Sometime way back in 2015, Mirror released their self-titled debut long player on Metal Blade Records. Despite being put out by one of the biggest and most consistent and reputable labels in the biz, it flew under the radar. Featuring former Electric Wizard and Satan’s Wrath bassist Tas Danazoglou and drummer/producer Jaime Gomez Arellano (Septic Tank, Ghost, Paradise Lost, Oranssi Pazuzu, Cathedral, etc.), it’s a little bizarre that it didn’t catch on given their pedigree. Regardless, the record is a nice time warp back to the classic metal heyday, pulling influences from horns-worthy acts like Rainbow, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, and… well, you get the point. With this in mind, it’s not at all surprising to see that the group has found a new home at Bad Omen Records (aka the retro metal center of the universe) for their sophomore effort, Pyramid of Terror. Now with a slightly shuffled lineup in tow, is the follow up more of the same? What’s the deal? Go forth, reap the knowledge….
As their self-titled record pored over early metal’s finest, it’s obvious that the Mirror guys are fans, nerds, and/or students of the heavy arts. Fortunately, new guitarists Constantinos C. Bynd and Nikolas Spirits Moutafis are every bit the metal geeks that Danazoglou and Jimmy Mavromatis (vocals) are. Pyramid of Terror is a logical step forward from the self-titled release, showcasing a wide variety of old-school tropes with an astute ear for the magic that made the greats, well, great. The title track opener is a NWOBHM nod where you can practically hear the whiteness of their high tops as the leads saturate the track, filling every nook and cranny that isn’t already occupied by a new variation, transition, rhythm accent, tag, or belted vocal line. Further, Bynd and Moutafis are remarkable players and their attention to detail at every turn can’t be overstated. They play with a swagger where it always seems like there’s a lead sneaking in somewhere, a clever rhythm change-up, or a perfectly-timed break in the action. It makes for a simultaneously familiar and fresh listen. The mix plays to this as well; Danazoglou’s beefy low-end is thumpy, audible, and plays well with each of the guitars (who’s tones work nicely together themselves). Just soak up the latter half of “Black Magic Tower” or “The Last Step Down,” daaaamn.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few “How the hell did we end up here?” moments, but they’re never cheaply earned or spring up out of nowhere. Tracks like “I Am The Freak” and “Master of the Deep” cycle through a swath of disparate phases and tempos, but the group’s knack for injecting an adrenaline boost at the most opportune moments keeps them firmly in the Goldilocks zone, away from fatigue and disorientation. Similarly “Nitocris” imagines a world where a stop-and-go Megadeth/Living Colour-tinged riff can worm its way into a psychedelic well of woe and doom – the rhythm section truly earn their keep on Pyramid of Terror. Their songwriting approach across the record is quick, smart, and engrossing, reminiscent of the hyperactive stylings of Moon Tooth, sans proggy wank. Overall, the compositions are fucking dense, but they never sacrifice cohesion or clarity for the sake of wowing the listener – they’re just super fucking tasteful and usually pretty seamless. Don’t mistake, Mirror haven’t forgotten the hooks (just dig “Running from the Law” or “Black Magic Tower”) or tasty, anthemic cutaways (“Apollo Rising” is as beastly and menacing as it is uplifting). Mavromatis’ vocals are suited for whatever the group does, he seems to know no bounds of style and his range is plenty wide enough to keep listeners engaged. He’s powerful and emphatic with delivery as mighty as his vibrato is clean. Plus, his arrangements are just killer everywhere.
So what’s the rub, you ask? Not much, honestly. The epic folk style (think Slough Feg) of “Secrets of Time” feels just a smidge out of place and is comparatively sluggish, but it’s still a solid track. Likewise, “Master of the Deep” is a total slayer, but it does wear it’s “Fade to Black” heart on its sleeve a little too strongly. These are admittedly nitpicky complaints, but they’re enough to suspend the magical belief that this album is flawless. Still, if the idea of the band is to serve as a reflection of the records that pioneered heavy metal, they certainly succeed. Mirror even reach a bit beyond mere tribute, becoming some kind of magical looking glass that produces a more idealistic rendition of what we’re so familiar with. If you’ve had a passing interest in the recent records from Haunt, Eternal Champion, Sumerlands and the ilk, Pyramid of Terror should be a no-brainer. It’s an upper-echelon classic heavy metal release for the modern era, ‘nuff said.
Pyramid of Terror is available June 28 via Bad Omen Records.