Illumination: A Conversation with BLACK PYRAMID's Andy Beresky and Clay Neely

Updated: Oct 29

Ten years of ‘Stormbringer’, ‘II’, and the journey leading to and from the scene.

Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):

Of all the gleaming stars in the evening sky, the one that burned the brightest before dimming for a long rest was that of sludge/doom metal outfit, Black Pyramid. For nearly six years, this three-piece ensemble captivated the hearts and minds of willing metalheads looking for the path forward, a progressive next step towards the successful coalescence of children of the psychedelic age, crafting riffs of the medieval variety. Dressed in the meter of folk songs, shanties, and the seductive flair of sound synesthesia that tells a story without ever uttering a syllable.

For Andy Beresky, Clay Neely, and Dave Gein, the formula of Black Pyramid was a shifting landscape that was wrought with limitless creativity, a thorough execution of talented songwriting, clever lyricism, and exceptional musicianship. From a career that brought them out of their habitat of Western Massachusetts, and into the European circuit of festivals, it couldn't be clearer that the sphere of the group's influence far transcended their small corner of the world. After a four year lineup shift that traded every member of the group like the tides, Black Pyramid would finally settle, leaving the group enriched by organic growth, ready to create for themselves a new sound with a decade of experience behind them.

The world of underground metal, though, was not prepared to let them rest. Diving headlong back into the local tour scene, Black Pyramid picked up right where they left off, writing an extended length split last year with the group Enhailer, their first new music in five years. It was the humble beginning of a glorious new future; the era of silence had come to a close, and the dawn of a new age had begun, ushering in throngs of new fans who had only heard the distant rumblings of the Black Pyramid of old.

It was on a quiet Sunday morning in late September that this lucky critic sat down for a long-winded chat with Andy Beresky, and Clay Neely, two of the co-founders of the group, to discuss the pandemic reality, the psychological cost of living, the lore of their chosen worlds, and the timeline of their group — past, present, and future.

Jake Sanders: Dudes, thank you very much for joining me here today!

Gentlemen, the musical chasm of COVID-19's worldwide slowdown has caused a lot of shortages, tour cancellations, vinyl has come to a halt, and it accidentally bred all types of productive new studio material, though. But for you two specifically, this far down the line, how has it affected you personally, for whoever would like to go first?

Clay Neely: Well, at this point, I'm really just kind of a steward. Andy is in-charge of creating new material, and stuff like that, but I know — and he'll tell you — it has obviously presented a great amount of challenges. It just kind of slowed everything down. It didn't really affect me too much, but it did up there a whole lot more.

Andy Beresky: Yeah, Jake, what had happened was... we were firing on all cylinders. We had just recorded a new track, ‘The Quantum Phoenix’, we had the new line-up, we were writing new material. We had another song, ‘Bile, Blame, and Blasphemy’ that we were doing live. We went to Europe that fall, of 2019, to really celebrate the tenth year anniversary of the first album, but also to debut some of this new material live, so we were doing a split of new material, and first album material. That European tour went really well; we came back, and did a pretty heavy tour schedule for the first part of the winter, for us, anyways. A lot of times, I don't like to play up around here in New England during the winter. Ya know, attendances are spotty with the weather, travel can be a pain. It's often just not worth it. Sometimes we just don't do a lot of shows in the winter. But, we did! We kept it going semi-locally. We did Albany, Boston, little regional runs. And the idea was — we would keep writing! We kept the momentum really going into the studio, and that all came to a standstill. Eric and I both work in human services, where if we had gotten COVID, it wouldn't just have affected us; it would've affected a lot of vulnerable people in the community, so we're not comfortable risking it. I was really trying to stay away from people *laughs*. By the spring, we were outside meeting with people, but the idea of us all being in a tight practice space together, and then potentially spreading it into some of the group homes that we work at — that didn't seem like a viable option. It was exactly what you said: it brought everything to a grinding halt.

JS: It definitely feels like, the more I talk to musicians, some of them who work in studio-only felt it was crippling, but maybe not intellectually crippling. They got some workout. But for their primary job, stuff they were handling outside of this, a lot of them were taking hits nonstop. Some of them were, of course, labeled ‘essential’. I was wondering if that was the same for you two gentlemen?

