Reviews : Albums : Pharaoh, "Be Gone"

Pharaoh, "Be Gone"

It’s a little ironic that Cruz Del Sur, an Italian record label, would have such a significant role in reviving America’s traditional metal scene. Under their hand, artists Hammers of Misfortune, Slough Feg, Crescent Shield, and others have received international distribution and acclaim from critics and fans alike. To this reviewer, however, the label’s greatest feat has nothing to do with the West Coast and everything to do with a modest quartet headquartered in Pennsylvania. Pharaoh. With smooth melodies of the European school and a hard rocking edge that is thoroughly American, Pharaoh boast an attractive combination of styles that has elicited favorable comparisons to Iron Maiden throughout their career, from Tim Aymar’s spirited vocals to Matt Johnsen’s infectious leads and the impeccable rhythmic foundation of Chris’s Kerns (bass) and Black (drums). All four members write songs and lyrics, independently or in various combinations, which gives Pharaoh a multi-faceted nature that is uncommon for a group in the genre.

Of the four, Aymar is the most well known, having sung on Chuck Schuldiner’s stunning swansong, ‘The Fragile Art of Existence’. Aymar’s performance on that album was the ideal fit and even comparable to Chucks’ own vocal (and guitar) style in Death’s latter years, making use of arresting timbres, phrasing both entrancing and unconventional, and a raw, emotional intimacy that few could match and none could imitate. With Pharaoh, Aymar has scaled back some on the immediacy of his pathos but continues to perform with equal mastery. Indeed, his leather-lunged howl has arguably even improved since the Control Denied days, as Pharaoh’s most recent album, ‘Be Gone’, will attest.

Some have asserted that ‘Be Gone’ is a more ‘compact’ or even ‘streamlined’ version of Pharaoh, condensing the more expansive style of their early days into a modernized package. This is not entirely accurate. While no tracks here exceed the eight-minute mark (‘The Longest Night’ had two) and only one breaks seven, ‘Be Gone’ features Pharaoh’s most dynamic and varied songwriting to date. Alongside the traditional galloping pace and Maiden-inspired harmonies, ‘Be Gone’ explores greater textural depth, more diverse riffing techniques, subtly progressive rhythmic arrangements, and a darker overarching atmosphere than either previous album. Pharaoh’s lyrics have changed, too. Always intriguing, either for their camp (‘Fighting’) or profundity (‘After the Fire’), ‘Be Gone’ now focuses these energies towards the more serious theme of human extinction through a series of small vignettes. Though some are relatively light of heart, such as the plague-induced cannibalism in ‘No Remains’, the tone of tracks like ‘Buried at Sea’ is undeniably somber.

These changes make ‘Be Gone’ the most consistent, professional, and mature of Pharaoh’s efforts. ‘The Longest Night’ may still contain more sing-along choruses and ‘After the Fire’s title track is arguably still the band’s best song, but this new effort is undoubtedly greater in breadth, technical proficiency, and originality.

Evidence of Pharaoh’s maturation is evident in every aspect of ‘Be Gone’, with the two slowest songs, ‘Buried at Sea’ and the title track, being the most obvious. The closer ‘Be Gone’ is easy to overlook, but its contemplative poise is new to the band’s repertoire and indicative of their growth. Other examples are more understated, occurring only once or before a driving, resurgent chorus, and may be quickly forgotten as the album continues. They are, however, are the most critical contributor to the album’s enthralling atmosphere. The melodic hint of a coda for ‘Cover Your Eyes And Pray’, the acoustic preamble to ‘Buried at Sea’ with Aymar’s fragile line—these transient moments leave an unconscious impression that tinges even the album’s most ripping anthems with an inexpressible melancholy.

When combined with irresistible rock enthusiasm, this spirit bring Pharaoh out of Maiden’s shadow and allow the band to stand entirely on its own, independent of all ‘featuring ex-members of…’ plugs. If Pharaoh can continue to release albums on par with ‘Be Gone’, then perhaps they will be the ones to serve as a touchstone for the generations that follow.

Standout Tracks

   No Remains
   Red Honor
   Buried at Sea