It’s been a mighty long time since I played an album three times in a row, back-to-back (to back). But so taken was I with Beyond The Exosphere, the new platter from Toronto quartet Pyramid Theorem, I was compelled to listen again, and I knew I must have discovered something special. The strange thing is, I didn’t expect to like it much. The so-called prog-metal fatigue had set in for me long ago, and when sampling new music in this ballpark, my finger tends to hover menacingly over the ‘skip’ button at the first sign of yawning stagnation. But this new album – their third, and the first with a professional producer/mixer in the form of one Richard Chycki – won me over with surprising swiftness and ease, and left me wondering if I’ve been unfairly maligning a genre for too long.
We’ve all heard bands who attempt to clone heavyweights and trailblazers, and the main problem with such imitation is that the watered-down result magnifies the weaker aspects of the bands being copied. Pyramid Theorem, however, do not clone. They allow themselves to be influenced by the strongest elements of their predecessors, expanding on them and imbuing them with their own formidable qualities. And while bands like Dream Theater are surely an influence, the more substantial and noteworthy inspiration comes from their own hometown heroes. I didn’t need to research to know that Rush are in their musical DNA, it’s joyfully clear from the moment the album springs to life. This is not to suggest the band are simply a mash of a couple of bands. They are most certainly their own band with their own sound that also draws from numerous progressive and classic rock influences; like the occasional Deep Purple or Yes flourish woven into their lavish and sometimes dramatic compositions.
Experimentation and inventiveness pervade these arrangements and breathe fresh life into a style of music that has been growing stale in recent times. There’s enough virtuosic playing to satisfy the note hounds, beautifully balanced with skillful and melodic songwriting. About six minutes in to the opening title track (following a surprisingly early drum solo) the song dissipates into a mesmerizing atmospheric section, clean guitar notes floating over mysterious keyboard chords, delivering a sensation of being suspended in deep space. This tremendous 18-minute epic continues through a series of style, mood, and tempo changes and forges new ground, with the nods to Rush making welcome appearances throughout.
Perhaps most impressive about the album is that the excellence remains constant. It’s not a case of front-loading the strongest material into the opening epic, with the rest a steady decline; every track is on par with the previous one. And though the remaining four are considerably shorter, they are each their own little journeys, with plenty of melody, heaviness, intricate playing and earworm choruses. Under Control and Freedom both lock into heavy riffage with chunky rhythms, the latter having a strikingly anthemic core, and in a perfect world would receive the radio exposure they deserve.
Closer To The End sees a more ethereal opening with a somber, unearthly vocal before the main riff explodes, its choir-like keyboard stabs recalling Diary Of A Madman. The track unleashes numerous blistering trade-off solos during a frantic middle section, and is an album highlight. Closing track Intonate proves another favourite, straddling between sludgy metal and bright, clean, tuneful rock. More soaring and blazing solos (because why not) eventually give way to a piano melody that provides the basis for the final few minutes of the album, building on a stirring, cinematic theme as the band play out the song in triumphant fashion.
I don’t like to make sweeping, hyperbolic statements, so I won’t say that Beyond The Exosphere mops the floor with the music made by even the biggest names in this field over the last ten years. But if someone else happens to say it… I won’t argue. These 41 minutes are over in the blink of an eye, a noteworthy accomplishment in an age where attention spans are historically short. This album obviously sprung from a pure, creative place, and proves a thrilling document of a band overflowing with talent who have harnessed their ambition and delivered their strongest and most focused release to date. Hugely recommended!
Beyond The Exosphere (i. Ascension, ii. Planetary Transit, iii. Regenesis, iv. Quantum Leap) · Under Control · Freedom · Closer To The End · Intonate