Six Dumb Questions with Pagan Altar

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

pagan altar

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”

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Review & Track Premiere: Pagan Altar, The Room of Shadows

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


[Click play above to stream the premiere of the title-track from Pagan Altar’s The Room of Shadows, out Aug. 24 via Temple of Mystery Records.]

Thirty-five years after recording their debut album and nearly 20 after Volume I finally saw its release, Pagan Altar put the capstone on their career with The Room of Shadows. What has been floated as the NWOBHM-era cult outfit’s final long-player is their fourth/fifth overall and arrives 11 years after its predecessor, 2006’s Mythical and Magical, via Temple of Mystery Records even more dripping in context and narrative than the simple span of time and retirement of the band. Founding frontman Terry Jones — who along with son/guitarist Alan Jones oversaw the original run of the band from 1978 through 1985 before coming back in 2004 to offer up second album, Lords of Hypocrisy (discussed here), and the EP of earlier recordings, The Time Lord (review here), before moving onto revisit Volume I in 2005’s Judgement of the Dead, and the aforementioned Mythical and Magical — passed away in May 2015 following a fight with cancer.

Pagan Altar had issued splits with Jex Thoth and Mirror of Deception in 2007 and 2011, respectively, as well as a single, Walking in the Dark, in 2013, and 2014 was supposed to see the realization of their next full-length, Never Quite Dead. It was recorded and tabled in light of the illness, and with the elder Jones‘ death, it was unclear whether or not it would ever come out. The Room of Shadows is that album. Alan, along with bassist Diccon Harper and drummer Andy Green, went back into the studio and re-recorded the instruments behind his father’s vocals, and the seven-song/46-minute The Room of Shadows stands not only as a fitting final installment to Pagan Altar‘s career and homage to the unsung legacy of Terry Jones and the band’s contributions to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and traditional doom, but also years of work making what could be argued as the most accomplished outing of their tenure.

That’s not to take anything away from Mythical and Magical, which was comprised of material written during Pagan Altar‘s first run, or Lords of Hypocrisy or Volume I, The Time Lord or anything else the Joneses have brought to bear intermittently over the last 35 years, only to say that The Room of Shadows has a nearly impossible charge before it in living up to its narrative and it does so with cohesive songwriting and without getting lost in either its doomly ambient mire or the weight of its conceptual task.

From opener “Rising of the Dead” through the landmark hook of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” the playful horror thematic of “Danse Macabre,” the Sabbathian centerpiece “Dance of the Vampires,” the proto-metal thrust of the title-track, the 10:36 grandeur of “The Ripper” and its accompanying minute-long epilogue “After Forever” — it does not seem like coincidence that one title comes from Judas Priest and the other from Black Sabbath, though neither is a cover — The Room of Shadows unfolds classic-sounding underground metal with rare clarity and poise that highlights Jones‘ vocals and presents them as part of a complete picture of what Pagan Altar still very much have to offer listeners; not just a voice from the past, so to speak, but an enduring take on heaviness that’s relevant in atmosphere as much as craft.

pagan altar

In the fluidity of “The Ripper” alone, JonesJonesDiccon and Green engage distinctly NWOBHM dynamic through multiple patient movements, loud, quiet and dramatic, with a turn to a more storytelling lyric, where earlier, the pair of “Danse Macabre” and “Dance of the Vampires” finds Terry descriptive. That there should be so much focus on death throughout The Room of Shadows — “Rising of the Dead,” “Danse Macabre,” Dance of the Vampires,” “The Ripper,” etc. — is somewhat eerie when one considers it as a posthumous release, but again, it’s the songs themselves that allow Pagan Altar to get through this material without being consumed entirely by the “last album” factor. Whatever else it may be for the band, it is a considerable achievement.

And one apparently some time in the making. “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” with its uptempo, standout chorus, dates back to the 2011 split with Mirror of Deception and late that same year was posted as representing Pagan Altar‘s next album, then due in 2012. How far back the other material on The Room of Shadows might go in terms of composition or specific recording date, I don’t know, but Alan‘s taking charge of the instrumental elements behind his father’s vocals ostensibly to give the band the best representation possible serves the dual purpose of lending a freshness and energy to the tracks. One can hear it clearly in his soloing on “The Ripper” or in the gallop of Green‘s double-kick in the second half of “Dance of the Vampires” as much as the effective atmospherics of the slower parts in “Rising of the Dead” and the initial minutes of “The Room of Shadows” itself, which also finds father and son harmonizing a tale of a scared child before taking off at a briskly punctuated, lead-topped clip; the tinge of UK/Celtic folk in Terry‘s voice not at all lost in either the subdued or the raucous moments.

