Pharaoh - The longest night 3.5/5

Reviewed: 3-31-06


1. Sunrise
2. I am the hammer
3. In the violet fire
4. By the night sky
5. Endlessly
6. The longest night
7. Fighting
8. Like a ghost
9. Up the gates
10. Never run

Pharaoh is a pretty good power metal band from Pennsylvania. Their first CD 'After the fire' was a fun speedy power metal CD just dripping with Iron Maiden worship. The harmony leads were very reminiscent of classic Maiden and packaged in songs that sort of bridged between classic U.S. and European power metal bands. Fueled by the gruff, melodic, and powerful vocals of Tim Aymar (most famous for singing in the late Chuck Shuldiner's Control Denied) their debut CD impressed many.

Now they return with the follow-up, 'The longest night'. Things open with "Sunrise". There are a few subtle changes to be heard. The harmony guitars are more prevalent, but are generally less similar to the classic Maiden ones, and are a little more intricate. This instantly makes this CD a bit less immediately accessible than 'After the fire'. However, Pharaoh still writes plenty of catchy songs. "Sunrise" is a pretty good opener for the most part, with cool harmony guitars and a catchy chorus. My main gripe with it is that it inexplicably goes on for 8 minutes. I'm never a big fan of long, epic songs to open CDs (with a few exceptions), but this song isn't really even epic in scope. It just sort of goes on for about twice as long as it should. Still, at least they didn't stretch a bad song out too long!

Things get notably shorter with "I am the hammer". It opens at a much speedier tempo and clocks in at under 3 minutes. You'll find yourself singing along with the (albeit cliche'd) lyrics right away. One thing that is readily apparent on this CD in the first 2 songs, is that Matt Johnsen has really stepped up his guitar playing. The harmonies are more intricate as I mentioned, but still very engaging. Also, his solos seem much more impressive and engaging than I remember them being on 'After the fire'. "By the night sky" is the "true" epic of the CD, also clocking in at about 8 minutes, but definitely never wears out its welcome. This opens in true Maidenesque fashion with the most Maiden sounding harmony lead accompanied by the all too familiar galloping riffs in the background. After a quiet intro which Aymar sings cleanly (which sounds GREAT, by the way. He should do that more often, but more on that later...) the song explodes into an almost Helloween sounding speedy harmony lead/rhythm that frankly, rules. The chorus in this song is terrific.

Another highlight for me is the title-track. After a slow intro, it bursts into a higher gear and has a fantastic main harmony rhythm that just sticks inside your head. "Fighting" may be my favorite song on the CD. It sounds like a mid-tempo 80s metal anthem until the chorus hits. Then it shifts into full out speed backing a simply tremendous chorus. You WILL sing along with this chorus! I command it! The CD closes with "Never run", which is a cool little throwback instrumental power metal track.

I have 2 minor gripes with this CD. First, the songs that I haven't mentioned are all solid, but to my ears don't stand out like the rest of the tracks. It leads to a little bit of an uneven listening experience (for me at least). Also, while I really enjoy Aymar's vocals, (he's sort of like a much more gruff, less awe inspiring Dio) he is at times almost gruff to a fault. Also, sometimes the line between screaming and singing gets a little blurry. Most of the time he is excellent, so it's not much of a problem. I wouldn't mind him doing clean vocals for an entire track, as his voice is every bit as compelling clean.

The production is very clear and clean, sounding like the better produced power metal CDs of the 80s. Overall, I can't think of many reasons why virtually anyone who frequents this site wouldn't enjoy Pharaoh a lot. (In fact, my review may be the most "negative" that I have seen for this CD anywhere.) They have a U.S. power metal base with some tiny hints of European catchiness thrown in. It's an effective combination that makes them stand out without really breaking any genre barriers. I'll look forward to their next effort.




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