Pharaoh – Bury The Light
I’ve covered a very wide range of genres over the past couple of months, including some stuff we don’t often review on this site, so it’s a nice change of pace to have a more “normal” album to write about. Though calling it normal isn’t exactly correct, as the average band is certainly not capable of such high caliber musicianship and songwriting. Actually, while I had heard many positive things about Pharaoh before, I had never listened to any of their albums. So, when I had the chance to review their highly anticipated upcoming fourth album, Bury The Light, I decided to take the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. After a couple listens, I knew I had found easily the best album so far, in this still very young year.
This is US power metal at its absolute best, combining the typical aggressive riffs and sometimes darker tone of the genre with plenty of the melodies you’d expect from the European style. Additionally, Bury The Light has an overall traditional metal feel to it, along with a fairly raw production that serves the songs well in giving them that extra punch. “The Wolves” in particular wouldn’t be nearly as effective with a clearer production, as some of the energy would be taken from the thundering riffs, and that song excels because of the contrast between that and the epic melodies of the chorus. It has probably the best guitar work on the album, which is saying a lot because the band is clearly a few miles ahead of the average USPM band every step of the way through the album, and the guitar work is their biggest strength, with great riffs and epic melodies filling every song. Even the several extended solos never get boring. They’re played so well, and often sound quite beautiful.
This isn’t to say the band fails in any other aspect, because they certainly don’t. The songwriting is quite varied, with a nice mix of shorter, more straight-forward and fun songs like the incredibly catchy “Burn With Me”, the ultra epic “The Spider’s Thread” (with an excellent chorus that shows up within the last minute), “The Wolves”, and more complex but equally rewarding songs like ‘Graveyard Of Empires” and “The Year Of The Blizzard”. The latter is particularly surprising, since in between a nice acoustic section and the typical double bass drumming assault during the chorus, there is a really awesome section with retro sounding guitars that almost sounds like a slightly heavier Rush. Then a similar section comes along much later. All this is done seamlessly, with the less metal sections fitting very well, as surprising as it may seem. The song also shows some of the progressive tendencies of the band, which are on display quite a bit throughout the album. Another positive for most metalheads: While the tempo varies a lot from song to song (sometimes even within a song), there is not even one ballad, so aside from maybe two or three sections, the whole album is “true metal”.
But as anyone who follows my reviews would know by now, the one thing I care most about in music (and that often makes but sometimes breaks albums), is the vocals. Tim Aymar is very animated and often very aggressive in his approach, but not only does he never become annoying, his very energetic delivery combined with his perfect pitch makes him just as impressive as any other member of the band. He sounds particularly emotional on the chorus of “Cry”, which makes that already great song become something special. Even when he has to sing softly on “The Year Of The Blizzard”, he sounds great.
The drumming is also very good. Sometimes it’s offbeat like on “Graveyard Of Empires” and portions of “Cry” and “The Spider’s Thread”, and at other times blazingly fast such as on “In Your Hands”. Even the bassist can’t be left out of this review, as this is the rare metal album where you don’t have to go out of your way to find the bass within the mix. He does an excellent job, even becoming something of the driving force behind the intro to “Leave Me Here To Dream”, which is a great opener.
I’m expecting to hear many great albums in 2012, with quite a few I’m heavily anticipating confirmed for the next few months, but I won’t be surprised if Bury The Light ends up either in my year end top ten or just outside of it. The more I listen to it, the more small details I discover, making it that much more enjoyable. Even if I initially thought there were a couple songs I’d consider as weak links, that has long passed. Several listens later I now think every song is fantastic in its own way. Even the closing instrumental is great, as it’s a reprise of the chorus from “The Spider’s Thread”. All sides of power metal are covered expertly here, with some beautifully incorporated elements of other genres here and there, making for an album that is very unique and very impressive from beginning to end. And now I think I need to hear the rest of their albums, as reading a bit about their previous work, I get the feeling this isn’t a fluke.
Travis Green’s Rating: 4.75 out of 5