The history of US doom metal legends Pentagram is one that if written as a novel would just seem too over the top to be even vaguely credible. Despite forming in the early 70’s and numerous close calls with fame and recognition, it took until 1985 for the band to release their first of only 8 albums in over 40 years of existence . A combination of musical highs, drug lows and blown deals have given the band an almost mythical status, as does the near suicidal path chosen by front man Bobby Liebling, the film of his life and struggles, ‘Last Days Here’ being the sort of documentary that would make Keith Richards sit up and exclaim “how the fuck’s he still alive?” But whilst he may be the wide eyed and glaring recognisable front man, there is so much more to Pentagram than just the said Mr Liebling, and with long term cohorts Victor Griffin and Greg Turley on board, joined on drums by Pete Campbell who had played with Victor’s side project ‘In-Graved’, the band is ready to launch a new chapter of the band’s story onto the world in the form of ‘Curious Volume’, appearing with an almost obscene haste after their 2011 resurrection with the fortunately incorrectly named ‘Last Rites.’
The album starts hard and heavy with the punch of ‘Lay Down and Die’, Liebling spitting bile whilst Griffin plays yet more classic hooks lifted from his seemingly bottomless bag of riffs, follow up ‘The Tempter Push’ seeming to have fallen through a time portal from 1970, dripping with a Deep Purple like swagger from that era of classic rock, the upbeat delivery a counterpoint to the dark lyrics of the dangers of the needle. Pure doom follows with the number ‘Dead Bury Dead’, a title that tells you all you really need to know about the track; in lesser hands daring to use such a line would be in danger of being nothing but a cliché, but with these veterans it perfectly fits the tone of the number, the down-tuned playing of the verses building up to Griffin’s plaintive soloing.
As would be expected from a band so revered in Doom circles, title track ‘Curious Volume’ shows off the band at their darkest, the guitar being dark and matched by the stagger of the drums and fuzz of the bass, Liebling crooning his dark mantra like a sage of old imparting eldritch knowledge to an audience of trembling acolytes. It may lack the hellish screams, funereal pace or filling rattling bass lines of some modern doom, but in pure atmosphere of the arcane, it’s bang on the money. To prove that they’re not just all about the slow, with ‘Misunderstood’ the band serve up a galloping slice of filth ‘n’ roll that could easily have been the product of classic Motörhead of the Kilmister/Clarke/Animal era, a three minute serving of sneering attitude served at the speed of a cruising Harley chopper; Bobby Liebling’s normal stage attire may be an array of psychedelic floral blouses, but for this number he surely donned a black leather jacket, bullet belt and mirrored aviators whilst planting a cowboy booted foot on the monitor. By the time ‘Sufferin’ comes around, it sounds as if Liebling is channelling fellow survivor of many chemical battles Iggy Pop, the same garage rock snarl bleeding through into the stripped back playing of the band.
The album closes with ‘Because I made it’, and it is classic Pentagram, every element coming together in a distilled essence of the band’s sound. Lyrics are of suffering and loss, acknowledging personal responsibility for the darkness and depression, set against a sonic landscape of heroic guitar riffs and a rock solid rhythm section. Whilst like all the tracks on the album, it is comparatively short at only four and a half minutes including the fading outro, it has an epic quality that promises to be expanded live.
That Pentagram is an influence on generations of following musicians is a fact that can’t be denied; that fact that they are now after over four decades of existence are now producing an album of such magnitude is just remarkable. Bands of similar or even lesser vintages often rest on their laurels, live shows becoming little more than cabaret shows that could be better performed by tribute bands, to name no Kisses or Metallicas. Instead Pentagram have written and recorded and album that stands up to, and indeed outshines, much of their back catalogue, and would stand up excellently live against their classics. Expect ‘Curious Volume’ to appear in more than a few top 10 of the year lists.