Black Pyramid's first album took many people by surprise with its street-ready maturity and consistently stellar stoner-doom songcraft, eliciting quite a few overenthusiastic comparisons to everyone from Sleep to -- ahem! -- Black Sabbath, but deservingly landing on many a critic's year-end best-of lists and promising great things for the future, in any case. Their second endeavor may surprise just as many with its distinct change in direction towards a more epic, Iron Maiden-inspired metal template, and while it's still unclear whether this creative shift precipitated the exit of vocalist/guitarist Andy Beresky, the diminished power of the songs at hand is pretty hard evidence that something was surely amiss during the album's recording. Mind you, many tracks still offer enough unexpected twists and turns (see the serpentine melodies snuck into "Night of the Queen," the myriad monster riffs and tempo changes sprinkled across the colossal "Into the Dawn," another pretty acoustic instrumental named "Tanelorn"), but others get mired in rote ideas and dull repetition (like the very disappointing "Dreams of the Dead" and "The Hidden Kingdom") that don't always justify the effort necessary to reach those hard-won twists and turns. But perhaps most amazing of all is how such a seemingly minor adjustment to the band's sound could transform heroic fantasy lyrics that previously evoked the romantic Hyborean Age of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novels into something more akin to Manowar kitsch. As a result, the same mysteries that originally placed Black Pyramid in a league of their own now leave them stranded amidst an endless catalog of like-sounding groups ranging from Grand Magus to the Gates of Slumber to Bible of the Devil. Don't get us wrong now: II is still a pretty entertaining album by most benchmarks, except when it comes to living up to its predecessor, and with Black Pyramid's future now further clouded with doubt, one has to wonder whether those lofty standards will ever be revisited.
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