Pharaoh, for those not in the know, are one of the best of the new retro wave of traditional heavy metal (NRWOTHM™) bands out there. Over the course of three releases these Philly phenoms have consistently blended the 80’s style of Iron Maiden and Saxon with modern American metal like Jag Panzer, Iced Earth while adding a smattering of Slough Feg. The results have been catchy, classy, surprisingly heavy and far more modern sounding than what people normally expect from a “retro” act. Their last opus, 2008’s Be Gone was a great album loaded with excellent yet tasteful guitar wankery and memorable vocal hooks and it left me wanting more. While the interminable wait continues for their next full length, Pharaoh has graced the good people with a six song EP entitled Ten Years. Featuring four tracks left over from the Be Gone sessions and two covers, its clearly a stopgap release but its a solid and entertaining one that continues the Pharaoh quality streak.
What makes Pharaoh such a solid unit is the combination of the stellar, fluid and slick guitar work of Matt Johnsen (who along with drummer Chris Black made the last Dawnbringer album such a huge win), and the excellent vocals of Tim Aymar (Control Denied). Both are on display in spades here. Aymar has a rough edged style that sounds like a raspier version of Bruce Dickinson and he provides a gritty, tough heft to the music. When paired with Johnsen’s very distinctive style of fretwork, some memorable moments tend to result. Case in point, the opening title track. Its typically loaded with Johnsen’s trademark heavy riffing, guitar squeals, and ripping solo pieces (check the huge solo starting at 2:12). Johnsen is fast becoming my favorite guitar player and the man has a knack for crafting memorable riffs, ear pleasing harmonies, cool nuances and melodic details. As always Aymar’s vocals soar over the top and there’s a typically big, catchy chorus as well. A great song that deserved inclusion on Be Gone. “When We Fly” keeps things going with another textbook example of the Pharaoh sound and has some great vocals by Aymar. Elsewhere we get covers of the New Model Army song “Whitelight” and Slayer‘s “Tormentor”, both are given a complete Pharaoh make over and both sound great. They truly make each song their own and its especially funny hearing an old Slayer song made more melodic and hooky (though the original wasn’t all that heavy anyway). The remaining two originals are also well done (especially “Nothing I Can Say”) and equally catchy.
Overall, this is a solid release designed to hold us over until their new album hits sometime in the fall. It features all the things that make Pharaoh so enjoyable and addicting and served to get me fired up for a whole platter of new material. Disregard any attempt to label these guys as power metal. This is straight up traditional metal done well and with a loads of conviction. Pharaoh is one of the best bands out there today and I highly recommend checking out their stuff ASAP. I would humbly suggest starting with Be Gone or The Longest Night (and make a point to check out “After the Fire” from their debut because that song rules muchly), although you can’t go wrong with any of their material. Support high quality metal!