Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pharaoh: Guitar Solo Master Class

Written by Chris Black.

Pharaoh has always had a tradition of asking their personal guitar heroes to play guest solos on their records. In October 2014 Chris Black wrote a series of Facebook posts chronicling each of these songs, from the newest to the oldest. Here is a compilation of these posts into what can only be called a Pharaoh Guitar Solo Master Class! (additional commentary provided by Matt Johnsen from an interview he did with Teeth of the Divine in 2012).


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Let's get started! Most recently the great Mike Wead contributed a real dazzler on "Castles in the Sky" from Bury the Light. He captured perfectly the sinister and majestic atmosphere of this song, and used lots of his unique classical flair. We love it! Thanks again to Mr. Wead and congratulations on a great career with Memento Mori, Hexenhaus, Abstrakt Algebra, Mercyful Fate, Candlemass, Bibleblack, and of course King Diamond!

Matt Johnsen: "I suggested Mike Wead. I know a lot of Swedish and Scandinavian writers and musicians, and I figured that it would take me a couple days to track this guy down. It took a while [laughs]. I had to burn through a lot of contacts before I was finally able to get in touch with him, and when I did, it was my friend Teddy Möller, who’s in the band Loch Vostok and a bunch of other bands, he gave me Mike’s cell phone. And I’m like, Christ, I’ve got to call a Swedish dude out of the blue? Say, “Hey, I’m this guy you never heard of, will you play a solo on my album?” Unfortunately I was never able to get through to his cell phone. I don’t know if I left a message or if it was just the Swedish phone system telling me that the number had been disconnected. I had to go back to Teddy and say, “Look, man, cell phone didn’t work. Email the guy or something; make an introduction.” And he did, and I sent the stuff to Mike, and he was like, “Wow, I do a lot of guest solos and usually I charge people, but your shit’s cool so I’ll do it for free”"


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Matt Johnsen: "And again, we got Jim [Dofka] to come back just a killer solo in “Year of the Blizzard.” I think it’s actually the best solo he’s done for us and very atypical of him. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jim Dofka’s stuff, but most of his solos tend to be entirely harmonized, front to back, and they have sort of familiar patterns and sounds. And this one, it’s nothing like that. It’s hardly harmonized; it’s played on a single coil guitar, it’s a great lead."


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"Ten Years" is a very special track indeed, as it features TWO musicians especially close to Pharaoh's heart! The first solo on this track is a raunchy burner from our band co-founder Keith Barnard. Keith is known for his work with Final Prayer and Blood Vomit, but he was also a part of Pharaoh for the very early (and very gradual!) genesis period. We parted ways amicably, but his powerful style left a permanent influence on the direction of the band. It was great that we were able to reconnect with him and have his contribution to this song. The second solo in "Ten Years" comes courtesy of our longtime comrade Jim Dofka! Mr. Dofka has contributed a solo to each of our albums, and here it's total fireworks as usual. We normally reserve a fast romp section for him, and he always takes the bait! Check it out!


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This is a heavy one to say the least! We are quite proud to have our song "Dark New Life" feature one of the absolute best guitar duos in the history of rock music: Mark Reale and Mike Flyntz of Riot! Mike goes first, then they play a harmony section together, before Mark finishes things out. It still takes our breath away to hear this today. We take inspiration from the entire Riot catalog as musicians and songwriters and also have some very special memories of seeing Mark and Mike together onstage. They truly made it look easy, and believe us when we say: it isn't! Best wishes to the whole Riot family! Keep up your hard work!


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...and here also is our "regularly-scheduled special guest" Jim Dofka with the final solo in "No Remains". Those quick alternating ascending/descending phrases in the second half are pretty maddening!


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Now we arrive at an album that seems to be the favorite of many: The Longest Night! The opening cut "Sunrise" features a fantastic solo from another of our perhaps-unsung guitar heroes, Mr. Chris Poland. The solo section is quite mellow and smooth for Pharaoh, and Chris's legato and unexpected note combinations work perfectly to sustain and then build the energy of the song overall. Matt really wanted Chris Poland for this section specifically, since it would cater to Chris's wide musical vocabulary. He has, after all, played everything from jazz fusion with Ohm to punk rock with the Circle Jerks to progressive metal with Damn the Machine and of course thrash metal with Megadeth, not to mention releasing two solo albums along the way. Cheers Chris for a great job, and thanks for making Matt a very happy boy! (btw Matt takes over at 5:01 and holds his own pretty well.)


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Also give this one a try! As the band goes somersaulting into the ending vamp, who should show up with the fireworks but Jim Dofka! This was slated to be a fade-out, but Jim decided otherwise!


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

From our 2003 debut album After the Fire, the song "Solar Flight" remains quite popular to this day. It features the first of what would be many guest solos from Jim Dofka, a longtime friend and true unsung guitar hero if ever there was one! Jim's velocity and phrasing are unique and his sense of melody quite rare. From this point forward, it was decided that Jim would contribute one of his masterpieces to every Pharaoh album. We're very happy and proud that Jim has become a part of the Pharaoh sound in this way. It's also worth mentioning that he was the one to get us in touch with Tim Aymar in the first place, so you could say that Jim Dofka's influence on Pharaoh is more or less infinite! Thanks everyone who is reading these.


Tagged with Chris Black, Cruz Del Sur Music, Pharaoh, power metal
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