In 2004, Denmark’s Pyramaze released an album called Melancholy Beast, and it was good. Actually, it was more than good, it was great – the sort of fantastical, sometimes ridiculous, always melodious power metal record that ear-marked the band as one of the more promising acts to watch, as long as you didn’t mind following a group that pushed tricky subjects such as unicorns. Yes, unicorns. Not the unicorns that typically fire marshmallows out of their rumps while prancing across colorful posters tacked to children’s walls, though. Majestic unicorns. Ridley Scott unicorns being chased down by the ancient Lord of Darkness sorts of unicorns. Not a big deal, particularly in the realm of power metal.
Melancholy Beast’s follow-up, Legend of the Bone Carver, didn’t quite match up, unfortunately. Not a bad record, but shy of the debut’s bigness. A likely result of a distinct lack of unicorns? Maybe. Regardless, its conclusion resulted in the firing of lead singer Lance King, who also happened to own and operate the label that released the band’s first two records. Interesting move, and one that turned out to be due to differing business plans, not because of Bone Carver’s slight misfire.
As time moved forward, many of the things that typically befall bands ensued: founding members split, new folks muscled in, musical directions shifted, and unicorns continued to be ignored in favor of toughening-up the edges. Pyramaze’s more aggressive “Iced Earth direction” was flexed en masse by landing Matt Barlow as vocalist for 2008’s Immortal, and fans seemed generally pleased. But it was a short partnership; Barlow headed back to I.E., and Pyramaze eventually landed the vocal services of Terje Harvøy after the stretched interval before 2015’s Disciples of the Sun. Once again, diehards seemed quite pleased, but the record sidestepped yours truly because Harvøy’s delivery, while admittedly quite good, came across more “The Voice” or “American Idol” than anything power metal, and Disciples of the Sun was a very vocal-centric album.
With the arrival of album number five, Contingent, the honeymoon is over, and the line-up finally seems steady, but the band still appears determined to release something that’s more fitting of a “pop” power metal tag, and that ends up stymying the record’s heavier moments. Not an unforgivable crime, to be fair, particularly considering the fact that power metal is no stranger to such a thing, but it’s a supplementary obstacle in a field that’s already challenging enough for a number of the heavy-inclined folks in our population. Summarily, in an off-shoot that remains our most scorned by-product, the 2017 version of Pyramaze is unabashedly proud to deliver the syrup.
Thankfully, Contingent throws a little more focus back toward the rest of the players, which is great because there’s a lot of pedigree behind the instruments here. But it’s still a very vocal-dominated record in that it relies on sugary choruses for the hook 100% of the time. The choruses are wonderful; they are honeyed and layered and as irresistible as a fat slice of breakroom birthday cake at 3pm, but that much sugar rifled into the bloodstream on every song that isn’t a two minute interlude is enough to send even the most experienced sweet-tooth into a swirl-pop tailspin by the one hour mark. So, yes, a little more diversity would probably save the day. Skip the third return to the chorus in a few songs in favor of letting the guitars and keys romp a little more. Instead, ten out of thirteen tunes push a very similar scheme of Big Riff, Big Chorus, Big Solo, Repeat Chorus Until End, and the only true detour is a schmaltzy duet deep in the game that’s plucked straight from Beauty & the Beast.
Still, if you’re a fan of power metal and don’t mind having a fairly straight-forward and nectarous formula driven into your skull on repeat, you will find plenty to love with Contingent. Toke Skjønnemand is a wonderful lead guitarist, and Jonah Wiengarten’s keyboards get a little more opportunity to paint the corners in 2017, so they’re a welcome accompaniment to Harvøy’s penchant for gilding the lily. Plus, the preferred concept of humankind’s struggle with technology, the future, and a perhaps futile attempt at biped continuity is clearly more timely than maintaining fantastical themes that fixate on one-horned mythical creatures loping through enchanted forests.
Pyramaze is quite good at what they do, let no one convince you otherwise. I just wish they’d broaden what they do a little more and take the hyperglycemia risk down a couple notches. Nevertheless, in a year that’s been lacking in terms of quality power metal releases, Contingent is certainly worthy of investigation by fans of the genre. Just be ready for that sugar rush.