Monday, December 29, 2008

Pharaoh - Be Gone (2008)

Pharaoh is quite likely the best melodic metal band we've got in the States right now. In fact, if I've got any criticism of the band at all, it's that they are TOO melodic. TOO catchy. To the point where it's painful to realize there are musicians this good writing such riffs you'll never have a prayer of beating. It should be a crime! Okay, this is hardly a real criticism...Pharaoh rules, and after two great albums they have produced their third and best yet. While I haven't been a fan of Tim Aymar's vocal work in other bands (sorry Control Denied), he excels here.

Each of the nine tracks on the album is an instant classic, laden heavily with melodic textures and Aymar's resonating yet harsh vocal performance. The songs are distinctly modern and original, yet they also capture the elusive quality which made so many 80s US speed/thrash metal songs so great...surely this band channels the spirit of Fates Warning, Watchtower or Helstar in ways that so few really can. This is also the riffiest metal album heard all year, if it were simply a matter of who has the most good riffs, this would be my #1 choice. Matt Johnsen is writing some of the best melodic material in the world. This album floors pretty much anything out of the 'power metal' scene in Europe, and there are single songs on the album which are arguably better than the entire Dragonforce discography. That a spastic and shallow band like that gains worldwide recognition while Pharaoh lies in relative obscurity is a testament to how the standards of the 'metal' community have been lowered to blindly accept speed, popularity and empty technical prowess over song craft.

"Speak to Me" is the perfect opening track, as the drums and guitars phase in they create a foundation for Aymar's clarion call vocals, which have an edgy tone to them reminiscent of bands like Omen. "Dark New Life" is an immediate anthem which wears its glory on its sleeves before breaking down into some grittier power metal riffing, and it also has an amazing solo section. "No Remains" starts with a winding guitar melody to die for, followed by some of the most excellent charging rhythms on the album, and a monumental chorus. "Red Honor" starts with an even more technical and awesome riff, and then proceeds to get even BETTER with the next riff. "Buried At Sea" is perhaps the most morose track on the album, yet still adorned in the graceful and epic feel of the rest. We're not even close to done here...the leading riff of "Rats and Rope" is fucking stunningly awesome, and the way the vocals and verse guitars interact is gorgeous. "Cover Your Eyes and Pray" is the closest you'll have to a 'ballad' here, and it's not quite a ballad at all, but a slower paced, driving melodic number which once again reminds me of Omen or early Fates Warning. "Telepath" is the most instantly catchy of the tracks, and why shouldn't it be with that insanely catchy, sad and melodic verse. The final track is of course the slowly developing "Be Gone" which is hypnotic and intense with its flowing guitar work.

The lyrical concept to the album is the eventual eradication of humanity through our own stupid actions, but Pharaoh approach this with lyrical skill that amplifies the emotion of the music, such as:

Time running or
The hollow houses blooming
Faith now a falsehood
The only god is sickness
Just one way
To starve alive another day
Dying fed
By harvesting the dead

I can't find a single damned flaw here, the album is spotless. It's the type of classic people will hopefully be pointing to for the 'oughts' of the 21st century when making their future 'best of' lists. I know I will be. Few albums of this sort have come into existence since the Golden Age of 80s metal, and this is by far my favorite melodic/power/speed metal album of anno 2008. You owe it to yourself not to let it pass you by. Pharaoh, against all odds, have achieved perfection. A masterpiece. Get infected.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]

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