A Northern Meadow is a cold and calculating mix of post-punk, post-rock, black metal, and ambient from the Texas band Pyramids. It’s the band’s first solo (non-split or collaborative) full-length since their self-titled debut almost seven years ago, and marks their debut on Profound Lore Records. With guest spots from Colin Marston and Vindsval among others, it’s a highly cohesive, tension-filled album—the main shortcoming being that it sounds almost too mechanically executed.
Marston—the man of many guitar strings from Krallice and Gorguts—is a key addition to the lineup this time around. The influence of his alien riffs colors the landscape of the album noticeably, especially on songs like “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes like The Mouths of Whales,” with its strange-sounding scales and tremolo-inspired riffing that sounds like it was played in between the regular notes on the guitar. And Vindsval makes his mark, too; I’ve already seen comparisons of A Northern Meadow to his band Blut Aus Nord’s electronic-tinged 2012 record, 777 – Cosmosophy—fitting since both albums contrast programmed-sounding beats with atmospheric black metal.
The complex guitar sound swirls into the background on A Northern Meadow, melting into the rest of the sound of the album. The production is layered, with drums stacked tightly underneath riffs and other guitars making sounds that float and drift in and out of focus. While it’s certainly a dense album, A Northern Meadow skirts around traditional heaviness instead of approaching it. It seems like the album is built out of airy layer on top of echoing layer. The track that jolts the listener awake is “I Have Four Sons, All Named for Men We Lost to War,” with the guitar sound mostly front and center in the beginning.
One element of the album that seems appeal to a lot of listeners is that echo-laden, ’80s-style programmed drum sound, and that’s where I run into a bit of difficulty with this album, because it makes a lot of the songs sound too empty or it sits in the background too much. It’s reminiscent of the backing to a lot of songs by Have a Nice Life, or Psalm Zero’s The Drain. On certain tracks, like “The Substance of Grief is Not Imaginary,” the fiercely exact blast beats act more as a texture sitting next to other textures instead of driving the song forward, and the song becomes stagnant. Out of everything on A Northern Meadow, “Indigo Birds” stands out because it has the best sense of dynamics on the album, from vocals that remind me of Caïna’s “Orphan” to the building noise of the middle sections and the ambient outro. Not all the songs are this varied, though, and many hover in the same space with only minor fluctuations in tempo and loudness.
Overall, though, A Northern Meadow is a technically sound piece work work. Credit to Pyramids for combining elements of metal like blast beats and tremolo riffs into a unified, dreamy construction that still manages to sound like it has teeth.