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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/