Having begun life in the late 70’s just as the enormity of the NWOBHM movement was unfolding, Pagan Altar were one of the few British doom bands starting out from that period. Given their interrupted lifespan, album output has been relatively sporadic with most of their works being released after reforming in 2004 after a 19 year break. “The Room Of Shadows” is their latest effort and stands as a final statement from, and testament to the late founding member, Terry Jones who passed away in 2015.
“Rising Of The Dead” is the heady, dramatic introduction steeped in classic heavy metal tones that create an aura imagining mist covered fields with riffs rising out of the darkness. Huge, spiralling Vinnie Appice styled drum fills from Andy Green hold high the Uriah Heep sounding prog rock that transports you back to a different age. Bombastic rhythms are overlaid with graceful guitar before the super smooth 80’s metal groove of “The Portrait Of Dorian Gray” with its’ punchy riffs and ominous other worldly vibe. The album proves to be multi layered, one moment displaying Jethro Tull folk stylings and the next pushing Wishbone Ash melodic grandeur. Always tight and focussed, they retain a certain majesty and pomp to the sound whilst maintaining a density that is true to their heritage, best displayed on “Danse Macabre”. The plaintive and gentle vocals are entrancing and maintain the dark, mystical element to storylines that feel as if they’re being told by a wise old bard.
The band also have crunching moments of dynamism such as the galloping mid-section on “Of The Vampires”; the feel is completely organic as time changes steer the listener in a myriad of directions. Ten minute epic, “The Ripper” with its’ tolling bell introduction leads into a progressive tale that oozes grandiosity and the prospect of some serious riffage. This has a classic British heavy metal feel with plenty of medieval overtures punctuated by Alan Jones’ stunning guitar breaks that wail and dive-bomb their way over the rich rhythms. This is truly an album highlight leading to “After Forever”, the brief acoustic finale that tastefully sums up the mysticism that shrouds this album.
Pagan Altar simply have a classic quality about them. This album stands as a fitting tribute to Terry Jones and displays the uniqueness of a doom metal band whose heritage lay in unique times. Little wonder their influence is still felt.
(8/10 Johnny Zed)