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Pentagram > Day of Reckoning > Reviews > we hope you die
Pentagram - Day of Reckoning

Against the grain - 75%

we hope you die, May 30th, 2020

As the underground was forged throughout the 1980s, an explosion wrought in the crucible of punk, it took a special discipline to go against that grain. It may have gathered a larger following of tourists in the 2000s, but back then it was doom metal was decidedly not cool. The impact this had on traditional versions of the form played out in a number of ways. Whether it was the murky boisterousness of Saint Vitus, the unapologetic bombast of Candlemass, or the drabness of Pentagram. Away from the distractions of the extremity arms race of this time, it offers an interesting perspective on metal’s quest to overcome its routes. To shed the rock and blues origins that defined the proto metal of the 1970s.

Pentagram are a band that should need no introduction here. Their second full length offering, 1987’s ‘Day of Reckoning’, reaches even further back, combining the suffocating doom of Sabbath with a sheen of Americana and roadhouse rock that would later become a staple of modern stoner doom. If Trouble took their cues from British heavy metal, Pentagram place their influences very firmly within classic rock and blues. When they do pick up the tempo, the outrageous simplicity to the riffs is borrowed more from punk than anything else. They shun the twin lead attack that had become a requirement in heavy metal by the mid 1980s. This more minimalist approach not only emphasises the drabness and sparsity of the riffs, but allows them to explore the spaces within this music.

For this reason, tone and layering would become much more important to stoner doom than it would for heavy metal, whose priority was always first and foremost to the riffs and their relationship to one another. Take any of the solos on ‘Day of Reckoning’ as an illustration of this. The melodic core has been hollowed out for the sake of creating a break with the music that preceded it, a contrast and not a progression, usually achieved by dropping out the rhythm guitar and applying liberal delay, in order to squeeze as much as humanly possible from each note. Whether this works or not is entirely dependant on how it links up with the music that surrounds it. It can offer an escalation of the drama, and provide a build into the next theme to be unpacked. Alternatively it can simply stop the music dead while we listen to what sounds like effects peddle fiddling. On ‘Day of Reckoning’ Pentagram achieve mixed results with this approach. ‘Burning Saviour’ is a great example of a gradual and patient progression of an idea from start to finish, that sees them once again attempt to transcend the proto-metal that birthed it, and empty space is used to comment and frame the riffs. ‘Broken Vows’ by contrast, although sounding ridiculously on trend despite being released in 1987, meanders without really taking the listener anywhere from start to finish.

Drums are again battling between the cheer of a bouncy groove, and a more straightforward rhythmic framework in which to augment complex fills and interplay with the guitars characteristic of metal. Liebling’s ghoulish vocals are as consistent as ever. Flexed with the bittersweet religious anxiety that characterised a lot of early metal. Despite its shortcomings as a work that taps into the epic and eternal spirit of metal, one has to admire the focus and streamlining that went into this release. The fact it is mastering two competing musical traditions into a unified work of apocalyptic doom metal is to be celebrated. The only major shortcoming being its tendency to dwell on layering guitar tones at the cost of advancing the narrative core of the music. The hordes of imitators that would later follow in Pentagram’s wake would be far more guilty of this however, and they remain a considerable cut above their many imitators.

Despite the class and charm to ‘Day of Reckoning’ however, one cannot help but conclude that it was an album that was holding metal back. There are many ways to buck the trend and swim against the tide of history, but looking even further to the past for answers without adding much in the way of originality or substance is not the favoured method to go about it.

Originally published at Hate Medtitations