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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.