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Sunday Old School: Pagan Altar

The worst inspiration in choosing which bands get covered in the Sunday Old School column is always whenever a band member dies. With the sad passing of Pagan Altar vocalist, Terry Jones this past week, it seemed only fitting that we take a look at one of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal's lesser known, though highly influential bands, who along with contemporaries, Witchfinder General, were a big part of forging the genre we know today as doom metal.

Pagan Altar was founded in 1978 by Terry Jones, along with his brother Alan on guitar and were joined in their venture by Glenn Robinson, Les Moody and Ivor Harper. Somewhat typically for heavy metal bands of their time, they focused on occult themes and dark subject matter, though without being as overtly Satanic as Venom, for example. This original lineup didn't last long and at the beginning of the eighties, Pagan Altar consisted of what is now known as their "classic" lineup, which saw the Jones brothers joined by bassist Trever Portch and Israeli native, John Mizrahi on drums.

With a new, energised set up, the band set about promoting their live shows in some style, plastering posters featuring a solitary hooded figure anywhere they could. These gigs would prove to be worth the hype as they attempted to blend the theatrical with heavy metal, not unlike Alice Cooper and Black Widow before them. They were typically moody shows, which often began with the band taking to the stage in cloaks to the sound of Gregorian chanting. Behind them was the backdrop of inverted crosses, black candles and a high draped altar, amongst other similar features.

Though the band were never darlings of the media and they found a record deal elusive, they were able to attract a sizable following and in 1982, Pagan Altar self-released an eponymous album on cassette. It only featured six songs and clocked in at just over half an hour long, but nevertheless proved influential to all who were able to get their hands on it via the famous tape trading scene. It's atmospheric songs, haunting wails and clear seventies hard rock flavour helped spur on the genre of doom metal, with many of the bands in the fields citing Pagan Altar as a massive influence. Unfortunately, the same year they released the tape, the group decided to call it a day.

They lay dormant for a long time, though interest was revived in the late nineties when Oracle Records released the tape on CD for the first time under the title, "Volume 1" in 1998. The inevitable did happen however and like many other bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era, Pagan Altar returned in the early 2000s to perform live and record a new album. This sophomore effort consisted of old material that they had not previously released and surfaced in 2004 as, "Lords of Hypocrisy." Much like the retrospective views on the debut, the new album received high praise and was considered a great addition to their legacy, with fans praising the enigmatic songs and great riffs.

Only two years later, Pagan Altar released their third album, "Mythical and Magical," which was another excellently received effort and helped to cement a near perfect catalogue of albums. Like their previous release, it stayed true to the heavy metal they listened to and were surrounded by back in the old days, but had something of a timeless air about it, avoiding sounding like a back just digging up the past. After this, the band focused more on performing live, appearing at such festivals as British Steel and Live Evil, before the announcement in 2012 that work had begun on a fourth album entitled, "Never Quite Dead."

Sadly, this album has not yet been released and with the tragic death of Terry Jones, the future of the record remains something of a mystery for now. Fans will of course hope to hear one final output from the man's wonderful voice and perhaps from the band as a whole, but in the meantime they will be paying tribute to one of the more unique singers of the time and agreeing that while mainstream publications may never put Pagan Altar in with the likes of Iron Maiden and Saxon when discussing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, their place in the movement, and indeed heavy metal as a whole, has been firmly cemented.

Pagan Altar - "Pagan Altar"

Pagan Altar - "Judgement of the Dead"

Pagan Altar - "The Black Mass"

Pagan Altar - "The Time Lord"

Pagan Altar - "Sentinels of Hate"

Pagan Altar - "Armageddon"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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2 Comments on "Sunday Old School: Pagan Altar"

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Anonymous Reader
1. theblindingape writes:

Great write-up, however I must point out a small mistake: Their 3rd proper album is titled "Mythical & Magical" (and it is a great one!).

"Judgement of the Dead" is the second reissue of their demo (which was previously released as "Volume 1") with a slightly different track listing.


RIP Terry Jones.

# May 17, 2015 @ 7:37 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Diamond Oz's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

2. Diamond Oz writes:

Quite right, fixed it now. Thanks for the feedback!

# May 17, 2015 @ 9:35 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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