Pyramids on Mars Echo Chosmic 01aI’m a fan of most metal subgenres, so sometimes I’ll pick a band from the promo list just because they have an interesting name. So it was with Pyramids on Mars, who I dearly hoped were a bunch of Richard C. Hoagland inspired conspiracists writing metal for martians. While the truth is more mundane – it’s actually the sci-fi influenced solo project of sultry guitar maverick Kevin Estrella – a quick listen to the title track of his previous, self-titled album convinced me I had to review this band. Imagine if Gordian Knot had written the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack. This is the sound of “Pyramids on Mars.” Pretentious instrumental prog plus dark 80s synth-rock? Sign me up!

I should really do my homework before agreeing to a review, because “Pyramids on Mars” the track is not entirely representative of Pyramids on Mars the band. Estrella explores many different styles on his second record (and, it turns out on his previous album now I’ve bothered to listen to the whole thing), with influences spanning Rush, Joe Satriani, Gary Numan, Devin Townsend, Meshuggah, and Ozzy Osborne. While these coalesce into some interesting, unique pieces later on, the first six tracks are much less imaginative. Opener “Dream Division” and “Death Valley Driver” are Satriani-lite, and while “Battle for Rome” is a little better with its Rush and Dream Theater-isms, it’s hardly worth repeated listens. Estrella channels the worst of Ozzy on “Tribute” and “Sailing the Oceans of Neptune” – the former a sappy pop-ballad, the latter a tedious, off-key slog through mid-tempo Wyldean chugging.

Tracks seven to nine save this record from being a total write-off. Estrella integrates his disparate influences more effectively on these, and despite some writing quirks they are far more interesting and distinctive than the preceding six songs. “Spectre of Orion” sounds like the bastard offspring of Rush and Voivod, “Order of the Freemasons” flits from brooding industrial to triumphant AOR and back, while “Occam’s Razor” mixes old-school tech-death with soaring synth sections. These songs at least show that Estrella has some great musical ideas, even if their execution is flawed. Sadly, spacey final track “Echo Cosmic” lets him down, as the quiet, contemplative guitar is painfully out of tune with the other instruments.

This brings me to another major complaint about Pyramids on Mars: I am unconvinced Estrella is a good enough musician to make a solo guitar record. He’s no slouch and shows off some neat fretboard fireworks, but the album is peppered with sloppy moments and the playing often lacks subtlety. I expect a bit better from a man who refers to himself as the “Satriani of the North.” How on Earth he missed the tuning issues in both “Echo Cosmic” and “Sailing the Oceans of Neptune” is beyond me.

Pyramids on Mars Echo Chosmic 02

The production is quite distinctive, with slightly thin rhythm guitars backed up by a very obvious drum machine and retro-futuristic (or dated, if you prefer) synth sounds. The drum machine spoils the more organic rocky tracks, but adds a nice industrial vibe to the more rhythmically complex and synth-heavy songs. The previous record made more of this by pushing the kick drum to the fore, a trick sadly not repeated here. The overall impression is of a lower-budget 80s recording, which I think adds to the charm, but with repeat listens, mileage may vary.

This is a disappointing release given how excited I was on first listening to “Pyramids on Mars.” The good is outweighed by the mediocre or just plain bad, leaving me quite baffled as to how one man’s form could fluctuate so dramatically. While I appreciate his efforts at innovation, Estrella’s real strength is combining retro synth-rock and prog, and Pyramids on Mars would be far better if he stopped trying to be the next Satriani and instead focussed on that.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-release
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2015

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  • Hammersmith

    The font choice for Echo Cosmic is.. regrettable.

    • Elton Chagas

      My 5 years old nephew can do better in Paint 98.

      • SYL!’s 7 Year Old Son

        Is he looking for a friend?

    • dduuurrrr dddduuuurrrr

      Papyrus baby

      Once you see it, you start noticing it EVERYWHERE

      • Rob

        Graphic Designer here…that shit makes my butthole pucker. Instant disqualification.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          This is a case where Comic Sans might actually have been an improvement.

          • Rob

            That thought crossed my mind, too haha. When in doubt, I say use JOKERMAN! or Curlz MT.

          • Grymm

            I was half-expecting Bleeding Cowboys myself.

    • Minus eleventy billion points for Papyrus.

  • Elton Chagas

    This sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a very long… puzzle game.

    Tetris would be awesome with this album.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    When you said “Estrella channels the worst of Ozzy” I could have sworn you were talking about Sharon.

  • Is it just me or does the still photo remind anyone else of Will Ferrell?

    ..needs more cowbell.

    • Feytalist

      Also, he’s wearing Han Solo’s clothes.

      • [not a Dr]

        That’s what happens when you ask yourself: “What would Lando do?”

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Just isolating all you hear to the drum track is surprisingly uncomfortable. Never heard programming on this level before… maybe uncomfortable drum programming could be the next lo-fi, black metal sub-genre!

    “It’s not bad, it’s atmospheric!”

  • JohnC

    I’ve seen better album covers on 4chan threads where people use Paint to make a fictional album based off random online quotes, Wikipedia articles, and Flickr photos

  • [not a Dr]

    A song that “sounds like the bastard offspring of Rush and Voivod”…
    You’ve got my attention.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    My memory’s a bit fuzzy, but there was a review here many months ago that also questioned the guitar tuning (I believe) on the album in question. One of the band members joined in with the commenters to explain why the guitars sounded like they did. He was actually very cool about the whole negative review thing. Anyone know which review I’m talking about?

    I’m just wondering if maybe Estrella is deliberatly tuning his guitar in some weird way for an effect, since otherwise, as you say, it’s a wonder he didn’t catch it. I don’t know much about guitar tunings myself.

    • Ghoulgotha.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        That’s the one. Thanks. A rare 0.5/5.

    • I would like to be that charitable, but I’m sure it’s not intentional.

  • I really want this cover art as the background to the site!

    • Grymm

      Record o’ the Month?

  • sir_c

    It’s like a giant piramid-shaped teabag being dropped in an ocean of tea. Still not my cup though.