With nine years spent waiting since the release of their last album, 2012’s Bury The Light, Pharaoh returns in forceful fashion with their fifth full-length. The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music) could very well be the Power Metal veterans’ most aggressive outing since 2006’s The Longest Night, bringing in a borderline thrash undercurrent with the guitar’s blazing technical runs along with the vocals’ established grit. This is established right off the bat with the title track’s assertive crunch and ‘Will We Rise’ follows up the intensity with some added Classic Metal flavor.
Of course, this also comes with the experimental angle that took prominence on the last couple albums still hanging around. ‘Waiting To Drown’ is the album’s first big curveball, serving as an atmospheric number that offers a deeper, restrained vocal and almost western guitar picking that transitions well into the precariously anthemic ‘Lost In The Waves.’ ‘Freedom’ and ‘Dying Sun’ are also major winners thanks to their old school throwbacks; I’m a sucker for triumphant guitar harmonies, uplifting gang shouts, and up-tempo drum work.
The musicianship has also held up quite well in the time away, showing no signs of fatigue. Vocalist Tim Aymar proved that his voice has held up on his performance with Angband in 2020 and his husky wail is even more potent here. Guitarist Matt Johnsen puts in one of his most dynamic performances with plenty of sections devoted to swelling melodies alongside the intricate rhythms while Chris Black puts in one of his busiest, most intense drum performances to date. The only downside is that bassist Chris Kerns isn’t as prominent as before though he still gets a spot to shine on ‘When The World Was Mine.’
Overall, The Powers That Be is a bold effort that reinforces Pharaoh’s status as an institution of American Power Metal. While it may be just a little shy of the echelon claimed by Bury The Light and The Longest Night, the musicianship is just as vibrant. While I initially found myself hoping for a couple more immediate numbers, the songs are some real growers that reveal engaging variety and dexterity with multiple listens. A lot of the bands that played this style in the early 2000s get overlooked by the legends before them and the youngsters that came after; it’s always excellent when one of them comes back to show us how it’s done.
Buy the album here: https://pharaohmetal.bandcamp.com/album/the-powers-that-be
9 / 10