AB: Yes. Yeah, we were essential — both Eric and I.

JS: It feels almost like a hollow moniker now. I work at a big box furniture store, and every day now we're out-of-stock, so it's a lot of apologies to people. But even then, a lot of customers ask "how are you handling all of this? Where's your mental health?" and it's kind of weird to say, "it's been better."

AB: That's real.

JS: So, just to address the elephant in the room, your group has been back for a while now, albeit with a couple lineup changes in recent years. If I may, Clay: what is your current involvement with the group? And Andy, how has the dynamic changed for the better, since you've been back? That departure, the return, Adversarial's release, how has it changed for you personally?

AB: It's been interesting. The original vision was, we wanted to do some shows with the original lineup, so Clay, Eric, and I were gonna do it on a permanent, but part-time basis. So we only did a run of four shows initially, just in the Northeast, and then we did the Maryland Doom Fest. And we did the ‘RPM festival’, which is a local festival around here. So, we only did six shows. We weren't really planning on getting to where we are now. What ended up happening, was we would get offers, but it'd involve flying Clay up, rehearsing, all that jazz. We were pretty picky about what we did, and didn't do. A lot of the time, I'd be like "naw, we're not gonna do that."
Sometimes, I'd float 'em by Clay, and be like "hey, do you wanna do this? it doesn't seem like it'd be worth it." What ended up happening was, we got a Halloween show offer — hold on, the poster's right here — *checks wall* Halloween of 2017. We were offered a show in Providence, with Elder. That's kind of historic, because Elder and us, we kind of came up through the ranks together. We were both on Meteor City, we were both New England. We played a lot of shows together early on, including some really good ones, in Providence. I was like, "Clay — I don't know about this. I know you've got kids. I know you'd have to come up. It's Halloween. Kids love Halloween. I don't know if this is viable. Do you think it's worth it?" He was like, "I can't, but maybe you should look at getting someone to fill in." I said, "Yeah, we could get Andy Kivela. He probably would be willing to do it. He shares a practice space with us. He does his own thing, and he's always practicing. He's a very accomplished drummer, who's a serious musician." Well, more serious than me, in that he has a much more serious work ethic.
*laughter* So I'm like — yeeeeah, he could pick it up quick. So I talk to Eric, and I'm like "Clay thinks we might want to get a sub for this," and he's like "I'm thinking Andy Kivela." I was like, "That's who we were thinking too!!" So then, right after that, Clay was like, "At this point, I think I might just be holding you guys back a little from these opportunities. Maybe you really should talk about Andy taking it over, permanently." That all happened pretty quick — I mean, Clay could speak more to that.

CN: The thing about it, to me personally, it's exactly how Andy says it. We could rejoin, and not miss a beat. We'd play the same set, and I don't think many people would really know the difference. To me, the impetus behind wanting to get the original lineup back together was to have something creative going forward. I knew that was going to be a Herculean task, with me where I am, and the thing about it is, there's probably no bigger fan of the band than myself; and if there's no real potential for creating new music, then that was something that needed to be looked into. Like Andy said, Andy Kivela is an extraordinary drummer. He's really, really good. He picked up everything like that *snaps*. It just seemed like the thing to do, in order to get the band back into this creative space that I was desperate to see it go to. I think the results are pretty clear *laughs* with that last release. I remember when Andy sent it up to me, it was a rough mix — or might've been a final mix — regardless, it blew me away. I was like, *slams desk* "This is EXACTLY what I'm talkin' about!" It hit all my buttons, it was great. So, absolutely. It's going good.

JS: It feels good, too. The first time I got to hear some new music, I was sitting in the middle of building an entertainment system, and it popped up on my newsfeed, and I've never dropped a customer faster. I was just like, "HOLD ON. I'LL BE RIGHT BACK." Went and listened to it, came back, and was like "let's continue." *big grin*

CN: Yep. It's solid. The production, the guitar tones, the lyrics — just every box checked, for me. I was super stoked to hear it. It was about as good of a validation as you can get. It was awesome.

