Zero by Pharaoh Overlord.Release date: April 27, 2018
Label: Ektro / Hydra Head
Here they come from the land of ice and snow, Finland’s wild, near mythic, psych-horde are back again. The last time we saw Pharaoh Overlord they’d just released an album called Circle as their parent/sister band Circle simultaneously released one called Pharaoh Overlord. A gesture that seemed to bring the two bands into alignment, closing the *ahem* circle, if you will. Of course nothing could be so simple. We should more profitably marvel at the extraordinary symbiosis of the two bands than look for points of difference.
Complementary pieces of a whole Pharaoh Overlord is half of Circle, it affects to be a dumber more straightforward form of stoner space-rock. Except when it isn’t. The clearest difference is the absence of Circle’s ballet dancing, Judas Priest channelling vocalist Mika Rättö. Pharaoh Overlord is a mostly instrumental concern. Although obviously not always. And not this time. Zero sees the core three members joined once again by Faust’s Hans Joachim Irmler and on vocals by Antti Boman of Finnish death metallers Demilich. Boman brings a preternaturally low bestial growl to things, a style I’m not usually a big fan of, but which sits surprisingly comfortably in the mix. He’s not roaring and howling like a furious chained animal, but sits back into it as if his voice is gurgling up from the earth like a geyser.
Musically the band bring the usual tasty blend of psych-kraut-space rock grooves. The propulsive chug of ‘Maalimanlopun Ateriana’ is spattered by outburts of acid yellow 80’s synth that pop up now and then across the record. It’s light on its feet and the quicker, restlessly motorik numbers alternate with a couple of more laid back, wide eyed dreamers. The atmospheric ‘Meanwhile’ finds us orbiting serenely while Boman reports back from the planet below. It doesn’t sound like he has great news. On the chilled out, nocturnal ‘Satavuotiaden Salaisuus’ he contents himself with a series of low growls and groans. Either side of it the wonderfully titled ‘Lalibela Cannot Spell Zero’ and ‘I Drove All Night by My Solar Stomp’ seem cut from the same cloth of expanding, driving, kraut metal, heading for the horizon flattening all in their path.
The scene stealing star of the show here though, the blinding white phosphorous glare that unfairly casts all else as background is the opening track, a cover of Spacemen 3’s ‘Revolution’. It’s brilliant, swaggering, hilarious, camp and freighted with oblique meaning all at once. That Pharaoh Overlord might be big fans of Spacemen 3 isn’t about to come as much of a surprise to anyone. Boman’s deep vocals here recall Laibach’s Milan Fras and the idea of the band sat in the tour bus watching ‘Liberation Day’, playing a tour long game of ‘what would be a good song for Laibach to cover’ and coming up with this as an answer isn’t that hard to picture either. It’s a perfect choice no doubt. If it was just for the laughs though why put it front and centre kicking off your band’s first record in three years? They’ve no shortage of other projects or options to put out a 7″ for the giggles.
Pharaoh Overlord don’t really do covers, I’m not aware that they really do politics either but my Finnish is, well, non-existent. So what are they up to here, what are they trying to say? The original ‘Revolution’ is great, and it is a political song but only in the most cliché rock ‘n’ roll sense. It’s 30 years old and even at the time looked back another 20. An ecstasy generation re-animation of hippie-utopian ‘peace-love-dope-revolution’ sentiments with a trace of Stooges’ menace stirred in, but sincere with it. That same year, cosmic coincidence fans, Laibach put out their version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ a typically provocative dance around in acid house and the death of the hippie dream. Circle/Pharaoh Overlord have never shied away from messing about with rock ‘n’ roll clichés. They carry it off with a commitment that swerves any sense they might be taking the piss, while still somehow acknowledging an awareness of their own ridiculousness. It’s a high wire act they make look easy and, as if balancing a chair and umbrella out there for good measure, on ‘Revolution’ they succeed in keeping the doors open to multiple readings. The album comes in a wonderful cover of equally gnomic power that features three young soldiers pondering a large pink balloon. Stare at it, listen to this, think about the future.