Over the past thirty-five years or so, progressive metal has become one of the most exhilaratingly creative and ambitiously saturated subgenres in modern music.
Although countless up-and-coming acts emerge every year to take their shot at being the next Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, Queensrÿche, Opeth, or Tool, few possess the essential blend of enthusiasm, personality, and craftsmanship necessary to deserve such a stature.
Undoubtedly, Canadian quartet Pyramid Theorem is an exception to that norm. Founded in the late 2000s, the band—bassist/vocalist Christian Di Mambro, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Stephan Di Mambro, percussionist Vito De Francesco, and lead guitarist/vocalist Sam Ermellini—have already established themselves as unquenchably imaginative, determined, and skillful on their first two full-length statements (2012’s eponymous debut and 2017’s Element of Surprise) and prior EPs. In fact, Edwin van Hoof of HeadBangers Lifestyle praised Pyramid Theorem as "perhaps one of the finest bands in progressive rock today," with other outlets—ProgArchives, Metal Kingdom, and Metal Music Archives—showering them with
As stellar as those records are, however, Pyramid Theorem’s latest collection, Beyond The Exosphere,
surpasses them in every respect. Produced and engineered by Rich Chycki (who’s previously put his stamp on releases by Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith, Pink, and Def Leppard, among others), the five-song sequence sees the group setting new benchmarks for their ability to fuse impassioned and memorable songwriting with mind-blowingly sophisticated, diverse, and virtuosic arrangements. Beyond that, it flows as smoothly and sleekly as anything being made by their stylistic peers, further cementing why this third album should catapult Pyramid Theorem into the mind of every progressive metal aficionado.
So, how did four young guys from Toronto get to this point? Well, as Vito shares, it all began around 2006, when he and Stephan “met at a mutual friend’s cottage” and “instantly bonded over” their love of Canada’s biggest prog rock band, Rush. Meanwhile, Christian (who’s Stephan’s brother, of course) and Sam were playing in a different ensemble. One night, Stephan took Vito to see them play, and the pair were “blown away.” As fate would have it, Christian and Sam left their band in early 2007, so they started jamming with the other duo in Vito’s basement. Sam declares: “I can still remember seeing all of the Rush memorabilia—the records, CDs, cassette tapes, and a Neil Peart replica kit—there. Being a fifteen-year-old kid, seeing all of that was inspiring, to say the least. We developed our sound in that basement, so it holds a special spot in my heart.” Stephan concurs, adding that “you have to understand the visual and auditory experience that that basement presented at the time. Vito had a whole lighting rig set up down there, with strobes, fog, and more. It was pretty easy to just get lost in it all sometimes.”
Obviously, other joint influences—Dream Theater, The Beatles, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, Yes, Deep Purple—helped bond the boys even more and make it clear that they were meant to create together. Naturally, they’d already been perfecting their playing for a several years by that point (always encouraged by their parents and often with schoolmates or other friends). Christian, Vito and Sam were set with their instruments from the start though Stephan didn’t add keyboards to his arsenal until he joined Pyramid Theorem. “I’d be playing guitar and I kept hearing different sounds around me. I thought, Where the hell is that coming from? Is it only in my head?” he recalls. Those mysterious timbres, coupled with the transcendental power of Vito’s basement, led him to “buy a Roland V-Synth and slowly start to incorporate it into [their] sound.”
Over the next few years, they worked tirelessly and excitedly to harness their “invigorating mix of
classic ‘70s prog rock and more modern heavy metal tonality,” as Christian describes, ultimately discovering their essential ability to—as Vito puts it—“stay on the same wavelength” while “constantly pushing [themselves] to be the best musicians and songwriters possible.” Expectedly, they also built their chops and reputation by playing as many shows as possible along the way. Vito readily admits that Pyramid Theorem “never really had a chance to hit the road properly” but they’ve already shared the stage with some impressive artists such as Sonata Arctica, Finger Eleven, Periphery, and Fates Warning. That said, the standout moment for both Vito and Sam remains their first time playing in Montreal (back in 2011), when they opened for one of the genre’s biggest bands, New Jersey quintet Symphony X.
