Five years in the making, After the Fire is the debut album from Philadelphia's Pharaoh – a progressive power-metal quartet that has at its core a guitarist well-versed in death-edged thrash metal and a drummer who previously played Swedish-influenced speed metal. On paper, this band shouldn't even be a band. But personnel changes and label letdowns, be damned. These guys persevered and finally released (via the fledgling Italian label Cruz Del Sur Music) a thick and heavy album that opens with a brief but fascinating instrumental called "Unum," featuring a nimble-fingered guitar solo from Keith Barnard.
Unfortunately, the rest of After the Fire doesn't exactly live up to that track's promise. Thick and churning, the music often sounds raw and forced. Pharaoh possesses a keen sense of melody, yet these nine tracks still lack hooks. Remnants of Barnard's thrash days and drummer Chris Black's speed-metal roots can be heard on tracks like "Flash of the Dark" and "Slaves." Worth noting is the presence of Pharaoh's once-temporary and now-permanent singer Tim Aymar, who was in Control Denied, the late Chuck Schulidner's Death offshoot. Aymar brings some of Control Denied's technical proficiency to Pharaoh while also adding his own rough-edged vocal impact to these songs.
Still, this is a tough album to get into – even after several spins. There's nothing inherently bad about After the Fire, but there's also no resounding element that sets it apart from the rest of a crowded field.