Complemented by gracefully strummed guitar shimmer, that will come into play again on the 1:33 “After Forever,” which closes The Room of Shadows with a duly poetic last verse and resonant emotional finish that succeeds despite the thematic turn between the title-track and “The Ripper” before it. Pagan Altar spent three and a half decades as an underrated band, and The Room of Shadows may in fact be their final offering — though of course one never knows and there are always opportunities for live albums, lost tracks collections, etc. — but as its eponymous cut, as “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” as “Danse Macabre” and the rest of its inclusions show, they’re an act capable of finding vibrant delivery in the realms of darkness and death, and if there’s a chance these songs might carry their story forward to a new generation in terms of audience, that’s a chance well worth taking. Born of tragedy and defeat, The Room of Shadows brims with timeless victory.

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Pagan Altar Announce Final Album The Room of Shadows Due Aug. 24

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

One tends to bristle at the prospect of a ‘last’ anything when it comes to rock and roll, but with the 2014 passing of frontman Terry Jones, it does seem likely that Pagan Altar‘s forthcoming Room of Shadows will be their final studio outing. Completed by guitarist Alan Jones behind Terry‘s vocal tracks with bassist Diccon Harper and drummer Andy Green, the record is set to arrive Aug. 24 via Temple of Mystery Records, which will launch preorders in July. Still, maybe they’ll have a live record or some lost recordings or something else out at some point. A ‘last’ album is pretty rare, even if this is the last ‘new’ one.

Jones, Harper and Green will subsequently team with Magic Circle frontman Brendan Radigan and Cauchemar guitarist Andres Arango as Time Lord — also the name of the EP by which Pagan Altar made their initial return in 2004 — at the Wings of Metal Festival in Montreal. The PR wire has details:

pagan altar

PAGAN ALTAR to release long-awaited final album through TEMPLE OF MYSTERY, unearth rare video

Legendary NWOBHM/doom band Pagan Altar will release their long-awaited final album, Room of Shadows, on CD, cassette, and vinyl through the Canadian label Temple of Mystery Records on August 24th, 2017.

Originally set to be out in 2014 as Never Quite Dead, this brilliant album will feature exquisite unreleased Pagan Altar material with Terry Jones on vocals. Having being heavily postponed for various reasons, the recordings were completely redone with Alan Jones on guitar, and former Pagan Altar members Diccon Harper on bass and Andy Green on drums.

The band, reformed in 2004, was put to a halt in 2014 with the tragic passing of its beloved frontman Terry Jones, who had been bravely battling cancer for a year prior. The album will thus be released in homage to this true gentleman, who was well loved by his treasured family and fans.

Room of Shadows, which will feature artwork by painter Adam Burke, is certain to delight fans who enjoyed the band’s previous timeless work with its epic riffs and enchanting, poetic macabre lyrics of olde.

Release party at Wings of Metal Festival

Alan Jones, Diccon Harper, and Andy Green – under the moniker “Time Lord” – will be paired with session members Brandon Radigan (vocals – Magic Circle) and Andres Arango (second guitar – Cauchemar, Metalian) to play a special release party/tribute to Terry in Montreal at the Wings of Metal show on September 9th, 2017.

Pre-orders for Pagan Altar – Room of Shadows (TEMPLE-005) will be offered in early July at

Pagan Altar, “The Black Mass” live in 1984

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Friday Full-Length: Pagan Altar, Lords of Hypocrisy

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Pagan Altar, Lords of Hypocrisy (2004)

I’ve been thinking of late about heavy rock in the ’80s, and just where the hell it went. By 1975, many of the bands who were slinging riffs a’plenty just four or five years earlier were distant private press memories. Or they went prog. Or they grew into more commercial arena rock. Disco, contrary to what was thought at the time, didn’t kill rock and roll. Heavy metal was quickly taking shape in the mid-’70s and punk was doing the same thing. Certainly the ’80s — and I’m sorry for generalizing an entire decade, but one has to categorize these things somehow or the brain will explode — had no shortage of rock and roll, from L.A. glam to East Coast hardcore and everything in between. There were some bands on the West Coast dipping into psychedelia in the early ’80s for the so-called “paisley underground,” but the hardest-hitting of them didn’t come close to the kind of heft that groups were producing a decade earlier. The heavy, it seems, went in a different direction altogether.

It got darker, turned to the atmosphere of its riffy roots and, as with bands like Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General and many others, established a principal tenet of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that holds firm throughout many metallic subgenres today: It started taking itself very seriously. Yeah, there were chains, and fire, and sometimes Rob Halford rode in on a motorcycle (by “sometimes,” I mean every show), but if you wanted fluff, go listen to dance music. Heavy metal was serious business.

Not really fair to call this the beginning of doom, since like rock and roll itself, doom is traceable back to the blues in the early 20th century, but it’s a pivotal moment for understanding what we consider doom metal today, and why we consider one record doom and another one not. Pagan Altar‘s Lords of Hypocrisy — recorded between 1982-1984 and left to languish for the next two decades until a 2004 re-recording and release (2013 reissues on Shadow Kingdom and Cruz del Sur) — is a prime example. The vocabulary and the delineation between metal and doom might not have existed the same way it does 30-plus years later, but Lords of Hypocrisy is every bit a doom record in intent as well as execution.

