Pharaoh – Bury the Light (Cruz del Sur Music)

Sunday, 24th March 2013
Rating: 9.5/10

Watching the development of American traditional power metal act Pharaoh has been exciting. Casting away initial influences ranging from Germanbands like Rage to the twin harmonies most closely associated with Iron Maiden, the quartet over the course of their three albums have amassed a fervent buzz with critical acclaim and affinity with a worldwide audience. Guitarist Matt Johnsen takes some textural chances on their fourth record, Bury the Light which pay huge dividends for faithful followers of this exciting group.

The more innovative musicians within any metal genre are willing to look beyond the scope of their preferred brand and hopefully incorporate left of center inspiration while having this make sense for the songwriting benefit. In Pharaoh’s case, it can be as simple as a small jazz twist on the clean sections of “Castles in the Sky” or the slightly quirky, effects-driven background vocals during the bridge of the same said track. Or the incorporating of 70’s-style Alex Lifeson riff technique during the epic 8:01 minutes of “The Year of the Blizzard” that propels this arrangement beyond normal European harmonic convention into something with deeper to the core emotion- especially the turn on a dime acoustic middle section as vocalist Tim Aymar delivers some of his best heartfelt singing to date.

The layering of riffs and harmonies gives the ears numerous ways of sonic interpretation and study. Some of the best work is when Chris Black takes his drumming down to a comfortable mid-tempo march, allowing Johnsen free reign to display his obvious talent in technique and uplifting harmonization, with “The Spider’s Thread” one to check out for this aspect. Guest solos come into play from Mike Wead [Mercyful Fate/King Diamond] and longtime guest Jim Dofka, but this is truly Johnsen’s pinnacle guitar achievement with the band- pushing him to the upper heights of power metal mastery.

During the 3:00-3:15 section of the most complex song on offer “Graveyard of Empires,” Johnsen uses a strumming technique I haven’t heard since Men At Work’s Ron Strykert during “Be Good Johnny” off their Business As Usual days and splashes of Andy Summers/The Police at times on the faster “In Your Hands.” After 30 playbacks, Bury the Light could be the template for melodic power metal that all corners of the globe use. Pharaoh take themselves to elite status with this release.

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