Back in 2008, Pyramids were setting off with the release of their self-titled debut album. Blending together the different elements of shoe gaze, post-rock, black metal, dark ambient, drone and experimental their first album was nothing less than fascinating. Following the release of the album a variety of artists and bands, including James Plotkin, Colin Marston and Blut Aus Nord, re-mixed the material from Pyramids, and their further collaborations with Faith Coloccia, Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins and Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch, showcased how devoted the band was in producing excellent work of experimental music. A number of split albums would be produced between 2009 and 2012 with Pyramids working with some phenomenal acts such as Nadja, Wraiths, Horseback and Mamiffer before the band returned with their second full-length, A Northern Meadow.
So what has changed? The core line-up of R. Loren, M. Dean, M. Craig and D. William has been expanded to include some very serious names, with the expectations also being raised. William Fowler Collins (check out his album Tenebroso for some sick dark ambient), Colin Marston (of Gorguts, Krallice among more) and Vindsval of Blut Aus Nord join Pyramids in order to push this release over the edge. And as great as the debut album was for the band, A Northern Meadow is just a whole different story. The way the album flows feels more natural and the heavier ambiance that is implemented by the band goes through all these different aspects, from claustrophobic to dreamy and from dreamy to dark with great ease.
The stage is set from the first notes of “In Perfect Stillness, I’ve Only Found Sorrow” with Pyramids directing all their oppression towards you. The track seems like an endless maze with many paths being unfolded before you, the one more dark than the other. The vocals deliver the lines in a more peaceful tone which builds great contrast between them and the music. The suffocating ambiance is switched with a much colder feeling in “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths of Whales” with the eerie outlook of the band at large and turning to absolutely crushing when “The Substance of Grief Is Not Imaginary” arrives . Even though the majority of the album sees the band focusing on introspective aspects of their sound, reflected in their dark and cold ambiances, they are also able to produce a more imposing and intimidating side when that is necessary, something that they achieve with the first part of “Indigo Birds.” Of course a bit afterwards they will sneak up on you and turn the song into an exposed dark ambient piece. That is just the nature of A Northern Meadow.
The underlying vibe of the album is further enhancing that unapproachable presence of the band with its industrial stance. The mechanical motions of “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths of Whales” expands on this notion as do most of the songs in the album, with the perfect storm being offered in the closing song, “Consilience,” harnessing a very aggressive attitude, quite more upfront and in your face than the majority of A Northern Meadow. That vibe goes hand in hand with the guitars sounds in the album, which are constantly flirting with a black metal approach. From interesting leads such as the ones in “The Substance of Grief Is Not Imaginary” and the parts in “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths of Whales” are just the tip of the iceberg. The more dissonant and unconventional playing in “I Have Four Sons, All Named For The Men We Lost To War” is just a taste of the paranoia that the band has conjured in this offering, and which reaches its peak in the closing track of the album, dwelling more and more within the blackened extremity of their sound. And they can also implement great walls of sound when that is needed from their songs, and to display their versatility, something they implement in “My Father, Tall As Goliath.”
But the ability to stretch between the different edges of the musical spectrum does not end there for Pyramids. As easily as they can apply black metal and industrial to their structures, they can also throw in noise. Even though it almost never goes full blown in A Northern Meadow, its discordant presence can still be felt. The buried effected vocals in the opening track carry some of that attitude with them, but they are used in such a subtle way in order to cause more confusion rather than an outbreak of extreme sounds. The effected vocals create great contrast with the clean main vocals, and are used in various places in the album in order to create a strange type of sonic dissonance. On one hand you have the big vocals, almost the only source of melody in the songs, giving an emotional performance, as they do in “I Have Four Sons, All Named For The Men We Lost To War,” and on the other you get those subliminal messages from the abyss trying to corrupt the sound with their malicious intentions. On a much more straightforward note though, Pyramids will still throw some more intrusive and disrupting noise your way. Something they do in the ending of “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths of Whales” with the effects and noise colliding until nothing is left.
And finally there is the dark ambient approach. And in most cases Pyramids use it as a surprise act, turning the song from the structured parts to more abstract moments. The sudden change in “Indigo Birds” is just a hint of their unconventional style. A more industrialized dark ambient approach is used in “I Have Four Sons, All Named For The Men We Lost To War” just for a few seconds, but its impact is quite severe. That sudden short switch is even more disorienting than a bigger part, and Pyramids make use of it also in “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye” with the huge guitar wall remaining through the part. But the pinnacle of that sound has to be the closing track of the album. It just seems like Pyramids are allowing everything to come forth and collide in “Consilience” with the guitars and synths battling and the effects out of control, resulting in an incredible vortex of sonic energy. The narrative tone that the vocals bring forth, something that was also present in “My Father, Tall As Goliath” further add to this detached defiance of Pyramids, closing the album with a minimalistic retreat.
The debut album of Pyramids was definitely a very solid release, but it is just obvious that these guys have surpassed it. Even though the same influences and the same genre blending ideas are still in play, the overall result seems to be much more fluid and cohesive. A Northern Meadow is a dark, depressing story that Pyramids just have to tell, and through its eight anthems it will knock you out cold.
8.5 / 10
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