Pyramaze - Immortal
Pyramaze - Immortal
My expectations for this CD were about as high as you could imagine. I was not only a big fan of Matt Barlow with Iced Earth but I also really enjoyed the previous Pyramaze album, "Legend of the Bone Carver". The almighty Barlow's voice had not been heard in over 6 years prior to this album, and I was really anxious to hear how his voice and approach may have changed in his time away from metal and mostly music in general. Being his grand return, "Immortal" would need to be an impeccable album in order for it to truely satisfy me.
"Arise" greets us with some epic orchestration and somewhat cheesy spoken narration. However, under the circumstances of Barlow's great resurrection, a little epicness is totally called for.
"Year of the Pheonix" comes ripping through the speakers like a freight train... heavy riffs, great guitar melodies, awesome drumming, and an awesome scream from Barlow. Just one word comes to mind for me regarding this track: EPIC. The verses are slow and crunching, the prechoruses do an awesome job at building, and the chorus just blows you away. Probably one of the catchiest songs on the whole album, I have not tired of it slightly in the many listens Ive already given this album. This track really establishes the factor of this album that most surprised me. I was expecting Barlow's vocals to carry my enthusiasm, but the rest of the band really offer some first class playing. The level of orchestration in the songs is brilliant, the guitar solo are very impressive yet not once cross into wanking territory.
The second actual track on the disk, "Ghost Light" begins with a mid-tempo crunching riff with some cool keyboard melodies over it. The first verse shows Barlow reaching more towards the rough side of his vocal capabilities, but the chorus really uses it to play off of a more melodic vocal bit, adding to the vocal diversity of the album. This track, as well as those that soon follow it help establish that the quality of "Year of the Pheonix" was no fluke and this band has brought their best to the table. "Touched By the Mara" and "A Beautiful Death" are very good tracks but don't quite stand out much when compared to most of these. Don't get me wrong, quality is abound, but not the cream of the crop to be found here.
Track 6, "Legacy in a Rhyme" is probably the pleasant surprise of the album for me. This track is basically a piano ballad at heart, though it's far from the cheesy overload of bombast usually present in tracks like this. Barlow's vocal performance is wrought with conviction throughout, and the music backing him is absolutely superb. The lyrics are among the best on the album, and this track really drives home the ability of this band to cover different styles and still maintain the same great level of quality.
"Caramons Poem" takes us right back to the great uptemo and catchy greatness of the opening cut, and stands as one of my favorite tracks on the album. The intro perfectly sets up a heavy verse followed by a really melodic prechorus and extremely powerful chorus that will surely have you singing along shortly after hearing it for the first time. Unfortunately the track seems somewhat incomplete, mainly due to failing to return to a chorus following an instrumental break. However, I'm hardly going to deduct substancial marks for that. "The Highland" begins with a vocal-driven intro which gives you a really cool folky vibe, which dissapears during the main body of the song until the chorus is reached. As many other tracks do, this song shows a great deal of choir arrangements and great uses of backing vocals to really accentuate the many different passages.
The final full track on the disk, "Shadow of the Beast" is among the more intricately arranged pieces of to be found here and, with the afforementioned tracks respectively, stands among my favorite tracks on the album. There are many different parts comprising this track, and it's difficult to split the song into an easy "verse/chorus" format, though many of the parts do repeat in a logical order. Many passages are very epic and at times dark sounding, while the chorus goes for a very straight-forward driving feel. About 4 and a half minutes through the song, the general feel we've come to know fades and an acoustic-driven passage begins. I felt that this may just lead to a quiet ending to the track, but the driving guitars return once more with some simple yet powerful riffs which allow things to pick up into a final and epic guitar solo. Lastly, "March Through an Endless Rain" is a very orchestra-driven outro piece which really helps to bring a sense of closure to the last 40-odd minutes of listening. You almost get the feel of the closing credits to a war-themed movie or something here, and it gave me chills on the first listen.
To put it simply, this album basically met all the anticipations I had or even could've had for it, and I am extremely satisfied. I can only bring two formidable complaints to the table here. The first is that I feel the album is a tad on the short side, clocking in at 45:29 and hosting just 8 full songs. I feel a longer (8-10 minute) epic track near the end of this album really could've sealed the deal, but the length really isn't a big deal for me, as at least it never drags in the slightest bit. Secondly, as far as I know now, due to Matt Barlow rejoining Iced Earth, this will be a one-off stint. No tour, no follow up album(s), this is it. As big a fan of Iced Earth with Barlow as I have been, I really can not see Jon Schaffer being able to come up with a batch of tunes that can even compete on the same level as this, let alone top it... Barlow or no Barlow. However, that is again not really a complaint about the album itself.
I can't recomend this highly enough to any fan of metal in general, but particularly progressive power metal. Honestly though, this album strays far enough in every direction to satisfy everyone without leaning too far in any of the directions to really upset anyone either. Simply put, this album is a true winner to me, and probably the best new release I have heard in quite a long time.