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Pentagram's first three albums were arguably all classics, since Relentless (aka Pentagram), Day of Reckoning, and Be Forewarned all contained a shitload of great doom riffs, a surprisingly exuberant pace, and end of days prophesizing courtesy of Bobby Liebling. However, when half the lineup was shed for the following albums, something was lost, not to say the subsequent output has been poor. This means that Last Rites feels like a comeback album, following a mighty 7 year silence since Show 'Em How and heralding the return of Victor Griffin, wielder of huge riffs.
The band don't exactly revert to their classic 80s and 90s sound though, sticking with some of the hard rock style that had been used on the preceding album and mixing the broad, booming guitar back into some of the songs. In fact, the sound on Last Rites actually goes back to the 70s, as if Pentagram had looped back round to their earliest days with a heavy Sabbath influence as well as more relaxed rock style that makes the record sound nostalgic, even bluesy, particularly on the mellow likes of 'Windmills and Chimes'. Griffin is still playing some decent doom riffs, though not blasting out riff after riff as he did on Be Forewarned, while the drums are certainly less aggressive and bombastic than they were in the days of Joe Hasselvander, often content to move in accord with the guitars, or even more slowly on the likes of 'American Dream'. Liebling has also taken his vocals a notch down, mellowing and controlling his voice more than ever before (no mad shrieking here), which results in less personality in many of the songs. Thus, the question really is whether this is a step forward from Pentagram or a safe revisionist exercise in writing some decent tunes and making some money. Sadly, my compass needle is pointing to the latter, since this just doesn't have the necessary sense of adventure or thrill of conviction that one would hope for.
What really shocks me is just how predictable most of the songs are. Having settled into writing more conventionally structured songs on everything since Show 'Em How, this album has nothing exceeding 5 minutes and only the expectedly attention-grabbing opener 'Treat Me Right' firing through its length faster than usual. We don't quite get verse-chorus-verse structure on everything, but the effect is much the same, most songs lacking surprising features. In general, Griffin churns out a riff to get started, Liebling introduces himself, Griffin counters him with a melody or short solo, Liebling repeats himself, then Griffin solos before the song brings itself to a close. Nothing terribly exciting happens, except for a few moments like Liebling's sudden authoritative "Was it really you I saw in a dream last night? / I was always there to grab you / You didn't hold on very tight" in the middle of 'Horseman', which is otherwise fairly average. Then there's 'Death in 1st Person', where a different problem occurs; namely, Griffin plays a great creepy riff but the vocals can't match up to it, sounding like Liebling is writing a shopping list while a horror film is playing in the background.
That kind of complaint colours a lot of the album, but that's not to say Last Rites is a complete failure. There is a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere to the grooves here, so that I don't feel gripped by the songs such as '8' or 'Everything's Turning to Night', but I can listen to them to calm down and enjoy the fat tones that the guitars tickle my brain with. The progress of most songs is unhurried (in fact more so than previous doomier albums) with only a few crushing down with power and heaviness, namely the opening pair and the concluding 'Nothing Left'. Those are among my favourite cuts, along with '8', which picks up its strength from a steady momentum and Liebling's passionate delivery, while those mellower numbers sometimes leave me cold depending on my mood.
Last Rites is possibly Pentagram's weakest album, since it doesn't bring any fresh ideas to the sound, nor are all of the songs winners. However, it is worth a listen, especially for those hungering for the past and something to slowly grind their hippy dreams into dust.
Pentagram's seventh full-length album was the most hyped release they ever put out. Released a long seven years after Show 'Em How, Last Rites is the group's first record distributed by Metal Blade Records and features another new lineup with their prodigal son Victor Griffin returning for guitar duties. The album also came out alongside the Last Days Here documentary, thus giving it the ultimate feeling of having been through hell and back.
Despite the severe time lapse, Last Rites isn't too far removed from its predecessor in that it spends more time reaching back to 70s rock than any doom aspirations. However, it sets apart by using the psychedelic textures to create a more somber, reflective atmosphere. Even the heavier numbers like "Into The Ground" and "Nothing Left" have a more contemplative side that fits right in with the softer numbers.
