Pyramaze has made a career out of defying expectations and being impossible to anticipate. With constantly shifting styles and revolving door vocalists, each new album promises something totally different. Enigmas that they are, it still seemed they’d found a near-perfect sound and a killer front man on 2015s excellent Disciples of the Sun, and since it was such a compelling, addicting album, I hoped they would tinker sparingly with their approach when it came time for a sequel. Alas, it was clear early on the band wanted to take what they did on Disciples and expand on it ten-fold for Contingent, going for a kind of post-apocalyptic conceptual piece with cinematic soundtrack elements and a greater symphonic presence. The result is easily the most ambitious (and deadly serious) thing they’ve done, and boasts some amazing songs, but it also has issues that hamper their lofty goals and send the album crashing back to Earth like the Icarus of olde.
Things begin in a deceptively familiar way with “Land of Confusion,” which takes the style heard on Disciples and leaves it largely untouched save for a greater symphonic sheen. The ear-catching hooks and melodies are still there and the band deftly mixes a metal grit and edge with accessibility and a very memorable chorus. The cinematic flourishes first appear in the early moments of “Kingdom of Solace” which is soaked in symphonics and dramatic prog-touches. The end result sounds a whole lot like fellow Danes Anubis Gate and this influence recurs throughout the albums 1. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and the song works quite well.
The high water mark comes with the three-song run beginning with “Star Men” and concluding with “Nemesis,” with all three tracks showing Pyramaze in top songwriting form. “Star Men” is a grand and engaging tune that feels expansive and larger-than-life without becoming bombastic or overwrought. Semi-new singer Terje Haroy blows the doors off with an amazing and emotional vocal performance, the guitar-work is first-rate and the solo is beautiful and poignant. “A World Divided” is nearly as good, with emotive singing and a big, killer chorus you can’t get out of your head. “Nemesis” dials up the heaviness for the album’s most “metal” moment and it too is lethal come chorus time, with more hooks than a retro metal gong show run by AMG Himself.
It’s after this glorious triumvirate that Contingent starts to lose its legs and get wobbly. Later cut “Obsession” drink too deeply of the prog chalice and sounds awkward, disorganized and overly busy. “Under Restraint” and “The Tides That Won’t Change” are good but a bit underwhelming and safe, and closer “Symphony of Tears” is better, but feels too tepid to close out an album with such grandiose ambitions. The several short musical interludes scattered over the album do little besides pack in cinematic fluffery and contribute to a bloated feeling as the runtime approaches 57 minutes. Another issue is the dissipated heaviness factor, with the guitars rarely getting aggressive and most of the songs stuck in a cautious mid-tempo that feels devoid of urgency. The snap, crackle and pop heard on Disciples is encountered only sporadically here and when I go back to that album the differences are stark.
Despite the uneven songwriting, the band sounds amazing, with Terje once again stealing the show and proving he’s the man to lead Pyramaze into the future. He has a curiously hybrid style, sometimes sounding like an alt-rock singer and others like the prototype prog-power vocalist. He’s blessed with great range and versatility and he does a lot to sell even the lesser material. Jacob Hansen (ex-Anubis Gate) and Toke Skjonnemand provide a tasteful, albeit mellower collection of riffs and harmonies with their solo-work always a joy to experience. Jonah Weingarten’s keyboards were a big part of Disciples, and now they’re more prominent, and though they don’t hurt the songs, they do make some tracks feel too cluttered.
Since one never knows what to expect from Pyramaze, I wouldn’t say I approached Contingent with overly high expectations. I hoped for more of the same winning formula as last time, and as usual, they opted for something different. Contingent is a good album with great moments, and while I cannot criticize the band for going all out with big concepts and the Michael Bay-sized Hollywood treatment, I wish they had instead focused on writing 9-10 utterly killer songs, regardless of the style. Definitely worth hearing for fans of prog-power and likely to be highly overrated by many, but as for me, I’m a miserable miser.