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Pyramids - A Northern Meadow CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.96 | 6 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'A Northern Meadow' - Pyramids (76/100)

I was once scolded by my editor that I compare too many bands to Blut Aus Nord in my reviews. I'll admit it's an easy go-to source whenever experimental metal of the cold, inhuman variety is being discussed, and their influence of the black metal sphere is so widespread that I'd still stand by most of those comparisons. Even so; this precedent puts me in a stiff position when I come across a band that deserves a reference to Blut Aus Nord as much and as far as anything else I've heard this year.

While this might sound like the preface to a copycat dismissal review, Pyramids have taken that band's atmospheric framework, and used it to make a compelling little world of their own. Think what Blut Aus Nord's 777 - The Desanctification might have sounded like with all overt traces of black metal sifted out of it, replaced with the sort of muffled clean vocals you might expect from baseline shoegaze. This is blackgaze, even 'black metal gone straight post-rock', but it's far too chilling and eerie to be relegated to the soporific annals of Alcest and their wishy-washy following. No; Pyramids and their second album A Northern Meadow cannot easily be pegged down, as much as their 'BAN with clean vocals' high concept might seem to beg to differ.

Given that those French harbingers have already been mentioned in this review more times than I have fingers on my left hand, it wasn't at all surprising to discover Blut Aus Nord's mastermind Vindsval was behind the album's drum programming. Where drum machines tend to be a budget-motivated compromise, thereby cheapening an album's execution, there are a chosen few within black metal that have managed to do amazing things with programming, and none more than Vindsval. Whether it's A Northern Meadow or one from the 777 trilogy, there's an inhuman calculation to his drum arrangements that actually manages to scare me, by sheer virtue of how emotionally cold it is. It's interesting to hear Vindsval's mechanisms paired with a band that have yet retained a grasp of their own hearts.

Once the shock of overt comparison simmers down a little, it becomes a lot easier to take the album on its own terms. A Northern Meadow is noisily ambient; arguably hazier than the majority of shoegaze, despite the fact that the guitars are sharp and cutting. Throughout the album's fifty minutes, Pyramids stay close to a formula of swirling riffs, cold ambient, and a fairly consistent rhythm throughout songs that can make it difficult to single out particular ideas. the most striking thing about the album's first impression were undoubtedly the clean vocals. Although the specific performance duties aren't disclosed on any edition of the album, the main vocalist makes himself heard through the waves of ambiance. Sounding like a cross between Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) and the fragile falsetto of Toby Driver (Kayo Dot), Pyramids' vocals are in good company. While the cool and eerily dissonant instrumentation would seem a more intuitive fit for black metal snarling, the left-field presence of clean vocals is the first (and, for a time, only) thing that sticks while listening to A Northern Meadow. Throughout my first listen, I was having a tough time making out any particular ideas out of their blackgazing ocean of sound, much less anything in the way of song structures. Several listens later, and I can say with some certainty that A Northern Meadow is an album that only reveals itself slowly to the patient listener. By the second or third time, it becomes pretty obvious that Pyramids have a real penchant for melody; they're just sneaky enough to keep it subtle and muddled.

A Northern Meadow is an impressive variation on a sound I know well and love. It's a perfect kind of music to get lost in, provided you've got the patience and mood to accommodate it. To be honest, I'm not sure if I know enough to call Pyramids great songwriters or not; the melodies are carefully integrated, but it's otherwise difficult to find an outline of memorable composition amidst the noise and haze. I might single "Indigo Birds" out as an exception; a brilliant song that dares to make its vocals ever-so-slightly clearer in the mix. Listening to A Northern Meadow is an otherwise slow-burning experience, but their fluid, bending textures are rich enough that you'll want to come back for more.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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