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Something about ‘Be Forewarned’ has sunk itself into my spongy brain matter and haunted me in the depths of night, exacerbating the unfortunate visions I have – not too dissimilar to the artwork of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ – of those nebulous and meddlesome nymphs cavorting around my bed… perhaps it was time to stop drinking, but I’d much rather blame ‘Be Forewarned’ for such damnable iniquity in my room.
‘Be Forewarned’ is a punishing album, make no mistake about it. Some of what’s here can be considered incredibly accessible but still, it’s very much punishing. Sure, it’s not punishment in the blatant, brutal sense – this is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that I thought it to be simply an excellent doom album, unaware of its sepulchral menace – but ‘Be Forewarned’ waits until it’s too late, ahem, before it reveals its more entrancing and macabre side. By this time you’re probably too far gone, the supremely dark yet melodic craft has probably already had you scrawling one last note about some horrid vision you saw, before you take one last hit of opium and then throw yourself towards the welcoming grey of the pavement below.
But, the punishment is incredibly welcoming; it’s a temptation almost as great as the apple was to Eve or the lure of the Scarlet Whore’s lips were (but I was promptly unaware of the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley who promptly took me from behind… the ‘Filthiness of her fornication’, indeed). But yes, ‘Be Forewarned’ and its evil is not an inaccessible one, far from it, with their school in the 70’s craft; Bobby Liebling, Victor Griffin and Joe Hassevander make this album a very easy one to be mesmerized by. This isn’t ‘Under the Sign of the Black Mark’, this is that 70’s sort of evil, the most dangerous kind that everyone can access (even your own children!) Though the aforementioned black metal classic has probably shifted more units than this… but such is the curse of the Pentagram.
It also goes without saying, what with all my musings on evil, that this album is an immensely atmospheric one. After years of unrelenting listens, I have come to the conclusion that ‘Be Forewarned’ is the product of two things:
1.Spending a lot of time in graveyards.
2.Taking hard drugs.
Of course, this morbid curiosity has spilt over into other areas; lyrical themes deal with more horror movie fare at times. Which are of course delivered with vivid ghoulishness, this should be the case for a band that has clearly spent a long time at the funerals of complete strangers. The production enhances this atmosphere; the drum production is fantastic unlike its predecessors (‘Day of Reckoning’ suffered from a snare sound that was a little too tight and the debut was quite muffled). Joe Hassevander emerges as an absolutely phenomenal drummer here, with some awe-inspiring hard-hitting fills. Better still though, is his brilliant accenting of the riffs, see the sparse rolling toms and percussion in the verses of ‘The World Will Learn to Love Again’ for a marvellous example. The drums are so good however that despite accenting other players at times they always retain my attention. Victor Griffin’s guitar sound, too, has come to its perfect fruition. In a way his tone here is quite trebly in comparison to what went before it, but it’s perfect. Any more treble and it would be fizzy, more bass and it would be overbearing and less mid-range would result in too much of a hollow sound. This isn’t the lifeless solid-state buzz of Dimebag Darrell, nor is it the scooped-out stupidity of mid-era Hetfield; this is a characteristic and warm tone, perfect for conveying such emotion as displayed here…and lest we forget that’s what great guitarists deal with.
It is of note that a fair proportion of Mr. Liebling’s compositions here date back to the 1970s. One could point a critical finger at his wonderfully moustached person accusing him of artistic stagnation, however, when considering any this one must remember that these songs had not been previously available on any major release and generally these songs occupied a few boxes of stuffy and mislabelled vinyl. So the re-working of these songs is immensely functional and, in light of actually hearing the earlier versions, a great listen for the Pentagram fan and let’s face it, I was still probably learning how to wet my bed in 1994 so there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance I would have been able to hear these songs in any other way prior to the release of ‘First Daze Here Too’. Also any criticism of Bobby can be stifled because of his phenomenal vocal display, that ranges from the lobotomised deathly moans on ‘Life Blood’ (which have an uncanny similar to Lee Dorian’s on ‘Forest of Equilibrium’), to the cooler-than-thou drawl on ‘Vampyre Love’ and the more familiar territory of the title track which vocally harkens back to vintage 70’s Liebling. Perhaps Bobby’s writing input has lessened to an extent… but you’d expect twenty-four years of drugs and Satan to take their toll, wouldn’t you?
