Pentagram - Last Rites
When a band active in 2011 says that one of their major influences is Blue Cheer, you know that they are either a band from the early 70s still slogging along or reunited, or a particularly bright young band. Pentagram are the former, having been around since 1971 or so. With a slew of demos and unreleased tapes, and word of mouth live shows, the band was at the ground floor of the birth of heavy metal and, later, what would be called Doom. "Last Rites" is their seventh official release, their first since 2004, and first since their latest reunion, a 2010 success at the Maryland Death Fest.
As befits a forty-something year old band, the songs sound either tired or vintage depending on your love for early 70s, blues based metal. Original singer Bobby Liebling is still slinging it, and though there is obvious wear, the passion and the ability to stay in tune are solid throughout. Similarly, guitarist Victor Griffin still has the chops, and right from the heavy funky solo on the opening "Treat Me Right" he remains the band's most commanding presence. While his solos are all based on riffs whose freshness expired in 1980, his deft and loose playing keeps the band's heart beating.
"Everything's Turning to Night" and "Death is 1st Person" are killer doom tracks that display all the band's still formidable sound, especially the heavy-slugging rhythm section. While other tracks, like "Walk in Blue Light" or "Windmills and Chimes" seem to play it safe, other songs, like the massive abrasive closer, "Nothing Left" show the band still, after all these years, are willing to take some fresh steps.
Records like "Last Rites" can't help but straddle the line between nostalgia and current relevance. While obviously Pentagram deserve admiration and occasional awe for still being able to bring it with such power and passion as they do, every record needs to be judged on its own merits. "Last Rites" is a good, not great, record, a solid blues based down-tuned set that, while in the middle of the pack in terms of current releases, holds its own and offers plenty of pleasure for anyone who's listening.
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