huge thanks to Adam Moerder, Scott Plagenhoef, and the entire Pitchfork staff!
[Hydra Head; 2008]
Sheesh, as if the unholy matrimony between indie and drone metal hasn't been tested enough lately, here comes another metal outfit using your favorite bands as a Trojan horse before launching into unapologetic post-rock assault. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining over the existence of bands like Denton, Texas' Pyramids (not to be confused with the 60s surf rock and/or screamo bands of the same name), but rather feeling a bit overwhelmed at the sheer amount of ideas to be unpacked from this monster of a debut album. While it's easy to pinpoint the band's contemporaries, there's no confusing any of the material here for Boris, Sunn 0))), or Jesu. Yes, they play up the same prettiness vs. ugliness tensions as those bands, but the lines aren't drawn so clearly, and most reference points deteriorate within seconds.
One Pitchfork staffer compared this debut to "someone disemboweling a Radiohead record," and considering how inchoate this offering is, that's a pretty serviceable point of entry. That said, Pyramids is a much messier affair than simply grafting double-kick bass drums and palm-muted power chords to Kid A. For every skull-rattling series of drones, there's a long expanse of shapeless dream pop, or a thoroughly un-groovable section of cerebral post-rock, or just plain insanity.
Despite each of the 10 tracks here hovering around the three-minute mark, Pyramids have hardly organized their creativity into nice, neat packages. The songs tend to meld together rather than stand as self-contained works. Opener "Sleds", one of the few exceptions to that rule, eases us into the album with a wispy Sigur Rós melody from singer S. Windett. However, once the haunted house moans of "Igloo" take over, there's no getting off the ride. A pesky twin bass drum rears its head at seemingly random points, so arhythmic that even its presence on an ambient no-brainer like "The Echo of Something Lovely" feels unnerving. When Windett's vocals detach themselves from the omnipresent flurry of effects swirls and backwards riffs, the album reaches the kind of peaks you'd expect from a Hydra Head release. "End Resolve", one of the few instances of melodic and rhythmic synergy, sounds like Thom Yorke fronting Pantera. On "This House Is Like Any Other World", Windett unravels what's probably the only sustained vocal melody here, made all the more compelling by its struggle to outshine a thrashing instrumental cacophony.
Although the back half stagnates in nondescript death drones, an accompanying disc of remixes provides a glimpse of Pyramids' potential once they better utilize their ideas. Jesu's remix of "Something Lovely", one of the bonus disc's four re-imaginings of the track, flashes remnants of the Lifeline EP's delicate shoegaze, a useful lesson in understatement. French metal group Blut Aus Nord take fey opener "Sleds" in the opposite direction, slathering the reverb splashes with dirge-like arpeggios and Satanic grunts. As a few botched renderings prove, though, the second disc doesn't fully humble Pyramids, it just trims the fat off areas where they seem hellbent on sabotaging themselves as some sort of post-modernist joke. Sure, they're a very raw talent, but a formidable talent nonetheless, and this record's peaks hint at even greater musical epiphanies to come.