April 2017 is a very crowded month for new metal releases, with three of my most anticipated releases of the year all coming on the same day, and so it would be easy for something to get lost in the shuffle. On the same day as those three releases, though, we have what is sure to be a highly anticipated release for many other people, which is Contingent, the fifth full-length release from Danish progressive power metal band Pyramaze. Fans were excited two years ago, as after releasing three well-regarded albums in the previous decade, the band was dormant for a while, only to return with a slightly different lineup to release Disciples of the Sun, which ended up being a very well-received comeback album and seemingly triggered the start of a new era for the band. Now, two years later, the band has retained the same lineup and are ready to release their next album Contigent, which very much feels like a natural evolution, though it does take the band into slightly new territory compared to past releases.
In their early days, Pyramaze were a fairly traditional power metal band, though their 2008 release Immortal included some prog elements and stands as their most aggressive album to date. With Disciples of the Sun, the band modernized their sound quite a bit, featuring a mix between harder guitar riffs, more atmospheric keyboards, and some huge vocal melodies. The release still maintained elements of their old power metal sound, but it laid the foundation for the band to switch to more of a melodic prog sound, which is exactly what has happened on Contingent. There’s still the occasional speedy sections, but for the most part this is a very laidback album, more focused on the huge choruses and vocal melodies than anything else, with the instrumental sections mostly being dominated by some effective but rather simple riffs, while keyboards are paired with orchestration to add some flavor and to give the album a slight symphonic feel at times. There are some nice guitar solos at times, though nothing overly flashy or technical. I’d say, on the whole, fans should expect the majority of the album to sound something like “Genetic Process” from the previous album, with only a couple tracks even coming close to speedier territory like “Fearless”, and there’s nothing overly challenging or complex, either. From a production standpoint, everything sounds amazing, as always from Jacob Hansen, who also serves as the band’s bassist and second guitarist currently, and I’d say the performances and overall sound are definitely the biggest strengths of the album. The mix between modern riffs and big vocal melodies is quite addictive, though I’d say this album is a case where the overall idea is better than the execution at times,
Pyramaze have been through quite a few vocalists over the years, with Lance King performing on their first two albums, before being replaced by Matt Barlow on Immortal. Things got complicated from there, as Matt left and was replaced by Urban Breed, but somehow the band never recorded an album with him, and for a while it seemed like they might be done until they finally returned in 2015 with new vocalist Terje Harøy, who I had previous heard with his old band, Teodor Tuff. He has a very strong, clear voice and definitely gives the music a unique feel, with a vocal approach that really gets the most out of the melodies, and I’d say he brings a high level of accessibility to the music, almost sounding radio friendly at times. His vocals are a definite highlight of both this album and Disciples of the Sun.
The one area where I’m not really blown away is the songwriting. I actually have a similar problem with this release as I did with the Seven Kingdoms album I reviewed recently, except on the opposite end when it comes to speed, where I don’t think there are any weak songs here, but I definitely think the album could use some variety, as there simply aren’t enough tracks that change the formula up in a meaningful way. For the most part, the tracks alternate between slow, heavy guitar driven verses and big melodic choruses, with some tracks going a little bit lighter during the verses and emphasizing the keyboards. Either way, though, it’s a very formulaic approach to songwriting, with even speedier tracks like “20 Second Century” and “Symphony of Tears” being pretty similar, except that they have faster-paced choruses than the other tracks, which makes them stand out at least a little bit. I find that can be a problem with melodic prog in general, though, where the overall sound is excellent, but the bands can sometimes struggle to come up with fresh ideas for songs as they don’t want to get overly complicated with their musicianship but also don’t want to push too far into other genres, and so it’s like they deliberately limit themselves in the songwriting department.
I will say, though, the album leaves a strong first impression, as opening track “Land of Information”, while still falling into the same basic melodic prog formula, somehow feels a bit fresher than the rest of the album, like the band dialed up their performances to the next level and everything feels more energetic. Even the verses hit just a bit harder than on the rest of the album, the solo section seems just a bit stronger and more memorable, and the chorus is awesome as always. While the track is still more mid-paced, I would say it moves at a slightly better pace than most of the album overall, with the verses being a bit faster than even “20 Second Century”, though it never gets as fast as that song does during its chorus.
For the most part, the rest of the album feels like it falls into a basic formula, with tracks like “Kingdom of Solace”, “A World Divided”, “Nemesis”, “Obsession”, “and “Under Restraint” being hard to tell apart due to how they all rely on slow, chunky modern riffs and big choruses, while more keyboard driven tracks like “Star Men” and “Heir Apparent” simply lack energy in the verses and don’t give the album the change of pace it needs. Basically, for the most part, I’d say the verses are kinda boring throughout most songs, but the choruses are amazing and save the day, so it’s like, I certainly enjoy listening to the music a lot, and Terje really carries most of the songs, but I can’t help but feel as if the band has the potential to do better things in their current form. One weird thing is how the album has two title tracks, scattered in different parts of the album, but these are both very brief orchestral pieces, that while being very nice, feel more like interludes than anything else, so making them title tracks feels very weird. One track that stands out in a positive way is the ballad “The Tides That Won’t Change”, which features some very nice female vocals from guest Kristen Foss, who I’d even say slightly outshines Terje on that track, though both singers sound very good and it’s definitely my second favorite on the album, behind only “Land of Information”.
I’ve been a bit hard on Contingent, but I will say I think it’s a very solid album overall and on an objective level everything about it is top tier and I really can’t complain. I was simply hoping for the songwriting to be just a bit more varied and more interesting, and I hope on future releases Pyramaze can find a way to bring back some of the speed and variety of previous albums, while still building on the melodic prog sound they have going on, because the overall sound is very good and I think they can do great things with their current lineup, but they need to push just a bit further out of their comfort zone in the songwriting department. Overall, a solid album I can easily recommend to fans of melodic prog, while power metal fans may be a bit disappointed, but there’s still enough good points here for it to be worth a shot for any fans of the band.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/14/pyramaze-contingent-review/