Instrumental bands and records are often written off because people feel they cannot connect to the songs without the lyrics to grasp onto, but of course, some disagree. An excellent instrumental album can still capture the listener and can make them feel, even without the lyrics to provide the meaning. Some people will listen to an instrumental album and form their own melodies and imagine their own meanings – this is one of the joys of an instrumental album. Is this the case with the newest Pyramids on Mars album ‘Edge of The Black’?
Pyramids on Mars is the one-man project of Kevin Estrella, who plays every instrument on the record, including the virtuous electric guitar. The album is described as “an aural palette of intense, emotional, four dimensional, melodic instrumental rock/metal infusing a range of influences of Baroque, classical composers J.S Bach and Antonio Vivaldi with today’s guitar virtuosos Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani.” These Baroque influences are heard several times in Song of Light which starts with what sounds like a harpsichord and Arioso Lullaby which is a rock arrangement of the famous Bach lullaby of the same name. This song takes a break from the wild, soaring guitars and is a slow mixture of the harpsichord, strings and classical guitar. The trademark electric is heard halfway through but stays tamed.
It is evident that this album takes much inspiration from science fiction and the 1980s, and this is heard in the beginning with Blood Moon. The song starts with heavy electronic sounds and has a Muse – Knights of Cydonia feel in its galloping guitar. This is fitting considering the subject matter and the promise of this album to take the listener to the “edge of the universe, where nothingness and everything exists.” The next song Nacht Waffen then takes the listener from Cydonia to Germany, and the riffs and dark guitars give it a Rammstein feel.
A highlight comes with Mercury Magenta, which is more chilled and gives the listener a breather from the intense soaring guitars of the five songs that come before. Another highlight is Time to Believe which is again calmer and has an almost punk feel to it with a great bass line. Towards the end strings are heard, and the song builds to a beautiful, victorious end.
It is perhaps a little telling though that two of the highlights on the album are those that slow down and do not bombard the listener with constantly wavering, wailing electric guitars. Truth be told, while it is awe-inspiring to hear Estrella’s incredible skills on the guitar, it does start to feel a bit monotonous, and with so many of the songs being filled with intense guitars, it is almost too much. Obviously, the guitar is the point, but it is just so full-on. The problem then though is that there are songs like F-22 Raptor and Whale Song where Estrella has tried to add something different, such as the sound of a jet in the former and sonar noises in the latter. Unfortunately, this comes off a bit literal and cliché.
Estrella says that this album is this decade’s answer to Joe Satriani’s ‘Surfing With The Alien’ from the 80s and believes that it captures “the same passion, energy, and melodic hooks, yet it has an updated sound.” While being admittedly unversed in Joe Satriani, there doesn’t seem to be much that is updated about the sound of this album. It feels as though it could come straight out of the 80s in both sound and production. Taking a look at Pyramids on Mars’ website, this appears to come from the 80s as well, which doesn’t seem to be ironic or a style choice. It is fine to be heavily influenced by and make music that sounds like it can step right out of the past, but it seems odd to then say that this new album has an updated, more modern sound.
This album was interesting. It does take the listener on a journey, and it cannot be denied that Estrella is unbelievably talented. The sci-fi, edge of the universe subject matter is very clear, and fans of this kind of thing will love this album. On the flip side, it is quite pigeon-holed and not very accessible and those not into sci-fi and virtuous, wailing (at times perhaps self-indulgent) guitar melodies may find it challenging to connect with.