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Pharaoh Overlord
Zero Richard Fontenoy , May 21st, 2018 07:21

Experimental Finnish stoner rock from Circle’s sister band

Every track on Zero lays the groundwork for what could be a nice meander through the forms and formulae of spaciness, but this is Pharaoh Overlord so nothing stays straightforward for long. The opener is a bold move: a cover of ‘Revolution’, the Spacemen 3 anthem for cannabis legalisation and all-round mumbling directive to dissent, with a full-throated singing style that sounds like Antti Boman has toked more than a few doorjammers. But, wild and woolly as this first track is, the rest of the album gets far stranger.

Boman’s vocals have been transplanted from their more familiar home among the death metal grind of his band Demilich, while HJ Irmler from Faust lends swirling, reverberant keyboards to the mix with a deftness of touch that might surprise those expecting the angrier fuzz tones that graced his previous collaboration with Pharaoh Overlord, Live In Suomi Finland. It’s Boman’s guttural vocalisations that are the most obviously bizarre feature of both ‘Revolution’ and Zero in general. Taken out of their aggressive context and juxtaposed with the freeform cosmic freakout and harmonic twists of Pharaoh Overlord’s music, they can seem out of place at first. When sounds like these well up from the glottal nether regions, the music that goes along with them is traditionally hard-riffing, with amps roaring and drumkits battered into double-kick submission for the delight of moshpits and stagedivers. But Zero cuts and cavorts more than it blisters and burns. ‘Revolution’ follows the original’s slow-burning template of a lengthy one-two introduction leading into a spasm of anguish and ire. Tomi Lepannen’s frenzied drumming and some eloquently expressed keyboard and guitar interplay rise up to take the track into more blissed-out areas than Spacemen 3 ever seemed to have the energy for.

Odd buzzing noises from Irmler’s keyboards sound like alarm clocks among Janne Westerlund’s rising guitar feedback on ‘Meanwhile’’s spring-loaded wheezes, and Boman’s voice wanders curiously among the revolving doors of carefully crafted stoner rock being given a thorough rinsing and reimagining. Languid and liquidly evolving, the instruments create their own particular psychotropic blend in which nothing is ever quite what it might seem - so Boman's vocals, extirpated from their usual stomping ground actually fit right into Zero’s curious approach.

He exhales into the mic like a husky heavy breather on the brain-elevating mellowness and languid twists of ‘Satavuotiaiden Salaisuus’, and the solid rhythmic groove and recursing guitars of “Lalibela Cannot Spell Zero” splinter off from their nominal ordinary beginnings until Boman is gurgling atonally while the band is off somewhere getting lost in their deconstruction of psychedelia in general and the four-to-the-floor rock trope in particular. It’s befuddling, not a little unnerving and eventually almost entirely convincing, especially by the time the band kick into the brusque handclaps and organ razzmatazz of the almost ecstatically funky finale ‘I Drove All Night By My Solar Stomp’.

Pharaoh Overlord finish Zero on a slammed-down guitar chord, having boiled up the individual instruments into a seething brew of mind-altering proportions. It's a satisfyingly emphatic end to the album, and it somehow makes it all the more baffling that they’ve got us to this point without inflicting serious damage.