The band dynamic also seems to have straightened out. The vocals haven't exactly improved but they haven't sounded this good since the 90s and really fit in with the album's melancholic feel. Griffin's tone isn't quite as blistering as before but his presence gives the material some weight and he even performs lead vocals on the wistful "American Dream." No word on how they managed to pry the microphone away from Liebling long enough for them to pull that off...
And once you get to the songs, you'll find this to be Pentagram's most varied album in quite some time. The one-two punch of "Treat Me Right" and "Call The Man" are the album's fastest tracks, "8" and "Windmills and Chimes" provide the most atmosphere, and songs like "Everything's Turning to Night" and "Walk In The Blue Light" have the best of both worlds. "Horseman" and "Death in 1st Person" are admittedly weaker than the others but they are balanced out by the best songs the band ever recorded.
Pentagram's albums never reached a quality in need of a traditional comeback, but Last Rites showcases a band that feels revitalized, reflective, and perhaps even a little ready for the future. It's probably on the same level as the post-Death Row material before it but it may be easier to get into for newer fans. We can only hope for a better balance between rock and doom in the future now that Victor Griffin's back in the fold; the "All Your Sins" reprisal has to be hinting at something...
"Into The Ground"
"Everything's Turning to Night"
"Walk In The Blue Light"
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Pentagram should have been huge. They should have been America’s answer to Black Sabbath, our very own harbingers of doom. But somewhere along the way, things went horribly awry. Vocalist/mastermind Bobby Liebling let his drug abuse take precedence over his music, and the band couldn’t even get their shit together long enough to get signed to a decent label or release an album until fourteen(!) years after forming. More often than not, Liebling and Pentagram have appeared destined for failure. Yet here he stands in 2011, holding a Metal Blade recording contract and being backed by arguably the strongest Pentagram lineup of all time. Having never been addicted to anything (well, maybe caffeine and heavy metal, but I’ve managed to kick the former), I suppose I’ll never understand what Liebling has been through over the past four decades, but whatever that personal hell might have been, I’m glad he managed to claw his way out of it, especially when an album as stellar as Last Rites is the result. Liebling isn’t here to be a another rock ‘n’ roll casualty. He’s here to kick your ass, and uh, to quote the man himself, “show ‘em how”.
Looking like some kind of fucked up yet infinitely wise old wizard (possibly the same wizard that popped up in my review of Dawnbringer’s Nucleus), Liebling rocks harder and with more energy than a hundred men half his age can muster. The man is unstoppable, as his inimitable vocal performance on Last Rites attests. He’s one of metal’s last truly great, distinctive vocalists, sounding as vital and vibrant here as he did on the archival recordings featured on the First Daze Here collections. Like all the Pentagram full lengths, Last Rites is a collection of classic songs that never received the proper treatment as well as newer compositions, and Liebling attacks them all with equal vigor.
Then there’s Victor Griffin, Liebling’s right hand man. He is an out-and-out master of ten ton doom riffage, wielding a guitar tone that is best described as an iron fist sheathed in a velvet glove. It’s warm fuzziness gently caresses your ears as it pummels them on tracks like “Treat Me Right”, “Into the Ground” and “Walk in Blue Light”. Anyone who’s listened to Griffin’s Place of Skulls knows that he’s all about the savior, but you’d swear that he’d had to have struck a deal with Lucifer himself in order to command this kind of fiery six-string righteousness.
It’s interesting to me that many of the older doom metal practitioners, such as Liebling and Griffin, are down with the good lord. So many modern doom bands embrace the dark side, and it seems they missed the entire point of Black Sabbath (both the song and the band). Ozzy and Co. weren’t happy to see Satan standing before them, they were fucking terrified (“Oh please God help me!”). That to me is what doom metal is about; coming to the grim realization that conjuring up the forces of darkness isn’t a good thing and struggling to attain some semblance of salvation, even if there is little or no hope of it. That might sound strange coming from an avowed atheist, but for whatever reason I’ve always seen doom as a some sort of biblical struggle between good and evil taking the form of debilitatingly heavy riffs. Liebling and Griffin understand this inherently. They’ve danced with the Devil longer than any mere mortal has a right to, and somehow managed to come out of the ordeal not only alive, but at the height of their powers. Now it’s their duty to deliver the warning, keeping all of us from suffering the same fate. These are the things I hear when I listen to Last Rites.
