In Case You Missed It: Stéphan Forté – The Shadows Compendium

Stéphan FortéThe Shadows Compendium (Listenable Records, 28 February 2012)

Ugh, I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday. Last week, with the holiday and me adding on a vacation day, I only actually worked three days… which I think has now totally spoiled me, because I keep feeling like the workweek should be just about over. This sucks. I spent most of the past couple days listening to some ultra-heavy monolithic death metal, which is usually great for settling the nerves and calming me down. Right now it isn’t really doing it for me, though, and I’m afraid the next person that bothers me is going to end up with a pretty nasty punch to the throat unless I find a better way to chill out. Considering the fact that the majority of the time, I deal with the pain-in-the-ass people over the phone or by e-mail, the whole punching thing might be a bit awkward, but believe me, I’d find a way.

So that brings us to the subject of this review, since I was looking for something totally different to listen to. How about some guitar-driven instrumental metal? Probably not something you’d expect me to gravitate towards, especially since I’ve discussed some of my thoughts on the genre previously, and how it can really rub me the wrong way unless it’s done just right. I was a bit skeptical too, at first, especially when I saw this album cover (see above) and noticed how much this guy looks like a French Steve Vai with a bunch of eyeliner. But then I decided, what the hell, I can be open-minded and at least check out a song or two, then move on to something else.

Well, I’m glad I did give this album a chance, because honestly I was pretty impressed by the quality, and — if I can say this without having it sound like a backhanded compliment — I was surprised by the overall lack of pretension and pomposity that one normally expects from solo guitarists (e.g. Yngwie, etc.).
 

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Just Released: Pharaoh – Bury the Light

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PharaohBury the Light (6 March 2012, Cruz del Sur Music)

Good evening, Readers. How’s it going? I’d like to take a quick poll, if you don’t mind. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “power metal”? Is your first impulse to run away screaming? It wouldn’t surprise me much if that were the case, because that would be the reaction of many people — including myself, sometimes.

Why is that? Well, because somewhere along the line power metal got its name blemished pretty badly in the eyes of most listeners. Somehow the genre got associated with bands who, when they heard “Run to the Hills” for the first time, fell in love with the lightning-speed galloping part towards the end, but thought the song would be better if they had cut out all the stuff that builds the tension up to that point, and creates dynamic contrast, and holds the listener’s attention. Bands whose favorite album of all time is Rising Force, but they never realized that their turntable was switched to 78 RPM instead of 33-1/3.

It’s no wonder most people turn their noses up at the thought of this genre, when its most visible representatives are a bunch of over-the-top, ultra-cheeserrific fuckwads whose primary goal seems to be to constantly outdo themselves in terms of speed and wankery, much more than giving any thought to making good quality music.

Of course, this stereotype didn’t just spring into existence overnight; there have been bands that have incorporated cheesy schtick into their repetoires (whether intentionally or not) for decades. It’s almost as if everyone had forgotten it was possible to put together a group of talented musicians and play music that strikes a balance between heavy and powerful but also emotional and melodic; and to tackle lyrical territory that is epic and grand but not corny and overblown. Almost.

A certain group of Philadelphian gentlemen (who, by the way, come from the eastern side of my home state – just a few hundred miles from here) who call themselves Pharaoh haven’t forgotten. And just one listen to their newest album (their fourth full-length, and fifth release overall, dating back nearly ten years) Bury the Light, which is on Cruz del Sur and was released just last week in North America, is all it will take to ensure you don’t forget, either.

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