Pharaoh came to my attention a few years ago with the release of their previous album Be Gone, a superior effort in the metal world. I was definitely drawn to and intrigued by their unique brand of American power metal and shortly thereafter added their two prior releases to my collection. They are not a typical power metal band, and have a distinct sound, through both their songwriting and their album production. Here Pharaoh proves to be the gold-standard in power metal, the Philly band taking their place beside some of the other all-time great American power metal bands like Iced Earth, Manowar, Nevermore (RIP), Jag Panzer (RIP), Circle II Circle, and Manilla Road.
This is the second album I have recently reviewed, along with OSI’s Fire Make Thunder, that truly takes a significant amount of undivided attention to really understand and digest. It is a challenging work, but ultimately satisfying and just an excellent metal album. Pharaoh are easily recognizable by the guitar work of Matt Johnsen and his chord and harmony construction, much in the same way Piggy from Voivod was (though I am NOT stylistically comparing the two bands). Riffing throughout the album is sometimes complicated, sometimes simple, but always interesting. When I hear Pharaoh, I usually know it’s them just in the way it sounds. On Bury the Light, they have taken things to a new and different level, clearly being Pharaoh, but incorporating some new elements, particularly with a nod to heavier 70s music, reminding me particularly of Rush, circa Hemispheres or 2112, in places. They have also incorporated some more complex progressive elements in their music this time, with some odd time signature use and song structures crafted in a progressive vein, but always with an underlying power metal structure. Also distinctive to Pharaoh is vocalist Tim Aymar with a great range and powerful, articulate delivery. His performance here is compelling and dynamic, keeping my attention throughout the album. He gives it his all, highs to lows, but avoiding the Euro-power metal vocalist sound. Even the bass work, often lost in the cacophony of metal, is outstandingly present, with bassist Chris Kerns sometimes even taking the lead. Drummer Chris Black provides a solid, creative foundation on which the band builds nicely.
The album kicks off with a trio of excellent songs, Leave Me Here to Dream being the opener. Sometimes galloping, it is a great way to open the work and shines as an outstanding intro. The Wolves, great riffs permeating throughout, is up next. The chorus here is simply awesome and Johnsen provides a nice solo. Third of the bunch is Castles in the Sky, a mid-paced headbanger with a superb vocal performance.
Year of the Blizzard slows things down (just for a few seconds) before launching into the Rush-like guitar work (and tone), cruising into a 70s heavy rock song, for the most part, transitioning into a speedy, power metal tune, alternating styles throughout. One of the highlights of the album. Next is the good (but not great) The Spider’s Web, followed by Cry, a heavy, solo laden work, riff-heavy and altogether well done. Perhaps the highlight of the album is up next in Graveyard of Empires, a progressive, yet heavy work, with outstanding performances on the part of all four members. Burn With Me and In Your Hands close out the album, keeping up the intensity and metalness, a couple of really well done songs, rounding out Bury the Light.
Production on Bury the Light is not razor-sharp, nor is it muddy – just a slightly raw sound, but very fitting for Pharaoh. Everything is present and no instrument or vocal is buried or to high in the mix.
I have only two complaints about Bury the Light. First is the use of the fadeout. I have always thought this was a bit of a lazy technique to end a song. Just end it! Pharaoh uses it on only 2 songs. Second is in the way the album closes, with The Spider’s Web (Reprise), a minute and a half long instrumental reprise of the earlier song. I thought the song In Your Hands ended the whole affair just fine, but this isn’t exactly a tragedy that they did this. These two songs are also the two that use the fadeout.
Here is a taste of the album.
This may not turn out to be album of the year, but it is album of the year so far. Bury the Light is essential for any power metal fan and should be in any metal fan’s collection. Highly recommended.
I hear the sound in a METAL way.