Pharaoh | Interview with Matt Johnsen

Heavy Metal purveyors Pharaoh are on the verge of releasing their fourth full-length “Bury the Light” and we traded e-mails with Matt Johnsen to ask him about the process of putting the new record together, as well as his thoughts on the band being together for nearly 15 years now. Read the conversation below.


Congrats on “Bury the Light”, it’s a great and engaging heavy metal record.
Now that it is complete and set for release, how do you feel about it? Are you satisfied with the outcome?

“Yes, although I think it took us as long to grow into the album as it will for a lot of fans. It was a lot of hard work and took a long time to make, so it was difficult at times to picture the final product, but now that we have it, it sounds right to us.”

Pharaoh has been together and prevalent now since 1997, and “Bury the Light” is the band’s fourth full-length record in a career that spans thru nearly fifteen years. Is there anything in specific that you think has helped contribute to Pharaoh’s longevity as a group?

“Yeah, we never see one another, ha ha! Pharaoh is more or less a glorified studio project (although we are finally rehearsing for some live work) so we don't have to negotiate the day-to-day issues a working live band does. But beyond that, we've just developed a way of working together that works for us, creatively and practically. And when we do get together, it's as friends, and not band mates with hidden personal agendas.”

“Bury the Light” is scheduled to hit the streets on February 24th 2012 in Europe, and on March 6th in the United States and features guest appearances from Mike Wead (King Diamond) e Jim Dofka (Dofka). How did this come about? Well, Dofka is almost a regular contributor to your releases, so there are no surprises there, but what was it like working with these musicians?

“Yeah, Jim has appeared on every one of our CDs, and working with him is a breeze. I send him a song, ask him nicely to shred between minutes X and Y, and he sends back a killer lead. If only everything in life was so easy! As for Mike Wead, it's of course a great honor to have him on our disc, as it was when Mike Flyntz and Mark Reale (RIP) and Chris Poland contributed guest solos. But, we unfortunately don't get the chance to really see these guys in action. As with Jim, we send the tracks via the internet, they go into a local studio to cut their solos, and they send them back to us. One of these days it would be cool to actually meet up with our guests when they're recording.”

This new studio album seems a bit more diverse than its predecessor “Be Gone”, there’s some of the fastest and heaviest material you’ve ever written like “The Wolves” and “In Your Hands” and there’s also some of the mellowest stuff like the hard-rock driven “The Year of the Blizzard”. In your opinion how do you think “Bury the Light” compares to Pharaoh’s previous work?

“We've come to the point in our career where we can't rely on a natural improvement in musicianship and songwriting to differentiate our albums.
That is to say, we’ve matured as writers, and we're probably about as good on our instruments as we're going to be, but we want each album to sound unique, and this time it meant exploring the new sounds you mentioned, although really, we just took the progressive or thrashy elements that already existed in our sound and amplified them. As for The Year of the Blizzard, well, that kind of came out of left field when Chris Black turned it in, as we had never really experimented with that sort of 70s protometal before, although we all love Rush, Deep Purple, and so on.”

The bio states that all four members contribute with lyrical themes, so can you give us some insight into the topics covered in “Bury the Light”. Is there a concept running throughout these ten themes?

“No, there isn't a unified theme in the way there was for Be Gone, although the subject matter isn't all that different. There's a little more pure fantasy on this album (Leave Me Here to Dream, The Spider's Thread, and Year of the Blizzard), but we still have the political and introspective tunes that have sort of become our hallmark. Graveyard of Empires is of course about Afghanistan, while In Your Hands can be read as a commentary on the great wave of rebellion and revolt that has swept the globe in the past couple years. The Spider's Thread is based on a great short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and Leave Me Here to Dream is about one man's nocturnal encounter with death.”

Following the release of the record, what can we expect from Pharaoh?

"For the first time ever, we're rehearsing regularly and will be doing some live work in 2012. We did play two festivals in 2008, but this time we hope to be able to do some actual touring. Who knows if it will really happen, but there's only one way to find out! We also hope to get the next album out a bit quicker, but this is Pharaoh, after all, and we don't do anything fast. Still, it can't hurt to dream!"

More info at:

Luca Niero