by Casey Boland

I’ve never been entirely convinced by most “drone metal.” Perhaps I’m reluctant to explore genres not couched in standard rock forms. But give me memorable riffs and passionate performances, and I’m satisfied. So to be wowed by the decidedly non-rock Pyramids with Nadja (Hydra Head, 2009) indicates either its superior quality or the broadening of my musical horizons. Whatever the reason, I find myself consumed by its haunting spells.

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Though Pyramids and Nadja usually receive the “metal” tag, most would not define anything here as such. That doesn’t mean this is without muscle or teeth. “The Sound of Ice and Grass” has some ferocity, with black metal hissing and thick guitar chords. This contrasts nicely (though jarringly) with the fragile vocals sprinkled throughout that sound like a less helium-sucking Sigur Rós. The marriage of heaviness and ethereal beauty succeeds most on the blissful closer “An Angel Was Heard to Cry Over the City of Rome.”

At times the instrumental stew feels haphazard and inconsequential. Cyclones of keyboards, electronic beats, guitars, and other sounds swirl in and out at random intervals. Yet every time I fear the music will slide into incoherence, everything coalesces into something magical. The tasteful use of vocals enhances these songs and separates this act from most like-minded purveyors of drone.

Though contemporary mass media tends towards short attention spans and bland palates, a fearless few create art that serves only their own muses. It takes a firm grasp of mechanics as well as a focused vision to make music this unorthodox work. Combined, Pyramids and Nadja prove themselves more than capable.