“I remember the reception we got after that first song and it still gives me chills,” Vito reflects. Sam expounds, “They were a big inspiration for us in the early days, so having an opportunity to play with them was surreal.” Perhaps more than anything else, the quartet pride themselves on being a tremendous live act, so ideally—and justly—Beyond the Exosphere will finally allow them to go bigger and broader by touring all of North America, if not even further, once live music becomes a viable option again.
As for how Beyond The Exosphere builds upon the band’s tried-and-true formula, it aims for more stylistic cohesion and succinctness that solidifies the full realization of Pyramid Theorem’s identity. Vito notes that Element of Surprise was designed to give each of its eight tracks “its own flavor and appeal” so that listeners were literally surprised at all of the “many different musical moods”; in contrast, and according to Stephan, that “growth record” allowed them to take “a much more decisive direction” for this third LP. Rather than divvy up certain approaches for certain tracks, the album possesses a stronger amalgamation of the quartet’s multifaceted aesthetic from start to finish. A major reason why Beyond The Exosphere sees them “maturing as musicians,”
Sam divulges, is also the fact that it’s the first time they used a professional producer (rather than simply
overseeing it all themselves). Indeed, Chycki’s knowledge permeates the record’s heightened sense of focus, unity, and technical quality. Take, for instance, the wonderfully melodic, dynamic, symphonic, and heroic opening title track. It undeniably conjures Rush, Spock’s Beard, and Dream Theater (circa A Change of Seasons), but it’s very idiosyncratic as well, with a level of performance, production, narrative, and songwriting quality—including fluid, emotional, and cosmic transitions from movement to movement—that many of the most established progressive metal outfits can’t match. It really is a tour-de-force of everything Pyramid Theorem has been working toward thus far, and at just under eighteen minutes in length, it deserves to be regarded as one of the greatest epic tracks of its generation.
Of course, the remaining four tunes earn their place alongside that triumphant beast. Specifically, “Under Control” offers a more concise slice of glorious density (with superb interplay between guitar and keyboard) whose 1980s-esque multilayered chorus is ripe for stadium sing-alongs. Afterward, “Freedom” is gruffer and more sinister, yet it still packs enough moving respites and inventive effects (namely, bells) to keep it satisfyingly flexible. Next, the penultimate “Closer to the End” works as a chameleonic ballad, juxtaposing flamboyant theatrics, hard-hitting intensity, and plenty of haunting atmospheric introspection with expert precision. Naturally, “Intonate” serves as a breathtaking finale that coats its brutal core with stirring vocal harmonies, empowering strings, calming acoustic guitar strums, and poignant piano motifs. Its larger-than-life jam fades away patiently during its final moments, leaving you with the sense of awe and catharsis that comes from completing a life-changing journey.
Luckily, fans won’t have to wait until the whole sequence comes out to hear some of those gems for
themselves, as Pyramid Theorem plans to issue three singles over the course of the summer. In particular, “Freedom” will arrive on June 19th , followed by “Closer to the End” and “Under Control” on July 17th and August 14th , respectively.
As all artists should, Pyramid Theorem always aims to satisfy themselves first and foremost; that said, there’s little doubt that listeners will similarly value Beyond The Exosphere as not only the crowning achievement of its creators thus far, but also as a thrilling new entry into the genre overall. “I’m sure that it will connect with any true music lover on some level. It’s one of those records that gets better with each listen,” Vito rightly claims. Likewise, Stephan promises followers a disc that “will tear right in your soul. It’s four different interpretations of the human condition, condensed into the most powerful expressions we can capture.” Even more rewarding and touching, however, is the group’s hope that the collection “gives people goosebumps and that feeling of connectedness that we’ve experienced listening to our favourite records,” as well as the motivation to “pick up a guitar or a set of drumsticks and just play.” Thus, Pyramid Theorem really give their all to motivate, gratify, and surprise their audience at every opportunity; with Beyond The Exosphere, they fulfill those goals beyond any expectations.
Check them out at The Rockpile in Toronto on December 12th.