AB: Yeah, it felt good. We did that quick and live in the studio. The vocals, and some of the overdubs weren't live, but we did the tracking mostly live, in the studio. I even wrote some of the lyrics in-studio. We had demoed it, but it came together quick, and I really liked how it came out. Both of my amps were in the shop too, at that point. I was using a Soundcity Madamp clone that Metz had built. I actually used a Laney, like an old supergroupy kind of thing, and I used a Voxhead for the solo.

It [Quantum Phoenix] was a lot different than anything we had every done, in terms of production. We did it quick. It was two days, with free studio time with Justin Pizzoferrato, and Sonelab. They were doing a workshop, so we were also work-shopping this song in front of a full group of students!


CN: *laughs* I forgot about that!!

AB: I won't get into it. We're mellow, but we're kind of nutty in the studio; We said some weird things, and did some weird things in there, for sure, and I think at some point they were a little freaked out until we could come into the control room and sit down with them, listen to it, and be real. Some of them had worked with Elder, it was a really cool experience all around, and I think the results speak for themselves. Clay and I were talking about this — that I'm rarely satisfied, and I was actually like "I'm satisfied with this."

The first person who reads this and emails will receive a deluxe edition copy of 'Stormbringer'! (Code still available as of 10/29, 11:30PM PST).

JS: That's a Bob Ross ‘happy accident’.

AB: Well, yeah, pretty much. Right on.

JS: I have heard that you are very unsatisfied with results. I have gone through a few interviews you've done, and I believe the word is ‘verbose’ for you, Andy. You very much do not speak in small sentences, which I love, because it allows me to dig back through and find out so much, all at once.

*laughter all around*

JS: I never knew there would be such contention behind ‘II's’ release, but when you go through it track-by-track, I was able to see precisely how much detail you went into, about how little you were satisfied with it. To me, that album is benchmarkable. It's something I catalogue other bands in the ‘sludge’ category to try and compare to. But for you to be like, "Nah, there's some secondhand stuff on there," it's almost like "What am I missing? What could have been there instead?!"

AB: Here's the thing. I think some of that is emotional. Clay and I were talking about this. At the end of it, I said to him, "I never want to have to make a record in this manner again." We won't get into all of that, but some of it IS that. It's the way that connects to me emotionally. There were a lot of things that didn't feel good about it. That's some of it. There's little details that I'm not particularly happy about, but looking back at it — I like the album, don't get me wrong. But I always want something to be the next level.
I've heard the same thing with Dave Wyndorf. I really like Monster Magnet, and Dave, and he seems to be the same way, where he's never satisfied with anything he does. *laughs* Don't take that [perspective] too much. I think in ten years, my relationship to the record has changed a lot. I listen to it fairly fondly. I'll put it on, and be like, "this was a real high-water mark for us at the time." I'm not gonna deny that. If you let me, yeah — I'll go through and tell you every little thing I would've liked to do better. But I'll do that for the first album, too. "WHY DIDN'T WE GET ECHO ON THIS?!" and "THIS SHOULD'VE BEEN THIS," and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. That's just how my mind worked a lot, back then. I was never satisfied about things. I think now, I'm a different person than that. I can kind of let things go, a little more. *laughs*

JS: That's fair.

AB: When I finish a record, I'll hyper-focus on what could have been better, and not really the strengths of it. Over time, I think the songwriting is really there on ‘II’. It really showcased this real love of classic metal, and epic metal, and classic doom. It had a style. Here's the thing — I think we were going for something, and we like ninety-five percent nailed it. A lot of it is just letting go of that other five percent, and being like "Look, we couldn't have done it. This is where we were, and it couldn't have been any different or we would've done it that way. Let it go. The past is the past. Move forward."
That was a hard lesson for me, and that's what led to some of the breakup. It was me not being able to let things go, and just letting them fester. Not being able to express them. My relationship with music is totally different, now. My relationship with myself is totally different now.

CN: I think at the bottom, it was an all-or-nothing sort of thing.