion was further cemented when it was announced in 2011 that founding member and lead songwriter Michael Kammeyer, and original bassist Niels Kvist would be leaving the band. Breed never officially announced his departure, but it was also clear that he would not be carrying on with his position either. Leaving just original members keyboardist Jonah Weingarten and drummer Morten Gade Sørensen, with long-term lead guitarist Toke Skjønnemand, Pyramaze did not seem to be a band anymore. The band's long-term producer Jacob Hansen (Invocator; Beyond Twilight; Anubis Gate) joined the band as a rhythm guitarist sometime in 2011, but even this did not seem to spark any real activity. It was not until earlier this year that Disciples of the Sun, Pyramaze's fourth studio album, was officially announced. Completing the band's lineup is unknown singer Terje Harøy, who does a very good job throughout the album. As well as being the band's producer and guitarist, Hansen has now taken over the main songwriting role vacated by Kammeyer, and plays all of the album's bass guitar. He also roped in his old Anubis Gate bandmate Henrik Fevre to write the album's lyrics. As a result, this album has more in common with the spacey progressive metal of Anubis Gate's sound than the melodic power metal of Pyramaze's catalogue. With one former and three current members of that band involved with this album (Sørensen also plays drums with Anubis Gate, and Kim Olesen contributed some extra keyboard parts to Disciples of the Sun) this is hardly surprising. This is still an enjoyable album however, but I do not feel like I am listening to Pyramaze while I am doing so. Those expecting another Legend of the Bone Carver are likely to be very disappointed! That being said, if you listen to this with an open mind, you are likely to find plenty to enjoy.

After the piano-led intro We are the Ocean, that is typical of most prog/power metal albums, the album gets underway with The Battle of Paridas. This song is probably the closest on the album to the band's old sound, mixing melodic keyboard leads with crunching rhythm guitars and double bass drumming to create an exciting metal track. Harøy is probably the least interesting the singer the band have had. He lacks the range of Lance King and the emotional grit of Barlow - but that does not mean he does not have his own merits. His voice is extremely melodic, and sits well with the sweeping orchestral backdrops that surround this song. The instrumental mid-section is excellent too, with Weingarten's fluid keyboard solo and Skjønnemand's guitar leads bringing some class to the proceedings. The album's title track is up next, and is the first song in the band's history to have a video for it (see below). It is a really memorable song with a huge melodic metal chorus and a catchy riff from Skjønnemand and Hansen that sounds like something a melodic death metal band might write. Again, keyboards dominate the sound, and Weingarten lays down some 1980s-inspired melodies as well as some excellent orchestrations. The chorus is the best part of the song however, and shows Harøy's skills as a vocalist well. Back for More is another melodic feast. Lead guitars and keyboards mix together well in the song's intro, and the tune they create is extremely memorable. The verses have quite an interesting feel. Despite the fact the drum patterns are quite frantic, the song still has quite a chilled out vibe to it. This picks up during the chorus however, with a repeat of the song's intro melody and some soaring vocals from Harøy. This is a very easy song to like, and has all the hallmarks of great power metal. Genetic Process mixes the band's historic power metal sound with the spacey sounds of Anubis Gate. The verses are quite down-tempo, with Harøy employing a lower vocal register to good effect, and the rhythm guitars just bubble under the surface. The chorus picks things up a little more, with some standout keyboard playing (again!) and a driving drum beat. Things get heavier towards the end of the song however, with a grinding guitar riff that leads into a melodic solo from Skjønnemand - who really shines on this album. Fearless was the first taste we got of the current Pyramaze album when it was put on Youtube, and it is another enjoyable song. It has some fast metal sections that get the blood pumping, and a chorus that again evokes that Anubis Gate sound. It is less remarkable than what has come before, but the melodies here are still strong enough to make it memorable.

Perfectly Imperfect gets off to a great start with a heavy, groove-based riff with plenty of pinch harmonics that is sure to give the listener a kick. The song is quite varied however, as after this we get an acoustic-led section that Harøy's voice dominates, which gradually builds towards the song's chorus. That groovy riff is back for that, but built upon with soaring orchestrations and melodic piano that cuts through the mix when needed. Skjønnemand again impresses with a slow, melodic solo that has all hallmarks of great progressive metal. Unveil is a heavier song with a really great off-kilter riff that mixes well with some powerful bass guitar lines. Orchestrations also join then fray, to create a really rich sound. The verses are quite moody however, with clean guitars and keyboards the drown everything. There is something of Pagan's Mind about this, with Harøy singing in a different and menacing way. It is another memorable song on an album full of them. Hope Springs Eternal, built around a catchy keyboard riff, is up next. Some of the power metal sounds of the band's earlier work is present here. Sørensen lays down some fast footwork here, and the guitar rhythms are tight and crunchy; taking a back seat to that memorable keyboard riff. The chorus is more atmospheric than melodic however, which takes the song down a slightly different path. Exposure again channels Anubis Gate, with plenty of dense keyboard arrangements. The vocal melodies here are really strong, and throughout the song continue to change and keep things sounding fresh. Musically however this song is somewhat less interesting. This guitars are restricted to keeping the rhythm and never really get a chance to break through and make something interesting. When Black Turns to White follows and opens with an excellent symphonic metal section with bombastic orchestrations and powerful guitar riffing. This is a song that really grows on you after repeated listens, and features some excellent solos from both Skjønnemand and Weingarten as the two play off each other really well in an awesome instrumental mid-section. Not to be outdone, Harøy also puts in a good shift here with some extremely catchy vocal melodies and a good use of his vocal range. For these reasons, this is one of the album's best songs, and one I am sure will be like by many. The albums final song is the short Photograph that almost seems to act as a coda for the album. The melancholy nature of it fits well with the rest of the album, and winds it down after all the fast-paced metal that came before it. Overall Disciples of the Sun is a really enjoyable piece of work from a band that many thought was over. It might be quite different to their earlier work, but if fans take time to really listen to what is going on here I am sure they will still find plenty to enjoy. After being initially sceptical, I was won over!

The album was released on 25th May 2015 via Inner Wound Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Disciples of the Sun.

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