Six Dumb Questions with Pagan Altar

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The winding tale of UK outfit Pagan Altar would seem to hit its concluding chapter this week with the release of The Room of Shadows (review here) on Temple of Mystery Records. What’s been purported as the NWOBHM doomers’ last full-length, it arrives posthumous to the May 2015 passing of frontman Terry Jones and features his last studio performance. Originally intended for issue as Never Quite Dead, the seven-song collection was completely reworked by guitarist Alan Jones — son of Terry and a co-founder of the band in 1978 — with redone bass tracks from Diccon Harper and drums from Andy Green, given its new name, and in its final form, it follows 11 years behind Mythical and Magical and quickly proves itself worthy of the enduring underground legacy of the band and of serving as the capstone on their career as well as their homage to the elder Jones.

Whether that’s through the chorus of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” the eerily folkish atmosphere conjured in the title-track or the metallic breadth explored in “The Ripper,” Pagan Altar can only be said to be rising to the occasion across The Room of Shadows. Their recorded-in-1982/released-in-1998 debut, Volume 1 — subsequently revisited on 2005’s Judgement of the Dead — is a major source of their legend, but it’s hard to imagine The Room of Shadows doing anything other than adding to that, even if the die of their influence is so long since cast. In going back into the studio and assembling the redux of “Danse Macabre” and “Dance of the Vampires” behind Terry‘s vocals, Alan has ensured that Pagan Altar‘s departing statement is a definitive moment, pushing beyond the 2004 sophomore long-player, Lords of Hypocrisy (discussed here), and the EP of earlier recordings, The Time Lord (review here), released that same year on I Hate Records and subsequently reissued along with Mythical and Magical and the rest of their catalog to that point by Shadow Kingdom.

In the interview that follows, Alan Jones talks about what motivated him to revamp Never Quite Dead and turn it into The Room of Shadows, how he feels about putting Pagan Altar to rest, and the possibility that Time Lord, in which he, HarperGreenBrendan Radigan of Magic Circle and Cauchemar guitarist Andres Arango will pay tribute to Terry at the Wings of Metal festival in Montreal on Sept. 9, will continue on as a new project. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t quite say no.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:


Six Dumb Questions with Alan Jones of Pagan Altar

What was behind the decision to re-record the instruments on The Room of Shadows? What was it about the initial tracks that wasn’t working, and did you know what would make the difference in having them redone? Was there something specific that was missing?

I had a great chemistry with Andy Green and Diccon Harper, with whom we started to write Never Quite Dead, the original name of the album. Unfortunately Andy had to move to Wiltshire – which is about 200 miles away from London (it was too hard to come to practices every week), and Diccon eventually left the band. I really enjoyed playing with these guys, and I felt that they were the best musicians for the job. The album we had finished recording in 2014 just wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t want to go out with an album that I wasn’t happy with. But now, the album reflects much more what we wanted to do – we are very much satisfied with it!

In light of Terry’s passing, how much has The Room of Shadows become a tribute to him, and was that a factor in how the album ultimately came together? How do you feel when you listen to these songs now as a finished product, or do you listen to them at all? What do you think of when you hear his performance on the album?

We originally wrote the album in 2004 when we were recording Mythical and Magical, just to give our minds a rest from the other album. When we were recording Lords of Hypocrisy we were writing Mythical and Magical… But yeah, the album is not a tribute as such as it would have came out anyway if Terry was still there. Terry and I always used to think as one – we always agreed musically and we never argued about music. I just carried on and I knew what we both wanted, so I got the musicians that I thought could do the job. I suppose that’s how it became a tribute to him. I listen to The Room of Shadows quite often, and all the way through, which I never do normally with records. I believe it’s our best album, especially lyrically. You listen to the words on the album and it’s really good! And finally, to answer your question about his performance – I knew he was struggling especially towards the end, but I don’t think that you could actually hear that he was struggling at all… His voice is not as strong but it’s a little bit cleaner. You could really hear what he’s singing!

