I had a feeling PHARAOH's follow-up to its 2003 debut, "After the Fire", would be a true-blue, quality slab of traditional/power metal with contagious melodies, pounding rhythms, and killer guitar work, but "The Longest Night" far exceeded even those expectations. "The Longest Night" would more accurately be described as one of the year's best heavy metal albums.
I wouldn't necessarily refer to "The Longest Night" as a power metal album, as the genre descriptor can often imply something along the lines of STRATOVARIUS or HAMMERFALL. Rather, traditional or classic heavy metal with a bit of prog and a power metal melodic sensibility might be a better way of describing it. If anything, the muscular gallop, some of the vocal patterns, and a good bit of Matt Johnsen's axe swinging often bring to mind the work of vintage IRON MAIDEN. Songs such as "Like a Ghost" in particular can be quite MAIDEN-eque. Chris Kerns' impelling bass runs are somewhat reminiscent of Steve Harris' playing, while the gutsy and soaring vocals of Tim Aymar (CONTROL DENIED, PSYCHO SCREAM) possess the command presence of a Bruce Dickinson and convey the steeliness and grit of Ronnie James Dio's more aggressive material.
Like all the great metal bands of our time, PHARAOH masterfully blends virtuosity, hard-as-iron toughness, and pure melody. "Endlessly" and most notably "In the Violet Fire" (quickly becoming my favorite) are two examples. Both induce that all-important heavy metal adrenaline rush, thanks to the stout and exciting rhythm section of Kerns and drummer Chris Black, not to mention Johnsen's knack for creating husky riffs and leads that are scorching and memorable at once. At the same time, once the choruses hit, they are not soon forgotten. The tunes are catchy and powerful, yet not so over-the-top as to be excessive or just plain cheesy.
Technically speaking, the arrangements are involved, yet never boring. Eight-minute tracks "Sunrise" (featuring guest guitarist Chris Poland) and "By the Night Sky" are the album's more epic tracks, yet the running time is something that goes virtually unnoticed because the compositions are so finely crafted. On the other end of the spectrum, next to a fist-pumping three-minute knockout called "I Am the Hammer", the album's shortest song is its last, a three-and-a-half minute up-tempo instrumental called "Never Run" that ends the album on a high note.
The point is that every song has its place and every note its purpose. On "The Longest Night", PHARAOH proudly waves the flag of heavy metal, at the same time proving that good songwriting and superb musicianship are not mutually exclusive.