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Pyramids/Horseback - A Throne Without a King

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Artist: Pyramids/Horseback

Album: A Throne Without a King

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Mar. 15, 2012

Two “metal” bands from the South who are known as much for their experimentation with “ambient” materials as for their riffs, Pyramids and Horseback seem to make sense as collaborators. Their previous recordings have been expansive and sonically diverse in many ways, combining the virtues of various forms of “post-rock” and sheer heaviness. A Throne Without a King opens with a track from each group, followed by a lengthy four-part suite. Significantly, the solo tracks are generally far more successful, though the musicians should be commended for their reach (if not their grasp).

The Pyramids track “Phaedra’s Love” gets the disc off to a raucous start with buffeting waves of noise, before dipping down into lambent blue. It’s a bit heavy on the ethereal layering of electronic sound, and is populated by details that are sometimes trite (the noodling piano muffled and buried beneath the din) and sometimes cast off (brief spasms of electronic drums and bent metal). Horseback’s “Thee Cult of Henry Flynt” continues the Chapel Hill band’s flirtation with black metal dynamics, as filtered through their drone/repetition sensibilities. It’s certainly the most up-tempo thing I’ve heard from this band, but halfway through the track it dissolves into feedback and stutter of a fairly compelling variety.

The collaborative title suite is spread across four tracks and nearly 50 minutes. For the most part, it’s spare and pared down, almost suggesting that these guys have just discovered musique concrète or electro-acoustic music or something, filled as it is with very deliberate near-silences, little rustles and the like. Throughout the suite, the bands are commendably restrained and only lay on heavy sound in places. Yet, too often they seem content either to pepper the piece with allsorts sounds (some organ, coffee jars filled rice, occasional sampled voices and so on) or to unfurl a lengthy roll of crackling noise. Back and forth they go between distant clatter, too-sincere keyboards (or self-consciously “haunting” vocals) and crumbling sound (more like Birchville Cat Motel than Pita). After a fairly painful passage where bits of metal are scraped or dropped to the floor (thank you, we already know that everything is a sound-maker), things end in a fairly compelling, growling drone.

That’s not enough to redeem Throne Without a King, a fairly vague and gestural album that drifts without either clear compositional sense or sonic innovation.

By Jason Bivins

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