Ignoring traditional folkloric wisdom the boys don’t ‘keep the wolf far thence’ and as such once again delve into the familiar theme of Werewolves on ‘Wolf’s Blood’, which turns out to be the most bounding and energetic track here. The riffs are still mournful but somewhat invigorated by the full moon and Victor’s lead guitar is effortlessly memorable, once again sinking into my spongy brain (perhaps it’s that meningitis that the student council were so keen on?) with some really racy melodic touches. Unlike its lyrical predecessor ‘Sign of the Wolf’ which was more a tale (tail?) or a doomed man in a perplexed state over his more hairy moments, ‘Wolf’s Blood’ is more curious with its refrain of ‘I gotta find out’.
‘Live Free and Burn’ is a wonderful opener and features riffs so malevolent and brisk (for a doom album at least) that they sound as if they spend their days donning hoods and nicking the purses of old ladies. Notably and thankfully, Victor has toned down the 4th harmonies he relied on greatly on ‘Day of Reckoning’ and they only make an appearance on this one song. They were fun, but you get the sense that if he’d continued doing them at the rate he had on ‘Day of Reckoning’ it would have been a bit gimmicky and Chuck Schuldiner he is not. A nice bit of technical editing from Mr. Griffin! Now if only he’d tone down the God rock that plagues Place of Skulls! Though this song itself has lyrics warning of evil and dates back to the early 80s… so perhaps the God rock has always been part of Victor’s persona. But more importantly this shows that ‘Be Forewarned’ achieves the ‘Psalm 9’ syndrome, in which an at times near Christian record out evils most of the inverted crucifix crowd. Fantastic!
‘Vampyre Love’ shows once again that Pentagram simply refuses to fall into the trappings of the sub-genre. Whereas Candlemass or Reverend Bizarre filled their albums up with a pleasant but at times uneventful approach to doom metal, Pentagram write gloomy, effortlessly cool and almost poppy songs. Riffs are truly an occulted affair in the swirling blissful tremolo effect the opening guitar features. From this onwards the song takes on a confident strident feel, reflecting its subject matter perfectly. If the Cradle of Filth vampire themes are say ‘Queen of the Damned’ or some other tacky modern day nu metal vampire flick, then this is Christopher Lee covered in strangely raspberried blood in the bottom of a quarry… but sexier. Again, it’s atmospherically heavy if you listen closely you can just about smell the acrid smoke rising from the tombs of those Romanian long-in-the-tooth counts. In short: don’t play this song in that old abandoned church you found, unless you’re clutching the holy rood and three Frenchman’s worth of garlic lest you end up like the unfortunate dame on the album cover. It is of interest in the pacing of this album that after such a strange gothic pop song we have ‘Life Blood’, the band’s take on the more modern approach to doom metal. So Pentagram are one gear Sabbath clones, right?
At the end of this stunning record (both in terms of strength and its bizarre lack of recognition) we have ‘Be Forewarned’ itself. More dark and macabre than its 1972 predecessor. The brisk death-like jangle of the original (no really) is replaced with statuesque slabs of creeping doom. To reference vampires again, it’s less Nosferatu bumbling about in a creepy if somewhat quirky manner but rather the sonic equivalent, once again, of a lone soul baying at the moon. The backing vocals in the chorus are strange and out of place, but I like the effect it has. They give a strange banshee-like quality and strengthen the ghastly quality of the song. It’s a harrowing way to end the album and a fantastic musical journey into the depths of moustachioed depravity. Haunting, harrowing and unmistakably doomed – you’ve been forewarned – and it’s the final sound you hear as you realise the night has come down once again, you’re alone now and it’ll never let you go. One more night awaiting the mob of angry villagers with their torches firmly in hand, black dogs on the sea front and storm clouds above the abbey.
‘I have loved heroin and dabbled with iniquity, therefore I have no cash’ B. Liebling, 1994.