Pyramaze – Epitaph Review

There was a time when Pyramaze threatened to become my favorite prog-metal band. With their Melancholy Beast debut highly impressing, and follow up Legend of the Bone Carver completely blowing me away, I was very much on the Pyramaze war wagon and looking forward to more flawless victories. Sadly, vocalist Lance King departed, and third album Immortal was a step down despite heroic vocal efforts by Matt Barlow. Seven years went by before we got the next album, this one featuring the unknown Terje Harøy on the mic. Disciples of the Sun was a big comeback for Pyramaze, showcasing a new direction and an abundance of impossibly catchy songs. Two years later however, the band took another downturn on Contingent by trying to create a bigger-than-life concept album with a movie soundtrack sheen that ended up feeling more pretentious than interesting. This brings us to their sixth outing, Epitaph. Having no idea what to expect as the band has been anything but predictable over the last decade-plus, I was apprehensive as fook. It turns out that Epitaph is the happy medium between Disciples and Contingent – marrying huge hooks with a big, bombastic sound. After focused attention with a jaded ear, I can report that the marriage is a mostly happy one.

After a mood-building intro, proper opener “A Stroke of Magic” uncorks the formula that worked so well on Disciples. Keyboard saturated, fairly linear prog-metal with theatrical embellishments and a somewhat metalcore-ish sound gives way to a big, catchy chorus carried with aplomb and grace by Terje Harøy’s slightly alt-rock vocal style. You only need to hear it once and it’s in your head for better or worse. This same template works wonders on cuts like the uber-hooky “Steal My Crown,” which for some reason reminds me of vintage Doobie Brothers. Harøy runs up the score here with some excellent and engaging vocals as he steals both the show and the titular crown. “Knights in Shining Armour” borrows a lot from power metal, pairing oppressively cheesy keys with a victorious chorus recalling the salad days of Human Fortress. Both “Bird of Prey” and “Indestructible” benefit from a return to the Disciples playbook and they’re easily memorable pieces with satisfying choruses you will remember. Truth be told, I can’t seem to get the former cut out of my goddamn head.

The album’s big set piece is 12-minute closer “Time Traveller” where both Lance King and Matt Barlow return to lend their powerhouse vocals to the cause. It’s a good song, heavier than anything else on here, and all three singers deliver the goods, though it could definitely stand to be a few minutes shorter, especially on an album that runs just over an hour. Luckily, the sheer catchiness of much of the material prevents Epitaph from feeling too long or rambling. There are no bad songs, though “Transcendence” is a fairly tame tune that doesn’t take full advantage of the significant talents of Unleash the Archer‘s Brittany Hayes, thereby earning the eternal scorn and hatred of Doc Grier. Some of the same issues I had with Contingent are still present. The keyboards and orchestrations of Jonah Weingarten still overpower the guitars far too often, and his desire to create a Michael Bay blockbuster movie soundtrack atmosphere can make things feel overdone and exhausting at times. Likewise, the addition of the children’s chorus on “World Foregone” feels like a tired trope marring an otherwise fine tune. That said, when the song writing is as dialed in as it is here, one can overlook such quibbles.

I’ve become a big fan of Terje Harøy since he debuted on Disciples of the Sun. He has a big voice, a broad range, and his ability to slot his vocals somewhere between alt-rock, alt-metal and prog pay dividends when paired with crisp writing. Once again he elevates the material and really nails the big, showy choruses. Even on a “lesser” cut like “Particle” his delivery forces the chorus into your grey matter. Toke Skjønnemand and Jacob Hanson (ex-Anubis Gate, ex-Beyond Twilight) are relegated to playing second fiddle to the constant barrage of overweening keyboards, and some of what they play falls just shy of metalcore chuggery, but they’re talented and they get to shine come solo-time. There’s a satisfying heft to their tone too, though it’s often submerged beneath an ocean of grandiose orchestration. Speaking of which, Jonah Weingarten is everywhere all the time with his keyboard noodling. No nook nor cranny escapes his all seeing gaze, and at several junctures I wished he would get out of my ear’s grill for a spell. This is the Pyramaze sound though, so you take the good with the wank.

Epitaph sees Pyramaze make yet another comeback and a return to my good graces. The things I loved about Disciples of the Sun are present, and the things I disliked about Contingent are minimized. If you want your prog-metal catchier than crabs with COVID, this thing grows stickier with every spin. It won’t be the band’s epitaph, and it just may mark the beginning of another successful run. Here’s hoping.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM
Websites: pyramaze.com | facebook.com/pyramaze
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

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