Even as Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid were getting ready to issue their second full-length, II (review here), early last year, the band was imploding. In short, it was ugly. Fake announcements and trolling from now-former guitarist/vocalist Andy Beresky – on the forum of this site as well, which I mention in the interest of full disclosure – seemed to be purposefully geared toward undoing the work that he, drummer Clay Neely and bassist Dave Gein (also of Second Grave) had put into the band since their self-titled debut (review here) earned such a welcome greeting when put out by MeteorCity in 2009. The real tragedy of it, aside from the flagrant and protracted shitheadedness, was that II was a killer album and almost certainly would’ve allowed Black Pyramid to continue their already underway ascent in the heavy underground sphere. As much as they could, however, Gein and Neely worked to keep their momentum going, allying themselves with Darry Shepard in the guitarist/vocalist role. Shepard, whose resumé is longer even his tenure in acts like Milligram, Roadsaw, Hackman and Maple Forum alums (also in the interest of full disclosure) Blackwolfgoat would indicate, began writing with Black Pyramid right away, and the band quickly got together a single for the track “Aphelion” that was released as a Transubstans Records split with Swedish rockers Odyssey just two months after II dropped. Doubtless the fact that Neely records the band’s material as well at Black Coffee Sound in Williamsburg, MA, aided in their being able to get the single together so quickly, but it also showed that this new incarnation of Black Pyramid wasn’t about to waste their time. The day they rolled into New London, Connecticut, to tear through a set at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in September 2012, they had just finished putting a full-length to tape, and that album – Black Pyramid’s third overall and first with Shepard out front – is Adversarial, a five-track, 38-minute stomper on Hydro-Phonic Records that continues the three-piece’s penchant for axe-slinging tales of battle, but also ups the melodic range and capitalizes on Shepard’s well-established abilities as a lead guitarist, able to move seamlessly into a spontaneous-sounding solo where many of the prior lead lines in the band’s songs sounded plotted out beforehand. That’s not to say anything against one approach over the other – Black Pyramid certainly made it work – but it’s a different kind of energy on Adversarial, and it contributes to the depth underscoring the band’s warmongering bounce.
The “different energy” has obviously extended to various other elements of Black Pyramid’s approach as well. Adversarial is a vinyl-ready 38 minutes, where II stretched to just over an hour, and begins with its longest cut (immediate points) “Swing the Scimitar,” which at 11:59 is among the longer songs any lineup of the band has to-date written – there are three longer; two were on II, one appeared on a 2010 split with Old One (review here) – and also more fluid, beginning aggressive with deep-toned riffing from Shepard to herald the band’s return before initiating the plod that will soon pick up into a faster verse/chorus progression that continues a very Black Pyramid-style balance of catchiness vs. weight of tone and groove. The vocals hover between shouts and growls; fittingly brutal for the opener, but little setup for the screaming to come on “Bleed Out.” Just past its halfway point, following another run through the chorus, “Swing the Scimitar” transitions into an instrumental jam that I can’t imagine wasn’t at one point intended to close the album, but placed as the opener demonstrates just how boldly the trio have taken to the changes they’ve undergone in the last year. Neely and Gein lock in a laid-back groove as Shepard plucks out an echoing, surprisingly psychedelic lead and tosses in some Sabbath to help move into thicker crashes that feel subdued even at their peak, which of course makes the drum start to “Bleed Out” a sort of snap back to reality after the hypnosis of the jam. “Bleed Out” is the shortest of the tracks with vocals on Adversarial at 5:39, its groove is immediate and its structure is straightforward. It’s also impeccably positioned after the opener to reignite the rush of energy, and the backing screams in the chorus (it may be Shepard in multiple layers or Neely or Gein adding) add to both the album’s breadth and its sense of extremity as stops in the latter half mark a return to a final verse, itself opening to a larger groove with some extra snare tapping from Neely for a few measures before giving way to the galloping CD centerpiece, “Issus.”