Published on May 25th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron4
Circle — “Pharaoh Overlord”
I was excited to discover Finnish band Pharaoh Overload had released a new album called Circle last month. After obtaining it and pressing play, I was pretty confused as to what was spilling into my headphones—and it was then I realized this was not in fact the fuzzy droney stoner of Pharaoh Overlord, but the band Circle.
Turns out my confusion was somewhat justified, as Circle is actually three-quarters of Pharaoh Overlord, though the former band predates the latter by a good many years having formed in 1992 by Jussi Lethisalo.
A quick browse on Wikipedia unearthed a vast and bewildering back-catalog of music covering progressive, kraut, and heavy metal. The band has 30 full-length releases, half as many again EPs and singles, and still more live albums, and a handful of soundtracks.
Whether my lack of knowledge about this band serves as an impediment or an advantage to approaching Pharaoh Overlord I’m not sure—I think hearing an album like this is best done with an open mind and a lack of any expectation.
It’s clear from the outset the band is trying something pretty ambitious
Tonally and conceptually, the five long tracks each serve as a movement of a larger work. The album launches with a clean, chiming guitar phrase, tense two-note bassline, and soft humming. A brass section melts in and soon gives the piece a kind of windswept and cinematic drama, underpinned by stabs of discordant, poly-rhythmic trombone.
It’s clear from the outset the band is trying something pretty ambitious. Can it sustain itself over the length of a record? Can it add anything it hasn’t offered in the first couple of tracks, the second of which—titled Kavelen Luiden Paalla—arranges more indignant blurts of brass over a shuffling jazz beat and spidery guitar lick, interspersed with primal howls and screams in the death metal style.
Just as this idea is just beginning to wear thin, Circle has already changed gears, Aavasaksa offering layer upon layer of melodic guitar loops twining around a gritty guitar and bass rhythm, the trombones playful now and the whole arrangement filled with air and light.
Aldebaran is probably the most brass-heavy of the album, trombone and some kind of deep Mongolian-sounding horn, perhaps a distorted tuba, taking over from strings to create a monotonous psychedelic drone.
Album highlight and closer Madonna of Viggiano provides the best and clearest snapshot of Pharaoh Overlord, crystalizing the Eastern rhythms and textures and flavors into a head-nodding and completely enjoyable seven minutes. Lethisalo sings the cadence of a Buddhist death chant while percussion and guitar rhythms loop and dance in secret ritual.
Apparently true to form, Circle has again tried something different with Pharaoh Overlord and should be applauded for that. Its complexity and intricacy reveal more with each listen—it’s a poly-rhythmical feast painting from a palette seldom used in rock music, and the new textures and colors thrill, unsettle, and inspire the imagination.
If Pharaoh Overlord is any indication of the ambition and talent of this band, then I’m going to have to devote a few weeks exploring their discography further. I have a feeling it won’t disappoint.
Pharaoh Overlord is out now on Ektro Records at good record outlets.