Pharaoh Overlord – Zero

2 out of 5

Label: Ekto

Produced by: Various

Right, well, apparently we’re filing this under “I don’t get it,” where it maybe sidles into the “I really don’t get it” pile. Typically, when I don’t get something, I do try to do a little research to understand why I might not be getting it; for Zero, that meant going back and listening to some previous Pharaoh Overlord albums. That made some differences clear:

Musically, this is not wholly different from preceding PO albums, but it is a tweak on them. As an instrumental group, Pharaoh made their bones as psych-influenced sludgecore; long-ass tracks that have a drone backing but rock hard. I’d say this doesn’t quite push enough in either direction – drone or metal – to make it essential to my ears, but it is very listenable, and it’s a style I can appreciate. The group has segued into some other styles, such as the more blissed out version of psych rock evidenced here, such as on previous album ‘Horn,’ which, interestingly, has a few tracks that’ve been reworked for Zero. The difference is that Horn was recorded live, and has an appropriately mushy, raw sound that makes sense for its blitz-y style; here, the various recordings really flatten things out, and so it lacks that zest that makes hammering on a single riff for 12-minutes work. I think I get the idea, though, since the other Horn / Zero difference is in vocalists: the former had “clean” vocals that, again, made sense for the rock style, while Zero brings in guest vocalist Antti Boman, who’s a death metal vocalist form a legacy Fin metal band; thus, by flattening out the mix somewhat, I think the idea was to give Boman’s guttural growls more of a place in things. It’s a cute juxtaposition but… I’m not sure it works. I’m (perhaps obviously) not familiar with Boman’s oeuvre, and I can appreciate the allure of bringing in someone who’s apparently a known name, I just think that it doesn’t add much to the music beyond the quirkiness of it, especially the Spaceman 3 cover Revolution which opens things (and which appeared on Horn in a superior version, by my opinion).

With this opposing elements at work – the vocals, the recording – it unfortunately brings a question to mind for some of the tracks: Why are they this long? When PO is playing in a sludge rock format, it’s trancelike, and the excessive runtimes work with that, but here, it just feels like they’re playing on a loop for no reason except to meet a runtime quota. If you listen, yes, there’s a lotta proggy stuff happening in the background, but it’s so distant that the effect is minimal.

There are a couple of tracks that really work, vocals and all, but I’d note that they are the slower songs of the bunch, playing more into PO’s “typical” style, and maybe or maybe not coincidentally, they are also the shortest tracks on the album.

Closer I Drove All Night by My Solar Stomp, though again a reworking of a better-sounding Horn track, does suggest how this pairing could’ve navigated to more engaging works, employing Bowman to just chant a line over and over instead of rattling off lyrics, making him part of the music landscape and allowing some of the riffage to take center stage instead.

Reviews on this album are favorable, so certainly the above is to be taken with the grains of salt of my opinion, but the bias of that opinion does make me question if some of the positivity is swayed by the “cool” mash-up factor of death metal and prog rock.