Album Review: Pharoah Overlord – ‘6’: a venomous and expansive assault

THE FINNISH group Pharoah Overlord have made a welcome return with an expanded iteration of their previous era, amplifying the krautrock-influenced soundscapes established in 2019’s 5, joined by Sumac and Old Man Gloom’s Aaron Turner.

Here, Tomi Leppänen and Jussi Lehtisalo’s Kraftwerk-influenced, ravaging electronica melds with Aaron Turner’s harsh vocals for a futuristic attack of monomania-based jams. The vocal grit and cadence are an unexpected but sumptuous placement in these hellish soundscapes, a deeper bash into the panoramic and desolate dystopia of Pharaoh Overlord.

In its jam stylings and ever-present, pounding surge, 6 is coherent and cohesive, each track like an increasingly horrific horror movie scene. But for all its density, melodicism pervades.

Single “Path Eternal” shows off the band’s individual wielding of Kraftwerk-style murmurations. Melodic bleeps and synth arcs an ecstatic contrast to the guttural vocals; an overwhelming presence while still used unpredictably. Said vocals are, in fact, the most welcome addition to 6.

A longtime collaborator of the band, Turner’s melodic yet visceral vocal/lyrical style was originally intended for just a few tracks, but Tomi and Jussi were so awed that he ended up writing lyrics for the entire album.

Turner explains the origins of his metalesque growl as pulling from the “Drawing Down The Moon-era Beherit, where the music had gone almost entirely electronic and the only vestige of the metal aesthetic that remained was the vocal style.

“That rub of “artificial” music and organic/humanistic/off kilter vocals was intriguing for me.”

His commanding vocal style, issuing traces of Killing Joke, traverses the coarse (yet never grating), tribalistic chant of “Path Eternal” and the sinister, croaking bark in “Tomorrow’s Sun”. In whichever fevered form, Turner’s vocals power the direction of the jams as robustly as the music.

Pharoah Overlord

The aforementioned “Tomorrow’s Sun” strikes like a scorching, hammered dulcimer in Turner’s most enrapturing vocal display: practically shredding the ear canal in an exorbitantly satisfying, throaty, choral, roar. Similarly unrepentant, the immediate and infectious synth beat sustains an incessant, driving rhythm. This funnelling sensation evokes the circumstances of the album’s birth: written at the height of the pandemic, summoning the fragmentation of the band (and their surrounding environment), but in a way that signals hope amongst despair; furnishing something positive from negativity.

Nevertheless, the album becomes increasingly tense with encroaching dread, mirroring the emotions felt by the band and the world this year. This embattled fever grows the vocals become further aggravated and a brutal swathe of distortion floods “Without Song All Will Perish”; yet, the underlying core of resilience and retribution is borne from the marriage of this burgeoning weight and the sustained melodicism. Here, this is inherent in the endlessly sublime and melodic main riff, distortion-drenched but remaining effervescent: in a darkly disco reinvention of “Voulez-Vous”-era ABBA. This and the accompanying synths, keeps the track’s and album’s aural vibrancy and mysticism surging.

Pharoah Overlord are at their mighty zenith with even meatier, sprawling tracks like this; “Blue Hum” taking this template to newer, greater heights.

A 14-minute cinematic marathon of glorious synth stabs and parapets of drums, the closing track is also riddled with lyrical peals redolent of recent events, and the wrestling of emotions caused by them. Undoubtedly, Turner’s guttural vocals of “everything’s in chaos” make it far personal; unmasked in the retelling of the intense delirium. Filmic textures leap around the vocals and electronics: banshee-like wails and contrasting “aahs” from an angelic choir, further accentuating the unsettling hellscape.

Thus, this monumental track closes an eternally memorable electronic marvel, without relinquishing 6’s venomous and expansive assault.

Pharaoh Overlord’s 6 will be released by Rocket Recordings on digital download, CD and snakebite yellow vinyl on November 27th. You can order your copy from the label’s Bandcamp page.

See the spectacular video for “Without Song All Will Perish” below.

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