We know names like Trouble, Candlemass, Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Pentagram and so on, and these are pivotal acts, but divide seems so extreme between the bright, made-up dopey smiles of glam and the no-fun-all-drugs downerism of early doom metal (and, for that matter, thrash, which had just about everything in common with doom except tempo), that I can’t help but think of political party lines being drawn and remaining uncrossed. I wasn’t there — I was four in 1985 and not that cool a kid, sorry — but it seems to me that what would’ve been the middle ground between these polar opposites was solid, engaging, by-then-traditional heavy rock and roll. Where were the new bands, not ’70s holdovers in metal, punk or rock, doing that?

For Pagan Altar‘s part, they remain thoroughly underappreciated, mostly in terms of what they could’ve contributed atmospherically to the NWOBHM at the time had they managed to get a record out. Their debut, Volume 1 was tracked in 1982 and released in 1998, by then following up an impressive self-titled demo released 16 years prior. Lords of Hypocrisy is a prime marriage of elder methods and modern sound that few in the NWOBHM or out of it have managed to capture, completely absent the self-indulgent grandiosity of Iron Maiden or or the strange, half-hearted attempts of many of Pagan Altar‘s contemporaries to recapture something that was lost, its rawness and honesty bleed through the quiet stretches of “Armageddon” as much as the quick, comical “The Devil Came Down to Brockley” — Brockley, UK, being the band’s home — or the building emotionalism of “The Masquerade,” and it’s simply a superior level of output. It’s not as clean or crisp sounding as any number of records by Saxon, but like Witchfinder General, like Venom and others, Pagan Altar were always shooting for a different kind of heavy.

The band, reactivated since 2004, suffered a tragedy last year with the death of founding vocalist Terry Jones. At the time, they were said to have a new album, titled Never Quite Dead, in the mastering stage, but there’s been no word since about whether or not it will ultimately surface posthumous to Jones‘ contributions. His passing was a greater loss than heavy metal realized.

But of course, the work remains, and in the case of Lords of Hypocrisy, it’s amazing how vital this material sounds for having sat around for 20 years. Part of the appeal of doom very often is that it sounds like it’s from another time. In this, as in the best of cases, that seems to make it timeless. Hope you enjoy.

Busted laptop. Jury duty. The radio stream down. A full-time job. The goddamned Quarterly Review. A whole pastiche of ongoing medical shit. It’s a good thing The Patient Mrs. wasn’t around for most of this week, because I’ll be completely honest with you, I was a friggin’ wreck. After I finished writing the last of the posts for today last night, I pretty much curled up in the fetal position on the couch, put on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and was about as mentally ready to completely check out as I can remember being in a long, long time. It has been a draining few days and I’m looking forward to a restorative weekend. I hope to sleep until 10AM at least once.

The Patient Mrs. returned last night, incidentally, and today took about five seconds out of her own busy existence to bring mine into order, which was thoroughly appreciated and duly humbling, as I no doubt would’ve continued my caveman flailing until finally clubbing myself in the face and losing consciousness, existentially speaking. I cannot begin to tell you how fortunate I am to have her in my life.

I’m also heaving a sigh of relief today because jury duty didn’t result in me being picked for anything. Basically I gave up a morning and an early part of an afternoon to the cause of being called up to a judge’s sidebar and telling him that I don’t believe in human impartiality. Might’ve been worth it if I’d had been able to bring a functioning laptop with me to dick around on during the mind-numbing stretches of waiting in the jury pool. “Would you differently consider the testimony of a policeman rather than that of a civilian?” Uh, yes. Because I’m not an idiot. “Is there any reason you would be unable to judge this case impartially?” Yes, because there’s no such thing as impartiality. I was amazed to be the only person raising my hand.

Anyway, it’s over, and unlike the last two, three, however many weeks it’s been, the furthest I’m traveling this weekend is maybe to Boston, which is about an hour, so I’m stoked for what I hope will be some mental resource-gathering and getting my head together.

Monday, look out for a track premiere from Thermic Boogie. Also next week, reviews of WitchcraftMatus and hopefully Terraplane. I gotta look at my notes when I get back to my once-again-functioning laptop that The Patient Mrs. had repaired this afternoon while I was at work, but there’s probably more I can’t think of, in addition to the news, on which I’m also already and perpetually behind. Hey, I put up 50 reviews this week. I’m doing the best I can.

As I know we all are. Please, have a great and tremendous and not-at-all-injurious weekend, and please, check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Pagan Altar Post Track off Forthcoming Album

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 26th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

The song is called “Portrait of Dorian Gray,” and it takes its name from Oscar Wilde‘s 1890 novel. It was written in 2006 and released in September on Pagan Altar‘s split with Mirror of Deception on Cyclone Empire. Reportedly, it will also be included on Pagan Altar‘s 2012 full-length, which will be the follow-up to 2006’s Mythical and Magical. Definitely something to look forward to in classic doom.

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