“Curious Volume”

By the Great Sun Jester

This isn’t a story about redemption. It’s about survival.

The world doesn’t need a new Pentagram album. It wouldn’t matter if the current lineup cut ten songs surpassing the originality and energy of the band’s early classics. No power known to man can dislodge the band’s first three albums from their lofty perch as seminal recordings.

So why do we have a new Pentagram studio album from Peaceville Records in 2015? There are obvious reasons. Pentagram still tours and needs product to promote. The band’s profile has rarely been higher. There are, however, less obvious reasons.

Pentagram needs a new studio album. They need it because it’s what they do. They are still compelled to chase the finer phantoms of their youth. Strains of Blue Cheer blasting from a speaker fired a young Bobby Liebling to write his own songs. The heavy artillery riffing from Black Sabbath inspired a young Victor Griffin to play guitar. There’s more too. When my father retired after forty plus years as a professional carpenter, he didn’t sell his saws and take up knitting. I heard the steady strike of his hammer until near the end of his life. Bobby, Victor, bassist Greg Turley, and drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell keep writing and recording music because it’s part of who they are. Past glories, middle age, and beyond cannot end that. They have to keep going.

The new album "Curious Volume" is the second studio outing following the release of "Last Rites" and the documentary Last Days Here. The opener, “Lay Down and Die”, will place many longtime fans on familiar ground. The pared back, subterranean growl marking the band’s finest songs is in full effect here, but thankfully never sounds canned or forced. Griffin’s muscular riffing hammers through the changes anchored by Turley and Campbell’s steady counterpoint. “The Temper Push” bursts through with the band swinging hard enough to induce whiplash. Griffin punctuates each early turnaround with blues lines percolating through the mix. Liebling’s vocal isn’t obscured by production effects heard in the opener and, as a result, has a direct, edgy quality it might have otherwise laced. "Curious Volume" might shun the wider musical vision of the band’s most recent album, Last Rites, but the tempo shift near the song’s conclusion shows a band still at home on stairways of surprise.

“Earth Flight” is a brief gut-punch rocker with a Liebling vocal that sounds like forty years falling away in an instant. It isn’t hard to hear why a small, but vocal, minority rate him as one of rock’s great writers. It isn’t hard to hear his influences shining through, particularly Dickie Peterson, but Liebling deranges everything he touches with bug-eyed rock and roll possession uniquely his own. “Walk Alone” is another solid, stripped down rocker until its final half when the band stops and relaunches with a ferocious coda intent on bulldozing listeners into submission. The title track is one of the album’s brightest showcases for Victor Griffin. Liebling’s longtime musical partner has cemented his reputation as one of the most distinctive stylists playing guitar today. Much like David Gilmour, Tony Iommi, Gary Moore, and Leslie West, Griffin’s command over the instrument gives him such an one of a kind signature. 

“Close the Casket” begins as a classic Pentagram slow burner with another swaggering Libeling vocal. Pete Campbell’s drumming is key to the track’s success, but the lyrics reveal a seldom heard pensiveness in Pentagram’s music. Few are lucky to survive long enough for personal change and this song’s weary, blues-driven feel convinces us survival is hard won. The album’s finale, “Because I Made It”, singlehandedly elevates the album a few added notches. The track’s origins date back to a previously unrecorded Liebling song from the early 1990’s and, while it’s strange to hear the band end such a musically exuberant album on a downbeat note, “Because I Made It” is an astonishingly personal song with a deceptively simple, but beautiful, guitar melody. The crisp snap of Campbell’s drums further bolsters its dramatic effect.

"Curious Volume" is essential listening for 2015 and beyond. Long may Pentagram keep hammering.