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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