Regardless of your stance on the spiritual matters of doom, you should have no problem appreciating Last Rights. This is timeless music played with conviction and craftsmanship, something all too rare in today’s flavor-of-the-minute fueled metal scene. Last Rites is one of my favorite things I’ve heard so far this year, and hopefully the support of a respectable label will wake more people up to the fact that Liebling and Pentagram are nothing short of a goddamn national treasure. Doom on, brothers and sisters.
Originally written for http://thatshowkidsdie.com
Pentagram has a mythical story going back four decades that would easily fit the mold of Greek tragedy. Mighty doom-bringers, they are said to be great enough to be America's answer to Black Sabbath. That is, but for the flawed character of vocalist/principal songwriter Bobby Liebling, whose attitude and drug abuse have thwarted them at every turn. But now he is supposedly sober, and reunited with born-again Christian Victor Griffin on the axe. Last Rites was anticipated and hailed as the band finally overcoming their problems to bring their full greatness to the world.
In reality, they're America's answer to Sabbath like Cactus is America's answer to Zeppelin. Who? Exactly. Like other semi-legendary bands of the underground, their influence on subsequent acts can't be denied. But as a listening prospect, they tend to be pretty hit-and-miss. That is definitely the case here.
I initially came to this album with trepidation. I had doubts a 57-year-old recovering addict has-been/never-was could pull off anything worthwhile. Thankfully, most of the songs on here are old material that is, today, almost impossible to find. Liebling is said to have written an obscene number of songs during the 70's and 80's, which have never seen the light of day. Some of them featured here are excellent songs built on simple but powerful riffs. "Into the Ground", "8", and "Nothing Left" are clear standouts. The performances are up to the quality of the songs, with heavy guitars providing the foundation for Liebling's voice, which (expectedly) sounds like a man who's been through a lot.
But on the other hand, much of the album is forgettable or weak. "Windmills and Chimes" or "Walk in the Blue Light" are two songs I could have done without entirely. Sometimes the riff is good, but the song doesn't hold up (e.g. "Death in 1st Person"). Which bolsters my alternate theory, that the band was never quite as great as they're made out to be.
The Verdict: Maybe this will shatter the myth. Maybe not. There are some good moments, but there are certainly better doom albums to spend your money and time on this year.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Bobby Liebling claimed to have written about 80 songs in the earliest incarnations of Pentagram and many of those gnarly 70's heavy rock songs have made up the bulk of each Pentagram album to date. "Last Rites" takes some of the best (previously unused) early demo/rehearsal tracks, polishes 'em up and tucks in a few weaker tracks to fill out the bunch. If you'd followed Pentagram over the years this is pretty standard for the group. This time, though, the filler tracks are some of the band's least interesting moments and a few detract from the albums overall appeal.
The past is still very much alive in these old, dusty stoner rock songs. If you've heard that sloppy Stone Bunny bootleg EP "Nothing Left" you'll be pleased to know that the two best tracks "Nothing Left" and "Into the Ground" have been turned into solid stomping doom songs that bookend the album (as they did the EP). Two of my personal favorite rehearsal tracks "Call the Man" and "Walk in Blue Light" are given a similar polishing, and are two of the albums finest moments with their buzzing-bluesy Black Sabbath guitar tone. Half the fun of listening to this album is comparing the new versions to the compositions as they were almost 40 years ago and seeing most of them remain structurally unchanged.
For the uninitiated, Pentagram's heavy stoner rock sound is easily digested and enjoyable. "Last Rites" is a strong showcase for some classic tunes and overall represents a slightly above average package from Pentagram. One song wasn't necessary to unearth "Windmills and Chimes" and another is boring garbage "American Dream" but, the rest of the album is top notch stoner-rockin' doom metal from one of the genre's strongest die-hard groups. At any rate, this will tide classic doom metal fans over before upcoming Argus and Pale Divine albums see light of day.