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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Pharaoh

After the Fire

Review by Mike Korn

This is a beautiful piece of work. I daresay that if Pharaoh had existed in the 1980's, they would now be releasing box sets in elaborate packaging much like Iron Maiden . They are that good. Featuring vocalist Tim Aymar of Control Denied, Pharaoh is a band specializing in pure epic heavy metal. Please note this is not the cheesy European power metal stuff but something with heft and grit. Maiden of course is the closest approximation but I hear some of that old 80's American power metal like Omen and Attacker in here, too. But comparisons are unnecessary when a band is as good as Pharaoh. They have the magic of hitting the right speed at just the right time without sounding forced. The riffing is excellent, but it doesn't hit you over the head...it flows. Aymar's voice is not the typical Dickinson/Halford clone, either, but a rich and full-bodied tone with a bit of a rasp to it. A tremendous vocalist. Matt Johnsen's guitar work is faultless and lovers of twin harmony work will be oozing with orgasmic pleasure after sampling "After the Fire".

In recent years, the power metal revival has stumbled with cookie-cutter bands going through the motions, but there's been a sudden surge of groups putting heart and talent back into the genre. Twelfth Gate is one fine example, but Pharaoh may have taken the crown with this superlative offering.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Unum
Even this brief opening instrumental spells Pharaoh's class out clearly. Opening with a beautiful twin guitar lick obviously influenced by Iron Maiden, layer after layer of guitar is added to create a majestic little intro and the perfect scene setter for the album.
After The Fire
The title track is a truly inspirational power metal epic. It's just so well thought out and played. Bands like Hammerfall and Sonata Arctica should hang their heads in shame after hearing this tune, with its brilliant, quick-paced guitar work and incredible vocal work from Tim Aymar. Most amazing, there's none of the masturbatory posturing common in most power metal. Everything is done for the sake of the song itself, and the result is a classic.
A Flash In the Dark
Beginning deceptively with mellow tones, this soon becomes a driving, dark-flavored metal track with a galloping feel to it. Tim's vocals are again outstanding, and the chorus is extremely melodic. The lyrics are pretty dark: "Sucking the venom/Twisting the knife/Losing the purpose/Failure for Life". They match the crunching riffing perfectly and some unobtrusive piano is well positioned to propel the song along.
Forever Free
This has a lot less of the Maiden feel to it than other tracks. The medieval touch is prominent on the soaring chorus, which is just so strong. This reminds me a lot of the cruelly forgotten Vicious Rumors, one of the best power metal bands America ever produced. This is the sort of stuff Hammerfall would kill to write but doesn't have a clue on.
Heart of the Enemy
Starting as an acoustic, medieval-flavored ballad, this soon turns into a majestic power metal cut. It features very heavy, deliberate riffing enhanced by more of Tim Aymar's supreme vocals and some Tolkien-esque lyrics. Matt Johnsen's great guitar work has a real old school feel to it without sounding forced.
Solar Flight
This song is what melodic speed metal is all about. Fast and heavy without being abrasive, this barrels along in convincing fashion. Chris Black does a terrific job of power drumming here without being a showoff. The thoughtful lyrics about Icarus' doomed flight put even Maiden's "Flight of Icarus" to shame.
Now Is The Time
The album's piece de resistance, it's hard to put into words how well it works. It hits much the same speed metal vibe as "Solar Flight" but even more effectively, throwing in great twin lead work and superb vocal lines from Tim Aymar. Iced Earth never wrote a track this complex and this good.
Never, Not Again
The speed drops here but not the intensity. This is a melodic, gloomy cut with driving mid-paced riffing somewhat like a less thrashy Nevermore. It builds to an emotional climax with the vocals intoning "No, Never, Not Again" with effective repetition.
Slaves
The record ends with this very Maidenesque speedy tune. It has lots of clean picked guitar but what sets the cut apart is the melancholy, verbose chorus, with Aymar again working wonders with what had to be a very difficult singing assignment. I might have chosen "Now Is The Time" to end the record but this is still a fitting capper to a great pure metal album that ranks with Twelfth Gate and Halford in recent days.
 
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