The last two tracks on The Room of Shadows share their titles with songs by Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Is that coincidence or a nod to classic heavy metal and maybe Pagan Altar’s place in it? How do you feel about everything Pagan Altar has been able to accomplish since releasing The Time Lord in 2004 and what do you see as the band’s legacy?

Oh, no — it was a complete coincidence! Terry always wanted to do a song about Jack the Ripper. We didn’t even think about that. I feel really honored that Pagan Altar’s music is being listened to all across the world, and within several generations. I think that’s the legacy, really. Hopefully there’s another generation coming through.

Tell me about writing and playing on “The Ripper.” What’s the difference in how a song like that comes together as opposed to, say, “The Portrait of Dorian Gray?”

Well, “Dorian Gray” came about when I bought a new guitar. I was just fiddling about with it and came up with the main riff. With “The Ripper,” Terry and I were in the studio, just the two of us, and it sort of wrote itself! We just started playing around, did a bit and everything followed. It was really strange, never happened to us before… It only took us 10-15 minutes to pretty much finish it. Terry’s first lyric bit was “And the momentary glimpse of a flashing blade is the last thing they will see,” and then wrote the whole song around that.

You, Brendan Radigan from Magic Circle, Diccon, Andy, and Andres Arango will do a set as Time Lord at Wings of Metal in Montreal next month. How did that come together? How did you make the choice to go with Brendan on vocals? If all goes well, could Time Lord be an ongoing project?

A longstanding friend of the band, Annick [Giroux] and her husband François, came over to my sister’s house in London last year and I asked her if she wanted to release our record on her new label. I also dropped in that we would play live if the opportunity came up – and she kind of took it from there. Wings of Metal is her festival, and she pretty much arranged everything for Time Lord. There was a guy (Brendan) that she said was really good and we all listened to him and thought he had a good range and he’d be perfect for the job. And also, Andres plays in Annick’s band and she said he was excellent and that he already knew the songs. By the way, Annick had previously booked Pagan Altar in 2010, and it was the only occasion we ever played “The Crowman” live – and we also did the whole Vol. 1 album! But to answer your last question, I don’t know about what’s going on with Time Lord after the show. After this gig we’ll have a discussion about it.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I really want to thank Rohan, Ani and Bart because if it wasn’t for them, the album would have never come out. Also, of course, everyone who has bought our albums (or streamed them!) and showed us support. We are really grateful. And I hope you enjoy[ed] the premiere of the song entitled “The Room of Shadows”… This piece is actually inspired by a friend of ours, Albert Bell from Malta. He once told us that there was a room when he was a child that he would never go into… so it is based on a true story:

“The Room of Shadows”
The child’s laughter ceased as he tiptoed by, that dreaded open door
With a cursory glance into its depths, as if to reassure
He never really understood, what first made him hate that room
But childish intuition knew, something lurked within its gloom
He knew the room held many things that came from long ago
But why they were kept within that room, a child of eight wouldn’t know
He sensed a dark force that dwelt within, that watched his every move
Hidden deep within the shadowy bowels, of that accursed room
It took every bit of courage, to retrieve that bouncing ball
That always rolled into that room, when he was playing in the hall
Sheer terror would grip the child’s heart, if he found himself alone
And a glimpse of a fleeting figure, would turn his legs to stone
He would lay a salt trail all around the room, for why he never knew
But a voice from deep within him, told him exactly what to do
Adults seem quite unaware, of the demon that waits inside
And laugh at his reluctance, to cross that threshold line

The adults lost their perception of, the truth only a child can see
The price we pay for material gain, the price for material greed

The years have passed and the memories dim
The child is now full grown
Still living in the family house
With young children of his own
His sights are now firmly set upon
The furthering of his life
Aided and abetted, by a materialistic wife
But his eldest son, has a morbid fear
Of the antiques room off the hall
And he keeps leaving a trail of salt along
The room’s perimeter wall

Pagan Altar, “The Room of Shadows”

Pagan Altar on Thee Facebooks

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Pagan Altar website

Temple of Mystery Records website

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