"Last Rites"

by Earthdog

Pentagram are a long-running American heavy metal band but you should know who they are by now. They are most famous as one of the pioneers of doom metal even though they were never really a doom band. The band was quite prolific in the underground scene of the 1970s, producing many demos and rehearsal tapes, but did not release a full-length album until reforming in the early 1980s with an almost completely new lineup. Throughout the band's history the only constant member has been vocalist Bobby Liebling. The revolving lineup of Pentagram has featured many well-respected musicians in the local doom metal scene, with members spending time in other acts such as Raven, The Obsessed, Place of Skulls, Internal Void, and Spirit Caravan. The story behind Pentagram and Bobby Liebling is the stuff of legends, a hell of a lot has been written, some of it is true while a lot of other articles have been nothing but pure lies or based on rumor. The 'Last Days Here' movie which hopefully will soon be released on DVD gives a good insight to Bobby and why the band never made it big. Once you see the movie, you will understand why more clearly. I don't want to dwell on the negatives with regard to the band's past, so lets celebrate the present and the future and their new album.

It is amazing to think this band is into their fifth decade. The earliest seeds were planted with Liebling’s pre-Pentagram band, Stone Bunny’s  1970 album, 'Nothing Left'. Sure, it is not Pentagram but that is where the sound was born in many ways so to think 41 years later, Liebling is still doing the heavy rock is nothing short of a miracle especially considering all his drug issues and other dramas. The first thing most people will do with the 'Last Rites' album is compare it with the earlier classic releases like 'Relentless' and it is fair enough in this case. This album is not all new, far from it. 'Into the Ground' and the album closer 'Nothing Left' comes from Liebling and Stone Bunny’s 'Nothing Left' album, 'Call the Man' dates from demo tapes made in 1971, and 'Walk in Blue Light' and 'Everything’s Turning to Night' are already available as raw versions on Relapse Records' 'First Daze Here' compilation album released in 2002. That leaves 6 new songs but strangely enough, most of those sound old too as they mostly keep with the original Pentagram sound and style.

The album starts with 'Treat Me Right' which is a straight-forward rocker, it gets 'Last Rites' off to a positive start and tells you ,the listener, that Pentagram are indeed back and still have some fire in the belly. The song is nothing special, however, but it rocks in a old-school way and is a good opening tune. 'Call the Man' is the next one up and its main feature is the killer guitar work coming from Victor Griffin, and the song's great groove. Liebling's voice has aged a little but still sounds great and the band seem to be playing what comes naturally. They are not trying to re-capture the Pentagram sound of old but they are not shying away from it either...what you get is something in the middle of 70's Pentagram and something modern. The production backs this up even more as Pentagram have never sounded this polished before but it also sounds organic and real. Bassist Greg Turley and newish drummer Albert Born' hold up their end without being flashy and that suits the sound of the band perfectly.

Moving into the album's third track titled 'Into the Ground' and the band gets about as doomy and as close to the old Pentagram sound as possible which in some ways makes this one of the highlights of the CD. It is pure old-school heavy rock riffing coming from Griffin and again, it is nothing fancy or ground-breaking but is exactly what you want to hear from a band like this. Three tracks in and not a misstep so far, even Liebling seems more at ease in the vocal department. I have no idea in what order these tracks were recorded but Liebling seems more relaxed in some songs than others and it is these  where he delivers his best vocals. '8' is another highlight and what I think is the best of the new songs. Everything about this tune is perfection right down to the guitar tone of Griffin's. One of the old songs is next, 'Everything’s Turning to Night' and it is the albums first semi-dud track, I am not sure why they wanted this song on the album as I don't think it was that good the first time around. It is average, by-the-numbers stuff and pretty forgettable.

'Windmills and Chimes' is next and the album hits its low-point right here. Bobby Liebling has never had a voice that can handle power-ballads and that is exactly the kind of tune this is. There is some really nice, emotional playing going on from the whole band but the song comes off sounding tepid and bland...some people will go for it but it does nothing for me. 'American Dream' is Victor Griffin's baby right down to the lyrics, Griffin proved himself to be an accomplished singer - songwriter many years ago when Place Of Skulls first started up so he has nothing left to prove really but this is a great track. The lyrics which are a comment on corruption and the way the American government is constantly getting in the way of small business owners, in effect destroying the so-called 'American Dream.' Griffin is speaking from personal experience being a business owner himself with Griffin Cycles. Track 8, 'Walk in Blue Light' gets the album back to pure classic Pentagram doomy hard rock and it must be noted as HP Taskmaster did @ The Obelisk, the duo of 'Windmills And Chimes' and 'American Dream' really throw this album off course. I would take it one step further though and include 'Everything's Turning To Night' too. It is three tracks in a row of varying quality but also three disjointed tracks, genre-wise. This really spoils the flow of the album and I can see many people hitting the stop button during one of these tracks, especially 'Windmills And Chimes.'

'Horseman' follows on nicely after 'Walk In The Blue Light' and the 'Last Rites' album is finally rolling smoothly again. 'Horseman' would be one of the best tracks on the album if it wasn't for some irritating backing vocals. They make the same mistake in 'Everything’s Turning to Night' too and they just sound out-of-place but at least 'Horsemen' is a strong tune. 'Death in 1st Person' tries something different, effectively splitting the song into two distinct sections. The first has creepy spoken words from Liebling over the top of more cool guitar work of Griffin. The song's second half picks up the pace and its energy for a kick ass rocking finish. This is a fairly ambitious track by Pentagram standards and could prove to be a live favorite in the future. 'Nothing Left' ends the album on a high note, it's an oldie but a classic track brought back to life.

When it's all over, the album is fairly short and despite its average middle section it is a pretty easy album to sit through but how does it rate overall? If you sit this album next to the other 6 full length albums in the Pentagram back catalog, it stands up very well. I would certainly put it in the top three but sorry, it is far from being the number one. The three tracks in the middle of the album really disrupt the flow and the truth is there are some average moments throughout the disc. I think the reality is they will never surpass the magic of the 'Relentless' album but considering all that Liebling has been through, you couldn't expect it to. This is still a strong album and I am sure some of the Pentagram faithful will rate this album of the year, for my money it has too much to compete with it to be rated that highly. To be honest, I can only give this a 8 and it is a low 8 at that. I am just glad they are back and doing what they do...................8/10