Pyramid of the Sun
Release Date: Nov 09, 10
Listening to the new album Pyramid of the Sun by the all-instrumental trio Maserati left me pondering the role of recordings that don’t feature singers. In many cases instrumental music provides a showcase for a featured player such as jazz artists like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane or rock guitar virtuosos like Joe Satriani or Jeff Beck. While the whole band plays an important role on these albums the listener is mainly focused on hearing the star performer’s work.
Then there are instrumental scores for other media like movies, television shows or video games. Here the music plays a very different role helping to set or enhance the mood of specific scenes.
Then there’s Maserati which fits neither category. Formed in Athens, Georgia, home of 90’s pop-alt superstars REM, the band has released a number of albums and EP’s since their 2001 debut 37:29:24 with nary a singer every gracing the studio.
The band’s current lineup features Coley Dennis and Matt Cherry on guitar with drummer Chris McNeal who came on board when Jerry Fuchs died unexpectedly. Reports are that Fuchs, also known for his work with Turing Machine and live performances with LCD Soundsystem, died trying to jump out of a broken elevator when a piece of his clothing got snagged and he fell down the empty shaft.
Having started the album prior to the accident, the band took longer than expected to finish the release being careful to properly preserve Fuch’s final work. I’m confident Fuch’s would be proud. The group did an excellent job filling Pyramid of the Sun with a number of powerful, energetic songs that in their best moments pay homage to great 70’s psychedelic-rock acts like Pink Floyd and Rush as well as prog-rock acts like Emerson Lake and Palmer and Hawkwind.
Unfortunately with no Roger Waters or Robert Plant providing a counterpoint to their David Gilmour or Jimmy Page the overall effect of the release is muted. The band doesn’t have a featured instrumentalist and the music isn’t used to set or enhance a scene like a score. That allows the music to fade into the background if the listener doesn’t stay consciously focused on listening; a task that is much harder to achieve sans lyrics and soloists.
On a track-by-track basis Pyramid of the Sun has some great moments including “Ruins” which is definitely the most powerful effort on the album. On the other hand some tracks like “They’ll Suffer No More from Thirst” rely too heavily on synthesizers and come dangerously close to being reminiscent of Jan Hammer’s theme music from Miami Vice.
In the future I can see several options that could raise the group’s work up to a new level of accessibility. An album featuring a variety of guest singers like Apocalyptica has done or a multi-media project that adds complimentary visuals to their powerful music would be fascinating. They could also consider moving into scoring projects. Their music would be absolutely amazing tied in with a movie or video game to provide the context they are currently lacking.
Until then, while I highly respect the talent found in Maserati I’m afraid their music is caught in a sort of netherworld between what makes for great rock songs and what makes for great instrumental recordings.