February 5, 2009

CD Review: Pyramaze - Immortal

Back in 1996, during my comic book years, there was an advertisement for an upcoming album for a group called Iced Earth. I had never heard of them, yet I was highly anticipating this album called The Dark Saga. Why? Because it was a concept album based on one of my favorite comics, Spawn. This was my first introduction to a man named Matthew Barlow, and while it would take me until the band's next release to truly appreciate (and come to love) the group, I loved Barlow's voice. He has become one of my all time favorite metal singers. Why do I mention this? The answer is simple, this album from Pyramaze, their third, features the mighty Matt Barlow on vocals. Let me tell you, he sounds great.

Barlow's journey to joining Pyramaze is an interesting one. He was the longtime singer for Iced Earth, but was a deeply changed man following the tragedy of 9/11. He left Iced Earth to become a police officer. While in his new position, he was lured back to the scene as the singer for Pyramaze, a Danish act. Their schedule was light enough that he would be able to fulfill those duties while retaining his job on the force. However, in late 2007 he made the decision to return to metal fulltime, reuniting with Iced Earth. Before making a complete return, he remained with Pyramaze to complete the recording of Immortal.

Now, honestly, have you ever heard of Pyramaze? Me neither. This points to just what kind of impact Barlow's presence has had for the band. His tenure may have been short, but his involvement with them, and his performance on Immortal has opened up all sorts of new avenues for the band. Well, it will at least make them known by more people. This can also be seen as something of a detriment. Why? Because many people who have, are, and will be writing about them will likely spend a lot of time on Barlow (ahem), while the rest of the band is relegated to back up status. Hopefully, this will only be a temporary situation, as Pyramaze is a musically solid progressive power metal act. In short, these guys can play.

Immortal is an exceptional album filled with great riffs, strong orchestration, and plenty of emotion. Of course, much of this emotion is credit to the powerful voice of Barlow, but the rest of the band cannot be forgotten. Founding member Michael Kammeyer and Toke Skjønnemand handle the guitar duties, working together as a solid unit. Jonah Weingarten is on the keys adding a beuatiful texture to the album, taking the lead on "Legacy in a Rhyme" along with Barlow to create a beautiful ballad. Finally, the rhythm section of Niels Kvist on bass and Morten Gade Sørensen form a solid rhythm section.

Now, to be certain, this is not a great album, but it is so well put together that it is hard to deny it a recommendation. The presence of Barlow certainly raises it above the crowd, if for nothing else than his name recognition, and a desire for fans to hear him sing some new material. His style fits in nicely with Pyramaze's style (or, at least what I perceive on this one album as their style). It does not reach the heights of, say, Iced Earth's Something Wicked This Way Comes, but that is not a knock on the album. Sure, comparisons are inevitable and it can create a monstrous beast that is difficult to overcome, but I still feel that when Immortal comes out the other side it will be none the worse for wear.

There is a nice variety throughout the album. Songs range from the straight up power metallers of "Year of the Phoenix" and "Caramon's Poem" to the soft, heartfelt balladry of "Legacy in a Rhyme" to the epic sound of "The Highland."

Bottomline. Not destined for greatness, this is still an album to be listened to and savored. I found it impossible not to get into the music. Granted, they will get more notice because of Barlow's presence, and while that will be the focus, I am interested in hearing their other music. This is not an album to be missed.



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