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Pharaoh: Bury the Light (Cruz Del Sur) 

Believe it not, killer power metal doesn't begin and end with Iced Earth and DragonForce. There's a less-widely known yet musically superior band out there that will blow the top of your (metal)head off if you give them a chance.

I'm talking, of course, about the mighty Pharaoh, featuring singer Tim Aymar, the guy whose pipes powered Control Denied's The Fragile Art of Existence, and six-string shredder Matt Johnsen, who is so good that he probably works for NASA.

Melodic and technical to a fault, Pharaoh's fifth album rides a fine line between heavy-metal radio-friendliness and advanced prog-metal ecstasy. Just when Aymar starts to massage your brain with an insistent vocal line, along comes Johnsen with a dazzling solo to launch your imagination into the stratosphere. Every song is dreamy and defiant, from the ferociously thrashed-up riff frenzy of "The Wolves," to the nuclear-physics-grade time signatures of "Graveyard of Empires." The Iron Maiden worship that Pharaoh once wore like a badge of honor is now completely rubbed away, save for a few galloping rhythms—as found on "Castles in the Sky," for instance.

In sum, the band has achieved a perfect balance of intellectual precision and aggressive tact. Also, Aymar's lyrics have never sounded more poetic (and less cheesy) than in the savage "Burn With Me," a song of kinship and fealty like no other.

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