Review: Pentagram – Last Rites

Pentagram
Last Rites
Metal Blade

Here we are, fourty years down the line. Carrying a tumultuous past and a singer in Bobby Liebling with years of baggage, it’s incredible and somewhat perplexing that Pentagram have managed to survive, in one form or another, for all this time since their formation in 1971. They’ve gone through a plethora of band members, and didn’t get round to releasing their debut album until 1985; not to mention vocalist Bobby Liebling’s well-documented issues in the past, that to a certain extent hindered Pentagram’s progress. Nonetheless, Pentagram have stayed the course and undoubtedly are one of more recognisable names of America’s underground heavy/doom metal underbelly.

Pentagram 2011 are just as potent as they were all those years ago. ‘Last Rites’ is a riff fest from start to finish, and most of those are laden with bluesy grooves that will worm into your brain instantly. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the new album includes reworkings of tracks dating back to Liebling’s Stone Bunny days (‘Into The Ground; Nothing Left), and ‘Walk In Blue Light’ and ‘Everything’s Turning To Night’ were both records back in the 70’s as demos – see Relapse Records’ First Daze Here’ and ‘First Daze Here Too’ compilations. But that’s not to say this is just a rehash of old material. The old material retains their original structure and are brought thundering into the modern day. Happily, it doesn’t fall out of place with the rest of the record and the end result is a classic band seemingly reborn.

It starts off fantastically – as far as I’m concerned, ‘Treat Me Right’ and ‘Call The Man’ make a fantastic one-two combo, the latter of which has a crunch that had the neck bobbing up and down on the morning train as I first divulged the album. ‘8’ is probably the most accomplished of the new tracks on show here, as Liebling delves into his troubled past with aplomb, driven by returning guitarist Victor Griffin’s layered riffage building into the mix over some sterling rhythm section action.
 
The only quarry here is that after that opening, the mid-section just feels like it falls slightly short; it sure captures that melancholy present in Pentagram’s sound, but for me doesn’t quite reach the heights of previous efforts – ‘Windmills In Chimes’ particularly strikes me as a little forgettable. The album does begin to pick up again towards the end, with the reworked ‘Walk In Blue Light’ and ‘Death in 1st Person’ being particular highlights, the latter of which sees Liebling speaking of horrors that would haunt you in your dreams.

Liebling is bang on form here, a heady mix of showmanship with an undeniable air of warning about it. You’re welcome to enter Pentagram’s cavern, but beware what lies in wait. You can never be quite sure of ‘what’ it is, and it may not be evidently obvious – but venture on anyway. Just don’t say you didn’t see the signs.

This is also Griffin’s first appearance with Pentagram on record since 1994’s ‘Be Forewarned’, and what a huge difference it makes. ‘Last Rites’ is chock full of fantastic riffs and this is in no small part down to Griffin’s presence. This is by no means a classic Pentagram record, but it’s definitely a solid one and in some respects a return to form.

Liebling, undeniably everything that is Pentagram, is now sober. Griffin is back in the mix, and a three-record deal with Metal Blade is signed and sealed. Let’s hope that Pentagram finally has a stable footing to forge a formidable reputation for themselves once again.

Peter Clegg

Pentagram on MySpace

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