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A Slight Lapsus On The Road Back To Glory - 72%

CHAIRTHROWER, July 4th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Metal Blade Records (Digisleeve)

While Pentagram and its exuberant front man Bobby Liebling's strong comeback with 2015's Curious Volume silenced the D.C. legends' detractors for good, it would be unwise of me to laud 2011's Last Rites, which many agree constituted a disappointing setback at the time for this otherwise ingratiating doom metal trailblazer.

I won't beat around the bush. The main drawbacks to Last Rites are thus: While a couple of reprises from the 70s in the form of the eclectically nightmarish "Everything Is Turning To Night" and a cool reprise of the third cut from Pentagram's fantastic First Daze Here compilation from '02, the kooky "Walk In The Blue Light" along with a craven smattering of newly minted originals - "Into The Ground", "8", "American Dream" and, to a certain degree, "Death In 1st Person" - on the whole on and off Pentagram guitar god Victor Griffin is lacking that certain je-ne-sais-quoi which initially drew me in like iron shillings to a magnet. Call it a certain predisposition to beautifully melded hard-driving jams with an unmistakeable psychedelic flair but what made tracks from the past like "Startlady" and "Wheel Of Fortune" along with the more recently composed "Goddess" or "Prayer For An Exit Before The Dead End (from 04's Show 'Em How) stand out seems to be lacking in Last Rites' openers "Treat Me Right" - more like "Treat Me Trite" thanks to rare, uninspired lyrics along with Griffin's criminally watered down, repeatedly sliding riff - and the equally tepid "Call The Man". Weak instrumentation again aside, (and I know Liebling means well overall) this song just doesn't sit well with me. As a hard-case recovering user (that's one more skeleton out of the closet!) I'm trying to distance myself from the whole drug subculture of rock n' roll and heavy metal, regardless of sub-genre. This said. I recommend skipping these two right off the bat in order to revel in the next three, which make up the better part of Last Rites' positive flip side.

Before I continue, rest assured that while his general riffing may dismay at times (the slouchy "Horseman" and "Nothing Left" are no prize either; aside from usual, par-for-the-course lead breaks by Griffin once again, these late filler tracks could have easily been dropped along with the unnecessary and stupidly cut-short "All Your Sins", which did a fine job mind you in its entirety back on 1985's wicked self-titled Death Row debut) his trademark raunchy yet always soulful and at times downright sizzling solos are for the most part largely unaffected, notably on "Into The Ground", which draws closer to 2001's dark & heady Sub-Basement or Curious Volume's output in terms of confidence and depth, and the second half's high point, the slowly budding "Death In 1st Person". In fact, his lead work following the final lines, "No child's life in vain/ vulture, walk your final mile today" tops out big time on this last. It wouldn't sound out of place on something from the Liebling/Joe Hasselvander collaboration, 1999's Review Your Choices, as it starts off quite lugubriously (think "Gorgon's Slave!") before Griffin & co. take the gloves off and turn things up a notch. Also, you gotta love drummer Tim Tomaselli's early drumstick patter ("tok! tok!" style) reminiscent of the mellow first few bars of Sabbath's "Hand Of Doom" - always a good thing. Actually, Tomaselli and bassist Greg Turley aren't to blame for this album's shortcomings (except maybe on..."Call The Man"? I found the rhythm section to "Treat Me Right" quite respectable in its "mow-you-downess; it's really Liebling and Griffin who are at fault on these two). With a thick stocky level of production all around - no complaints here - still, don't expect any "Lazy Lady" style wanderlust here. Check out First Daze Here and even Show 'Em How for such wild, wonky fare. Nevertheless, Turley and Tomaselli keep this bold grimoire bolted down while you flip through its pages. It's not the kind of release worth sticking with from beginning to end nor is it a page turner. A mediocre album with a handful of humdingers worth bookmarking is more like it.

