Pharaoh – Ten Years Review

Impatient Pharaoh fans will be forced to wait a little longer for the rightful follow-up to the stellar Be Gone (supposedly due to hit the streets in the Fall), but this cracking EP will make that wait a little easier. I’m not sure why, but the Ten Years EP has been on the shelf for quite awhile, waiting to see the light of day–but now that it’s here, it’s worth the wait. Offered up are four new tracks from the Be Gone sessions, two of which (“Nothing I Can Say” and “Reflection and the Inevitable Future”) appeared with different mixes on the Be Gone vinyl release. Sweetening the pot are covers of Slayer’s “Tormentor” and New Model Army’s “White Light.” The cover choices (or perhaps the fact that there are covers at all) might not seem like a major selling point for some, but it’s the way that Pharaoh manages to take two stylistically polar-opposite tunes and present them in a manner that’s both incredibly loyal to the original AND unquestionably stamped with the band’s own boundary-straddling hook that makes these guys so compelling and important. The raging “Tormentor” is infused with enough complementary guitar melody to sound right at home in the band’s arsenal, while the moody alt-rock of “White Light” gathers noticeable heft. These tracks are nestled between the four originals that show the band continuing their path away from more typical Maiden-spawned anthemic traditional metal to a darker and more modern sound.

“Modern’ is apt to sound like a dirty word in underground metal, especially when it’s connected to a genre the moniker of which alone denotes adhering to an old and somewhat rigid framework. But bands like Pharaoh and Argus play an indispensible role in keeping traditional metal vital and relevant. There are considerable parallels between these two bands—both play traditionally minded Heavy Metal (note the capitalization) in a manner that makes the bands genreless. Argus is neither a doom nor traditional metal band; Pharaoh is neither a power nor traditional metal band, but both play proudly traditional metal in a manner that looks forward through adeptly bridging boundaries. Look, I love a first rate galloping Maiden riff as much as the next guy, but PharaohArgusSlough Feg and the like are the bands making the music that will be talked about years from now.

The highpoints here are “Nothing I Can Say” and the opening title track, both of which churn with a darkened intensity. The material is still highly melodic, of course, but a good deal different from the fist-pumping anthems like “Up the Gates” and “By the Night Sky,” or even Be Gone’s “No Remains.” Tim Aymar sounds fantastic, bending from the emphatic bitterness of “Ten Years” to the gritty, downplayed delivery of “White Light.” That said, Matt Johnsen’s guitarwork remains central to Pharaoh’s charm, through not only the quality of his riffs but his recognizable style of scores of infectious crystalline leads. The rhythm section of bassist Chris Kerns and drummer Chris Black (also of the exceptional Dawnbringer, among others) are top-class as well, not only holding down the low end but providing a good amount of hook. It remains to be seen how Ten Years will fare up against Pharaoh’s two last monstrous full-length works. At this point, this collection of what are essentially b-sides seems to stack up fairly well against the material that did make it onto Be Gone. Regardless, Ten Years is a stop-gap release well worth your time and money, and will give you something to devour while waiting for that next record.

Posted by Matthew Cooper

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