Pyramids on Mars have released Echo Cosmic, which is easily the finest instrumental metal album since Joe Satriani’s seminal Surfing With the Alien. It is by turns inspiring, jaw dropping, progressive and uplifting. Pyramids on Mars are what metal could be, but increasingly (and sadly) is not. This is metal to banish the blues and expand the consciousness!
Pyramids on Mars mainman Kevin Estrella kindly answered my questions on all things cosmic.
Hellbound: Kevin, what are your classical musical influences?
Kevin Estrella: I am greatly influenced by Baroque classical composers J.S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. I was originally turned on to the classical influence coming into metal when I first heard Yngwie Malmsteen. I love Yngwie’s music and style so much that I dedicated two years of my life to listening and studying his music exclusively. Like a monk I went to the Malmsteen Monastery! I learned so much, but I did not want to become another Malmsteen clone. I wanted to learn to think like him. So I went back to his influences: Bach, Vivaldi, and Nicolò Paganini. Bach changed my life. It was like hearing music for the first time. I get all my melodic ideas from my classical influences. I hear the guitar more like a violin, and so I play violin lines on the guitar. How I organise things on the guitar comes more from a violinist’s perspective.
HB: I love the analogue sound on Echo Cosmic. What prompted that?
KE: That was originally influenced by the band Braintoy from Toronto. They used to rehearse in the same building as us and we could hear them using a Minimoog. It sounded so amazing how they added it to their band! So when I started writing music for Pyramids on Mars I wanted to add that sound to my music. It just adds such a warm resonance. Plus I am a huge Rush and Pink Floyd fan, and they used Moogs all the time in their earlier music. So it was natural that I wanted to have that same sound. It gives my music a real spacey sound, and an energy resonance. It sounds like something you would hear if you landed on Mars and were looking around.
HB: Indeed it does! Now that we’ve discussed your classical influences, what about your metal influences?
KE: There are so many: Rush, Iron Maiden, Metallica. Megadeth, Ministry, Meshuggah, Led Zeppelin, Fear Factory, Nine Inch Nails, Jimi Hendrix, Extreme, Dream Theater, Pantera, Tool, Ozzy, Cacophony, and Planet X.
HB: Some great influences there, particularly the mighty Rush! Now, you are the sole player on your album. Do you have musicians to play with live and would you like to have musicians to play with on your next album?
KE: When we perform live I play lead guitar and my brother Craig Estrella plays bass. The rest of the music comes off my laptop and is mixed through the sound system. I have intentions of getting a drummer in the very near future. As far as having other musicians play on the next album, it will depend on where I am at this point. On Joe Satriani’s first two albums he played on his own. He may have had some guest musicians play on those albums, but he did not start writing in a band setting until his album The Extremist, where he worked with Gregg and Matt Bissonette. If Pyramids on Mars gets to a level where I can put a band together, then yes, I would have other musicians contributing to the writing process.
HB: Who did you play with before you created Pyramids on Mars?
KE: I was in two other bands before Pyramids on Mars. I was in Shatter Instinct. We played the Toronto circuit in the early 2000s. We were very heavily influenced by Tool. In fact I played nothing but a Les Paul in Shatter Instinct, and I played very little lead guitar. We mostly focused on rhythm, groove, and the use of odd time signatures. That influence definitely comes out in the music that I write now. I was also in a band prior to Shatter Instinct called Firestorm. We had more of a Pantera sound in that band. You can still find our music on YouTube!
HB: Splendid! Now, you are clearly a fan of the mighty Iron Maiden… which is as it should be! What are your favourite Maiden albums, and have you been looking forward to their new album?
KE: I have been looking forward to the new album. My favourite Maiden albums are Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The first self-titled album, Killers, and Number of the Beast are absolutely amazing too. I cut a lot of my teeth when those albums came out.
HB: What do you think is an important element in Iron Maiden’s sound?
KE: Adrian Smith is so important to Iron Maiden. He is the man behind their amazing guitar harmonies, and wrote some of the coolest Iron Maiden songs. Adrian Smith is to Iron Maiden what John Lennon was to The Beatles. Without his contribution, the band is not the same band.
HB: I’d have to agree, having Adrian back in Iron Maiden is great.
I was very impressed with the thrash influences on Echo Cosmic. You would be a fine asset to Megadeth! Have you ever thought of contacting Dave Mustaine, and what are your favourite Megadeth albums?
KE: I would contact him to be able to open for Megadeth. I think Pyramids on Mars would be a great opening band for Megadeth for sure. I love Megadeth. Dave Mustaine has razor-sharp technique. That’s what I like so much about them. I like his soloing too. They are more blues-based, but he plays with such aggression. His sound is very distinct. And when Marty Friedman was in the band, that was the best lineup. I have been a huge fan of Marty ever since he debuted in guitar magazines with Jason Becker in Cacophony. I never heard Marty’s first band Hawaii, but I have worshipped Martin and Jason ever since Cacophony. They are my gods! I have most of Marty’s solo albums. You will hear a huge influence in my music with the use of the Japanese scale. I use it in almost half my songs that I have written. I have also practised the Marty bending technique for years where you land on a very dissonant note and bend it into scale. It is so Marty, so cool. They are both a huge influence on my playing, and you can hear that. A lot of my melodic approach is a direct influence from listening to Marty for half my life. Most of my sweep picking technique comes from Jason Becker. He is the best sweep picker this side of the universe. It is very sad what has happened to him; he is a huge influence on me with classical music theory. Most of my sweep picking technique I learned from him.
HB: His ill health is a real tragedy.
Do you feel that not having a vocalist is an advantage or disadvantage? And would you consider working with one in the future?
