Pharaoh demonstrate vintage power metal mastery on new ‘Bury the Light’

I am an unabashed, unapologetic fan of ’80s power metal. I grew up with it, I love it and I always will. The other night, I listened to Helloween’s “Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 1” in the shower and came to the conclusion the events detailed in “Twilight of the Gods” is two years away from taking place. I was so excited that a song I have known and sung since my pre-teen years still is an active part of my life, and as silly as the German-based band can be, that era of the band was perfection to me.

But it doesn’t end there. I have plenty of music from bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, Gamma Ray, Sanctuary and Metal Church and spent so much time with their music that their work is as much a part of my musical DNA as anything. I know not all of those bands typically are labeled as true power metal, but I think it all fits together. It seems that when the ’80s closed, I stopped finding bands of this ilk that interested me. I never dug the more recent bands such as Dragonforce, Blind Guardian, Nightwish, Sabaton and especially Iced Earth, so my love of the genre remained with the classics.

But there’s one modern band that made me realize newer artists could capture the same vibe of majesty, epicness and, yeah, ridiculousness that the ’80s guard mastered. Over the course of three albums, a split and an EP, Pharaoh have managed to wedge themselves alongside my all-time favorites and take a place on the power metal mantle. Their art is true, their hearts are in the right place, and they play the music with a passion. I’m sure some people will hear their songs and think it’s cheeseball, because we’re in an era of tough-guy, menacing metal. But so much of that rings hollow that I’d say most of that music is laughable and what Pharaoh do captures the real heavy metal spirit.

This quartet – vocalist Tim Amyar (ex-Control Denied), guitarist Matt Johnson (Dawnbringer), bassist Chris Kerns, and drummer Chris Black (Dawnbringer, High Spirits and a long-time collaborator with Nachtmystium) – are back with their fourth full-length record “Bury the Light,” arguably their best record yet. (Side note: New Dawnbringer this year … heavily excited) This is power metal that, as far as I’m concerned, is played the way it is supposed to be played. It’s glorious and reminds me of why I fell in love with the genre in the first place. Hearing this record over and over the past few weeks is what sparked my resurgence in checking out my old albums and getting reacquainted with specific records such as the aforementioned Helloween album, Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” and Metal Church’s criminally underappreciated “Blessing in Disguise.”

“Leave Me Here to Dream” opens “Bury the Light” with a song about slumber and dreams, and lurking behind the shadows is death. The guitar work is awesome and has a vintage power feel to it, and it’s the perfect way to lead to what’s next, including the aggressive, catchy “The Wolves”; “Cry,” a track awash in regret and the desire for true companionship;  and “Burn With Me,” a spacious, fiery song that reminds me a lot of Dio’s finest work. The band unfurls some choice epic cuts here including “Graveyard of Empire,” a war-torn song that gallops most of the way, goes clean and almost classical in the middle, and eventually packs a wallop with its finish; “In Your Hands,” another fairly aggressive song that lets some anger through but also has an empowering message; and “The Year of the Blizzard,” the standout song on the record. This cut sounds like the dudes channeled ’70s-era Rush, as the guitar work feels like something directly from a recording session for, say, “Caress of Steel,” “2112” or “A Farewell to Kings,” and the storyline of being buried under the snow with supplies running out might as well have been penned in Neil Peart’s notebook. It’s such an awesome flash of prog and classic hard rock, and Amyar soars as he tells the harrowing story.

Pharaoh do power metal perfectly, with reverence and respect for what preceded them and with an eye toward expanding the genre into the future. And for a curmudgeonly fan such as myself who is satisfied by almost nothing power metal has given me the past 20 years, I’m beyond thrilled that this band has been in my life the past decade to warm my thrill-seeking heart. Turns out all I need are my old records and cassettes and anything new that Pharaoh puts on the shelves.

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