posted on 4/2011 By:
The prospect of reviewing what stands as the most widely anticipated doom release in the last decade is really rather silly, considering interested parties will likely pick up Last Rites regardless of what words get thrown around by writers in the coming weeks. And rightly so, as the main driving force behind this record -- the grand reunion of Bobby Liebling and Victor Griffin -- essentially prevails as the doom metal equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter suddenly recalling how fucking awesome they taste together. (Provided chocolate were madder than a space-traveling hatter in a Lynch film.)
The struggle for an incessant yapper such as myself is trying to figure out how much of the pre-Last Rites hoopla to throw into the mix before mainlining the following simple fact: this album is fantastic -- as strong (and in some cases stronger) than any of the material released since 1994's sublime Be Forewarned. But truthfully, I was sold on pursuing new Pentagram material the day I saw them destroy The DNA Lounge in San Francisco in 2009 with Russ Strahan (Land of Doom) on guitar, Gary Isom (Wretched, Unorthodox) on drums, and Mark Ammen (Unorthodox) on bass. That was the night I fully realized that Pentagram remains mightily legitimate, and that given the right talent marching alongside him, Bobby Liebling can still entertain the hell out of a crowd. Let's face it, as familiar and cozy as Bobby sounds after all these years, his actual voice isn't his strongest selling point, it's his ability to front this band and provide an entertaining show while the instrumentalists give him the means to wiggle those spindly legs. And on that night, Pentagram most certainly delivered, including a greasy new stomper in "South of the Swamp".
Sadly, the all-too-familiar villain of "internal struggle" reared its ugly head (again) and good Mr. Strahan departed, resulting in Bobby tossing a guitarist into the fire with zero preparation for the remainder of tour dates. And oh, how the people suffered. Whatever credibility Pentagram built up with their fresh reformation quickly poofed within a cloud of "free-form extended jams" that left patrons bolting for the doors. But alas, rising like Excalibur from the lake, longtime friend (and the true catalyst for Pentagram's post-70s heavier sound) Victor Griffin arrived to reaffirm the ruling grip of the band. And good triumphed over the land…
Fundamentally, Last Rites stands as intimate proof that the Pentagram of today needs Victor Griffin in the mix. Bobby Liebling is now sober after quite literally a lifetime of hammering hardcore drugs into a 5'-something frame, and while it's good to know he attributes so much of his current positive outlook to a new family life, the guy needs the strong stabilizing influence of an oldschool chum like Victor within the band to help balance his…otherworldliness. And really, who is better suited for the adventure than a fellow who also happens to front one of metal's strongest purveyors of righteously doomed atonement, Place of Skulls. The puzzle pieces fit, and these eleven tunes are clear testament to that.
"Treat Me Right" very quickly sets the atmosphere: Last Rites is a HEAVY trip. Perhaps that can be partly attributed to the fact that only two cuts dip back into the band's pre-80s harder rock material (something every album has done, but none more-so than their previous release, 2004's Show 'em How), but it's mostly thanks to the satisfyingly warm, buttery-smooth heft of those riffs; no one delivers the velvet hammer quite like Victor Griffin. And when paired up with the burly bass delivery of fellow Skullsman Greg Turley and newcomer Albert Born behind the skins, the result is an album with a brawn that hasn't been matched since Be Forewarned. So even when old tunes like "Everything's Turning to Night" and "Walk in the Blue Light" jump out with a bit of a rockier bounce, they're suitably loaded down with an overall tone that emphasizes poundage.
Last Rites also showcases some of the darkest material I've heard from the band. 2001's woefully under-appreciated Sub-Basement had some bleak shit poking up from the floorboards, but tunes like "American Dream" (with Victor taking over on vocals) and particularly the outstanding "8" weep a soothing murk that's further carried by Victor's beautifully pensive soloing and the more somber emphasis behind Bobby's great delivery. And at the end of the day, it'll likely be this album's overall darker stance that'll give it serious legs into the future. For as much as I dig Pentagram's bouncier numbers, like the infectious energy behind "Call the Man" or "Into the Ground", I remain a creature of solemn, moody habit, and Last Rites definitely scratches that itch.
Some might be quick to write off the breezy mellowness of "Windmills and Chimes", but it culminates in one of those classic climbing Vic leads that'll have you stop whatever the hell you're doing so you can properly close your eyes and envision some stretch reaching off to a golden horizon. In truth, the only noticeable flaw I've encountered during the album's brief presence in my hands would be the relative flat-point of "Horseman", but even this slightly off-kilter tune gets netted by a crankable lead.
As I said, Pentagram fans old and new alike will pick up Last Rites regardless of what sort of clucking goes on around all the various coops. But it's nice to know in advance that the end result is well-worth the hype and the bumps leading up to its release. Simply put, Last Rites is exactly what I'd hoped it would be: heavy, warm, emotional and positively satisfying. But it also opens the door to a bright future for the remaining two releases in this three-record Metal Blade deal. Let's just hope, hope, hope the future also maintains an element that's largely been missing throughout Pentagram's enduring life: stability.
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