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Review: Pharaoh - The Powers That Be
The Powers That Be

Label: Cruz Del Sur Music
Year released: 2021
Duration: 44:33
Tracks: 9
Genre: Heavy Metal

Rating: 4.25/5

Review online: July 16, 2021
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers Rating
The Powers That Be

Rated 3.9/5 (78%) (10 Votes)

Hard to believe it's been almost a decade since Pharaoh released Bury the Light—pretty much inarguably their best album. A band coming back after such a long break is always kind of a gamble, as they might have lost their spark in the intervening years, or at least lost a step. I have listened to this one a lot since I got it, and I have been back and forth until I have to come down on the side of liking it, but that it is not as good as the album that came before it.

The Powers That Be pushes to try new things, amping up on that element of dissonance this band has always used to keep from sounding too happy or accessible. The opening title track is maybe intended to deter the casual listener, as while it has superlative guitar playing, the vocal melodies are dense, atonal, and unfriendly, sometimes going so far as to sound awkward. I can tell they worked hard on this song, just as I can tell it doesn't quite hit what they aimed at. As I have said before: just because I can tell a choice was made for artistic reasons doesn't mean it worked.

The rest of the album, happily, is better, filled with the intense, prog-edged metal this band has always traded on. Matt Johnsen remains one of the unsung guitar heroes of our time, with his crunchy, inventive rhythms and clean-limbed, agile leadwork. Tim Aymar sounds like he always does, and that has started to seem like a bit of a drawback—he's been using the same recording sound for 20 years now, and I would like to hear him break out and do something a bit different.

However, just because overall this falls short of Pharaoh's best material doesn't mean it's not good. Songs like "Lost in the Waves" and "When the World Was Mine" can stand up to the best stuff these guys have done, and I really hope it's not another 9 years before we get more from one of metal's most singular bands.

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