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Pentagram - "Last Rites" (CD)

Pentagram - "Last Rites" CD cover image

"Last Rites" track listing:

1. Treat Me Right (2:32)
2. Call the Man (3:49)
3. Into the Ground (4:21)
4. 8 – Pentagram (5:02)
5. Everything’s Turning to Night (3:18)
6. Windmills and Chimes (4:33)
7. American Dream (4:33)
8. Walk in Blue Light (4:59)
9. Horseman (3:38)
10. Death is 1st Person (4:01)
11. Nothing Left (3:37)

Reviewed by on April 8, 2011

"'Last Rites' is old, bland, and shapeless rock that doesn’t deserve to be on the same label as some of modern metal’s burly bashers."

With the benefit of four decades of hindsight, Pentagram is now considered by metal pundits to be a forefather band for both heavy metal in general and doom metal specifically, along with Black Sabbath, Venom, Saint Vitus, and the like. Similarly to another forefather, Pentagram leader Bobby Liebling is a very Ozzy-ish figure, as both used their unique vocal styles, onstage charisma, and love of drugs and booze to gain notoriety for themselves and their music. But now that Liebling and Pentagram are releasing their seventh studio full-length (and first since 2004), it is striking how poorly Pentagram has aged.

After a victorious comeback at 2010’s Maryland Death Fest capping a short 2010 tour, old school doom-sters were breathlessly waiting for Liebling’s newest slab. The problem is that Pentagram’s studio work doesn’t live up to the live performances - “Last Rites” plays like a 1970s AOR compilation, not the long-awaited comeback from doom pioneers. There are three main culprits: 1) the rhythm section of Greg Turley (bass) and Albert Born (drums) plod more than a hippopotamus on barbiturates, 2) Victor Griffin’s guitar fritters away jam session after jam session without ever riling us up or chilling us out, and 3) Liebling sounds tired.

Compared to modern doom and metal in general, Pentagram is dated –an octogenarian with creaking bones who can’t get off the couch without help. Older musicians writing new releases generally keep up with the times and at least try to sound fresh and vital; Ozzy hiring Gus G., Iron Maiden’s new atmospheric tricks, and even Tom G. Warrior’s ever-changing sound with Triptykon are cogent examples of old dogs updating repertoires (for better or worse is up for debate, of course). But Pentagram wrote the same songs now as the band did back in the 1970s, and the problem is that heavy metal is so far beyond where it was thirty and forty years ago that “Last Rites” is a bubbling brook compared to metal’s modern monsoon. Nothing on “Last Rites” grabs us by the throat, reaches through our eyeballs into our brains, or even has a slap fight with our polite side.

No doubt Griffin’s jams sound great live, and no doubt Liebling can get adrenaline-fired vocals to bubble up through his yell-hole live. No doubt Turley and Born carry the weight of a thousand anvils on stage, and no doubt Pentagram’s classic cuts still burn like the sun live, but in the studio “Last Rites” is old, bland, and shapeless rock that doesn’t deserve to be on the same label as some of modern metal’s burly bashers.

Highs: “American Dream”‘s drone is the best cut on the record – fuzzy, focused, and anxiously plodding.

Lows: Liebling’s vocals are old and tired.

Bottom line: Doom pioneers don’t have the muscle to manage quality modern metal.

Rated 2 out of 5 skulls
2 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)