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Pentagram > Day of Reckoning > Reviews > gasmask_colostomy
Pentagram - Day of Reckoning

A missed opportunity - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, June 12th, 2015

Pentagram, for me, is a great band with a couple of obvious problems. The first problem is that they didn't manage to put out their music at the time they were actually writing most of it. Call it what you will, be it luck, mismanagement, drugs, internal problems, or lack of interest, but the band that resurfaced in the 80s didn't resemble the band that went under in the 70s, nor would I be writing about them in the same way if they did. The second problem is that the same basic inconsistencies that lead a band to any of these problems have also dogged them since the reformation and release of the debut album. I don't believe that Pentagram would have been as big as Black Sabbath or as revered as Candlemass, since they don't sit at either end of the doom metal pantheon for enough time to achieve any particular niche. Always low-pitched and distorted, their sound is neither mired in the crawl of depressed doom, nor flung into the spine-tingling exultation of the more spiritual variety.

This album annoys me more than a little because of what so clearly could have been. Gone are the issues with sound and production on the debut, which was recorded in such a way that little finesse could be added to the songs and the slower numbers suffered in the lo-fi mix. Here, the sound is very close to what would emerge on 'Be Forewarned', except that the drum sound is slightly softer (i.e. the snare is regular rather than a whip crack) and Bobby Liebling's vocals sit just a tad further from the front of the action. Simply put, it's the production that Pentagram always needed and allows the four guys playing to include skill, excitement, and emotion with each of their instruments. They waste some of this potential though, by being slower (actually doomier than usual) than the preceding and following albums, relying on an atmosphere that isn't always there, and crafting songs without defined identities. This is my gripe: doesn't 'Evil Seed' remind you of 'Hand of Doom'? Haven't you heard 'When the Screams Come' somewhere before, and I don't mean on 'First Daze Here', where it's original version is remarkably similar to the 1987 version? There are some songs that just aren't that creative, which make the distinctive ones sound so much more exciting. If this album was long, like 'Be Forewarned', and those songs gave different moods and aspects to the album, I wouldn't complain nearly so much, but this album has seven songs and falls short of 35 minutes, so if we are forced to retread old ground for 10 minutes, there's clearly not much new material to digest. Rant over - on to the positives.

Victor Griffin's guitar is a big feature on 'Day of Reckoning', more with the leads, melodies, and additional parts than with the riffs, which are often more hard rock-based than heavy metal. His approach is predominantly a simple one, over which he can add further simple layers of decoration and atmosphere, as evidenced by the echoey, dreamy solos that he indulges in on songs like 'When the Screams Come' and 'Madman'. He also uses a lot of effect in these parts, so they drift by, but the faster building sections of the title track and 'Burning Savior' produce a rush of adrenaline and a foreboding of something approaching that is un-doomlike yet very apt for the genre. Martin Swaney's bass thrusts and jabs like an old woman with a broomstick and keeps the sound powerful when Griffin is playing melodies by himself; the album sounds much better and livelier for his contribution. The drums are apparently provided mostly by Stuart Rose, but they sound similar to Joe Hasselvander's style that the band would rely on before long. Much busier and uptempo than most doom drumming, the snare's rhythm is key to the pace of the songs, while the march of 'Wartime' is perfectly regulated and turns an easy song and riff into a true pleasure, not to mention the chaos when the pace starts to pick up. Liebling is, as I mentioned, a little quiet, though this suits some of the lazier songs, where his defiant proclamations might spoil the atmosphere: in fact, he sounds like he is really singing with the band rather than on his own whim, which is a stark contrast to his rabid performance on some of the other 80s material.

The songs are where I decide whether or not I like this album, because, arguably, all of the performances exceed the quality of all Pentagram's other work, Griffin's merciless riffing on 'Be Forewarned' aside. There are three excellent songs: the first, the last, and the epic. The title track is swift, taking a moment to set up and then bouncing off on a James Bond/Mission Impossible riff (you'll understand when you hear it), before building up to a great breakdown - the whole thing is over before you realise it's begun. 'Wartime' is the best organised song on the album and it sprawls in a way that a five minute track really has no right to do, moving through many moods and includes the best riffs of the album. 'Burning Savior' takes its nine minutes to heart and begins acoustically before going through the satanic woods and out the other side on a remarkably overblown solo that does exactly what Griffin should have done on '20 Buck Spin' from the previous album. I also rate 'Madman' and 'Broken Vows' pretty highly; then there are the two more derivative songs which I think should have been given more care and thought.

These guys have been cursed for most of their existence and still managed to turn out several excellent releases. 'Day of Reckoning' rates highly among them, though it does feel like an opportunity squandered, with at least the potential to have rivaled 'Be Forewarned' (for me, their greatest achievement). It stands high and is probably the most classic slice of doom that they have ever delivered, with the inclusion of some superb songs. Peaceville have also been key in the band's recent resurrection and new publicity, so I will mention that their re-releases of Pentagram's work are the ones that I own and have been compiled and creative with the utmost care and love.