Which brings me to another stand-out cut, the cryptically titled "8", which features an array of ominous, reverb laden progressions, tribally inclined thumping on behalf of Tomaselli and Liebling back on top of his game as the enigmatic and quirky front man long-time Pentagram fans have come to love. Richly textured and dramatically layered, "8" delivers right up to Griffin's distinctly Iommi-ish (circa Heaven And Hell as well as The Mob Rules) soloing, which, although somewhat cramped, is also more direct and bombastic compared to his standard soulful fare. "American Dream" happens to open up with some attractive reverb-ery and some brief wah-wah action before taking a pleasing turn of events, as Griffin competently takes over the reigns on vocals, which he decidedly has a knack for. It's no surprise then this track is a dead-ringer for an early "Place Of Skulls" track, fellow "D.C. Doom" acolytes for whom Griffin was front man, sole guitarist and founding member. This was definitely a smart move and it pays off in the grand scheme of things.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite as taken with the saccharine, hippie-like whimsy of "Windmills & Chimes" - despite, you guessed it, more of Griffin's expressive and well-poised axe work - which fails to match, let alone surpass the heavy psych groove of Show Em How's "If The Winds Would Change". It's a nice attempt but alas, bluntly put, it sounds very much out of place as it tries too hard to create an envisioned balance which isn't exactly called for this time around; I mean, as the 'gram's first release in seven years, balls-out hard-driving grit should have been par for the course. Lo and behold, a nice balance of sorts is certainly achieved four years later (as you may have gleaned from my much shorter write-up for Curious Volume).

Alternatively, I absolutely love the nostalgic renditions of "Everything Is Turning To Night" (originally appearing on the flaky First Daze Here Too) and "Walk In The Blue Light" (from its much superior predecessor, the shorter, 12-track First Daze Here, a bona fide desert island pick in my book). While the former is laden with creepy reverb laden progressions and Liebling's shuddersome invocations along the same lines as "Nightmare Gown", a fun and eerie Pentagram porte-manteau from Be Forewarned, the latter's intrinsically mysterious theme eludes me to this day. What should I make of:

"Come with me now the midnight calls
All are asleep as the kingdom falls
Seeking our goals as a life had planned
Walk in the blue light you'll understand"

(and so on...)?

Is this a case of "beam me up, Liebling?" Who knows...

While definitely obscure, it makes for a fun albeit perplexing occult mystery to delve into from time to time. As well, I can't get enough of Liebling's seldom employed, high-pitched crooning when he goes "Walk in the blue light, you can find out - You'll find out" for the last time before Griffin's redolent and tactful solo wraps things up while beautifully paying homage to the late, great Victor McAllister (RIP) from Pentagram's early days.

At the end of the day, longtime, faithful Pentagram fans such as myself were left sorely wanting coming on the heels of 2004's masterpiece Show 'Em How. Last Rites is basically a not-so-great album with a few great tracks scattered though out. In short, this makes it the ONLY release I DON'T recommend to those of you new to Pentagram's pioneering brand of devil-may-care, hard-as-it-gets blues skullduggery to the tune of Bobby Liebling's at times solemn, at other times hysterical vocal/ stage hijinks. To older 70s hard rock loving bluesmen I highly, highly recommend First Daze Here (not so much First Daze Here Too although it has its moments) and to a younger generation looking for grittier but no less gripping developments, ANY of the releases mentioned above. Thankfully, as conveyed by the title of this review, Last Rites constitutes no more than an unfortunate setback on the road to newborn success, namely the Curious Volume LP released a couple of summers ago. On a somewhat related note, isn't it uncanny how closely the cover art of fellow Americans Hessian's full-length debut, 2014's Bachelor Of The Black Arts, resembles that of Last Rites'? Just figured I'd throw this out there for shits & giggles.

Highlights:

"Into The Ground"
"8"
"Everything Is Turning To Night"
"Walk In The Blue Light"
"American Dream"
"Death In 1st Person"

A step back - 69%

gasmask_colostomy, July 7th, 2016

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.

My Peace of Mind Depends on You - 87%

Twisted_Psychology, October 12th, 2014

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...

Highlights:
"Into The Ground"
"8"
"Everything's Turning to Night"
"Walk In The Blue Light"
"Nothing Left"

Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com

Pentagram - Last Rites - 90%

Thatshowkidsdie, May 30th, 2011

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

Shattering the Myth - 60%

FullMetalAttorney, May 24th, 2011

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/

Slightly above average... for Pentagram. - 75%

stonedjesus, April 22nd, 2011

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.