KE: A band with a singer is very different from what I do. The problem I have with it is that it is melodically limiting. Singers can’t do or focus on melody in the same way as a guitar or violin can. For Pyramids on Mars, my focus is on melody. Creating memorable melodies is what I work on. It is a real art. I listen to pretty much just classical music. Most of my melodic ideas come from classical music, particularly violin lines. And there are patterns that just sound good to the human ear. The repetitions of patterns are ear friendly and familiar. Thus I write more for a violin. There is a lot of thought behind what I write. In fact I have studied books on creating great melody. In one review I got the writer said I was soloing throughout the song. That is definitely not the case. That may be an impression to someone with an untrained ear, or someone who listens to bands with singers exclusively. But in my music, there are verses and chorus and pre-chorus. I believe a person should be able to walk away from the first listen and be able to hum the melody.
HB: That is indeed as it should be. If you were to embark on an extensive tour in support of this album, what bands would you like to play with?
KE: I would love to tour with Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. I could see myself touring with Animals as Leaders, or even Devin Townsend.
HB: On to lyrical themes and inspirations. The cosmos and all therein is obviously a huge inspiration to you, and I believe your personal experiences play a part in this! Would you care to share them with the readers?
KE: The question I have been asked many times is, do I think that aliens are real?
The answer is 100% yes. How do I know this? Because I have been contacted directly by them. I am an alien contactee.
On August 21, 2014 I saw a large orange-red two-dimensional disc covered in plasma fly over our city. It flew right behind my backyard. It made no sound. I reported the sighting to MUFON. They did a complete investigation. Later this year I met up with them at the Alien Cosmic Exhibition in Brantford, Ontario. They were excited to see me. They told me they were doing a presentation of my sighting. It was deemed an authentic sighting. However, I was the only one who saw it. I later found through other reports that it was verified, but there is no record for a sighting in Hamilton for that night. I was freaked out by this point. It is impossible in a city of 500,000 that I am the only one to see this large object fly over the city.
I met with world-respected Ufologist Grant Cameron. He is an expert on UFO/musician connection. His research had found that many musicians are experiencers and have come forward with their alien contacts or abduction stories. The aliens are communicating their message to the world through musicians. Grant told me that what happened to me, my being the only one to see the alien craft, is not uncommon. The same thing happened to John Lennon in New York City.
Grant has concluded that the aliens are in direct contact with me. I am part of this special selected group of musicians chosen to raise consciousness of the alien presence on our planet. We as a species are on the horizon of a higher state of consciousness of spirituality, ESP, and possibly telepathy. Just like the aliens. My goal is to raise people to a new state of consciousness through my music.
HB: I find your music is of a very positive bent. As a long-term metal fan, do you feel metal has become more negative and extreme as time progresses, and do you feel that this reflects the world around us, or at least what people see on the news every day? After all, reality and our perception of it is not one and the same.
KE: I think metal has gotten a lot darker. Metal is still aggressive and a lot of bands are playing really fast stuff. Which is fine, whatever people dig, they dig. For me, I have always been attracted to metal bands that groove. Listen to Pantera. They were not a fast band, they were a power metal groove band. You could move your body to their music. Same with Meshuggah. They don’t focus on speed. It is groove. Going to a Meshuggah concert is probably one of the most amazing concert experiences, for the one fact that you can look around the room and everybody will be banging their head to a different beat! And they are all correct!
There is a lot of dark metal out there, and it probably does reflect the times. These are pretty dark times. But you are right; my energy is not dark. It is uplifting. Almost euphoric. I love the heaviness and aggressiveness, but my energy comes from a different energy source, close to what Pantera, Meshuggah and what Ministry are doing!
HB: What inspired you to call your band Pyramids on Mars? Do you think there was ever intelligent life on Mars?
KE: I called myself Pyramids on Mars after hearing a song off Virgil Donati’s solo album Serious Insects called “Pyramids on Mars.” But I already knew they existed. There are five-sided pentagonal pyramids a few miles from the “face” on Mars in the Cydonia region, known as the D&M pyramids. There are many more pyramids on Mars. In fact, NASA made the announcement less than a month ago of a pyramid that was photographed by Mars Rover. Mars is covered in artifacts and ruins. There are entire cities still up there. Check out the Gale Crater on the ESA website. If you darken the resolution, you will see the remains of huge cities. Some sceptics have called this JPEG anomalies, but this has proven to be false. Those cities are real.
HB: What science fiction films do you rate highly?
KE: 2001: A Space Odyssey is very important to understanding. This may look like a work of fiction, but there is a lot of truth hidden in it. The Monolith in this movie is very important in hyper-dimensional physics and the properties that are found on planets like Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. There is also a Monolith that has been found on the Martian moon of Phobos.
As a note, many of the Marvel movies are written by the same writer who has been in direct contact with extraterrestrials, and they have taken him to their solar system. The messages in these movies are messages that have been given to him by these beings, and he has been asked to communicate them to our world. I am not making this up.
HB: Have you ever seen the Tom Baker Doctor Who series, “Pyramids of Mars”?
KE: I probably have, perhaps twenty years ago, but I need to watch it again. Every time I search for myself on Youtube I have to sift through a lot of Dr. Who “Pyramids of Mars.” That series made a real impact on people.
HB: Indeed it did. For instance, I’m sure the people that made Stargate had seen it, so it is very influential!
Finally, is there anything you would like to add?
You can purchase Echo Cosmic and my debut CD off the website in digital or physical CD. Visit the store. There are t-shirts, posters, hats, and even the custom Double Helix Alien DNA removable guitar neck graphic. Neckillusions.com and myself worked together to create a very cool custom neck graphic design, that was given to me in a dream. It is based on a crop circle formation from 1986.
Finally… keep your eyes to the skies. THEY are watching.