Not too many bands get a 40th anniversary, yet (hiatuses and breakups aside) that’s how long metalheads have been rocking to the sounds of one of doom-metal’s pioneers – to put them in some kind of historical perspective, their first single was released around the same time as Black Sabbath were cracking heads with Volume 4! Many, many lineup changes, near-misses with success and the odd bit of bad luck would conspire to see the band only release their first album in 1985, however.
Album number 7 is far from a musical shock – crunching, bass-heavy riffs, thundering drums, bluesy soloing and Bobby Liebling’s distinctive vocals are all present as you’d expect. This is far from a problem though – Pentagram have long been hailed as masters of this style, and with very good reason. Basically, Liebling and whatever variation of his current crew he’s working with are the blueprint for the genre, for better or worse, and the very name Pentagram on a record sleeve carries with it a weight of expectation.
Everything comes together here in a way that it hasn’t in a very long time. There’s a very satisfying analogue weight and warmth to the production here that is both entirely appropriate to the music and lovely to hear in these Pro-Tooled and polished times; as great as digital recording and editing techniques are, particularly for the hobbyist and semi-pro markets, there’s nothing like the sound of guitar amps cranked right up, pushing that tape into delicious overdrive to make your speakers truly sing.
Setting out its stall straight away with the pounding insistence of ‘Treat Me Right’, Last Rites immediately displays the effortless cool necessary to really carry this stuff off, whilst dialling back the tribal tom battering a little for ‘Call The Man’ results in no lessening of this sang-froid, but rather opens some room for Victor Griffin to really make his presence felt. This has a sense that it’s almost to prepare you for the way that the album changes gear from the third track ‘Into The Ground’ onwards.
Taking their doom credentials seriously from here on out, Pentagram step off the gas and pile on the misery in deeper and deeper waves until the album’s emotional nadir and musical highlight ‘American Dream’, a 4.33 summary of everything this band is truly about and why they’re so respected. The mood lifts as of the following track ‘Walk In Blue Light’, but less as a result of any musical levity than of a more redemptive feel to the lyrics – there’s still a vast darkness to Griffin’s guitar parts and the pace remains mostly maudlin, but Liebling’s vocals gain a snarl and an air of rebellion that propels Last Rites final third into realms way past typical doom’s acceptance of bleaker times. Stirring stuff indeed, and indicative that these guys truly understand how to design the dynamics of a full album.
The band have yet to let its loyal fanbase down, and Last Rites is probably my favourite Pentagram release since 1987’s Day Of Reckoning. If you want to find out where a huge amount of today’s doomier bands take a lot of their sound and inspiration from, this is a fine place to start.