Pentagram, First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection (2002)
Sometimes if it’s been a while I forget if I’ve already posted a record. I did a quick search on the site for First Daze Hereto see if I had posted the compilation of vintage early ’70s Pentagram tracks before, and no, I haven’t, but I found that on Oct. 30, 2009 — four years and two days ago — I closed out the week with “Lazylady” from the album. I was already pretty set on First Daze Here, but that just made it all the better for me. The more things change, right? Almost half a decade later, still wrapping up a long week with “Forever My Queen” and “When the Screams Come.” Go figure.
I was in college when Relapse issued this compilation in 2002, and I knew who Pentagram was at that point, but for sure First Daze Heregave me a whole new appreciation for the band, as I think it did for a lot of people. It’s great to have Bobby Liebling and company still rocking out, and I’ve yet to see him sing any of these songs and not enjoy myself, but this is just a special document of a special time, and thinking of all the great music and all the great doom I was discovering at that point, it’s wound up representing a special time for me as well. Maybe that’s not what they had in mind 30 years after the fact from the recording, but it worked out that way anyhow.
Before I wrap things up, I want to extend a special thanks to Todd Severin and John Rancik from The Ripple Effect. This week, they posted an interview with me about running this site and music in general and a lot of things, and it really meant a lot to me that they’d take the time or be interested enough to send over questions. I was pretty wordy in my answers, but I had been thinking a lot about what I’m doing with this project and why I do what I do here, and they gave me a real chance to explore some of those ideas in a way that was as much clearing it up for myself as for anyone else who might be interested. It was truly appreciated, and as someone who’s rarely on that end of an interview, I hope I did alright in laying out some of my perspective.
Appreciation also goes out to everyone on Thee Facebooks who shared the link or was kind enough to comment. I got some great support from people I genuinely respect, and frankly, that’s what keeps me going, so thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And thank you.
I didn’t get as many album reviews in this week as I would’ve liked, but there was the SHoD coverage and starting the vinyl column and I was either going to do the Windhand interview today or review a record and I decided with their tour starting tonight, that was the way to go. Next week I’ll get to that Sandrider album. I’m also in Jersey for the next couple days and I’ll be going to see Orange Goblin tomorrow night at St. Vitus, so look for a review of that on Monday.
It kills me that I’m not going to get to SHoD next weekend. I had been planning on going for a long time, and there are a lot of bands I want to see, but it’s a money thing. Gas for a nine-hour drive, then a room, food, etc., never mind whatever I’d be spending on merch throughout the weekend. The Patient Mrs. was gracious about it. She was like, “You can go and we’ll charge it,” but it wouldn’t be fair for me to do that. I’ll look forward to the next The Eye of the Stoned Goat fest, which got its first announcement yesterday.
And there’s plenty to do in the meantime. In addition to the Sandrider and Orange Goblin reviews, I’ve got a full album stream set to go up on Monday from the German outfit Rising, whose last album was also streamed here. Nothing like symmetry. We’ll also continue the “10 Days of SHoD” coverage. I’m slated to jump on the phone with Dana Ortt from Beelzefuzz on Monday night, so maybe Tuesday or Wednesday I’ll get that posted. Looking forward to that.
As always, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re hitting up Orange Goblin in Brooklyn, I’ll see you there, and otherwise, back here Monday for more warm tones and rolling grooves. Please check out the forum and radio stream.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 9th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Who wouldn’t want to settle in for a Switzerland autumn? Frankly, it sounds about as close to ideal as I can picture, and it would seem that Sound of Liberation — the booking powers that be behind the last few years’ Up in Smoke traveling fest — are in agreement. In league with the Swiss venue Z7 in Pratteln, they’ll present the first Up in Smoke indoor festival, and they’ve put together a killer lineup for their first outing. With Pentagram, Colour Haze, My Sleeping Karma and Truckfighters among their first batch of announced headliners, the Up in Smoke fest is sure to get a heavy beginning and hopefully it’ll be the first of many to come.
Here’s the poster and official announcement, plus a live clip of Colour Haze from the first Up in Smoke tour, just for the hell of it:
UP IN SMOKE indoor Festival
Born in 2011, the concept initially called UP IN SMOKE Roadfestival is a tribute to the clouds of blue smoke which wave around the dances and trances of music lovers around the world ! Each time, for each volume, we offered a well suiting band package and got them to hit the European roads to meet their fans and rock the crowds with psychedelic, doom, heavy rock and experimental riffs.
As free to move as a cloud of smoke were the four first editions of the road festival… But this year, the UP IN SMOKE festival becomes sedentary, and sets up in PRATTELN (CH), a location close to the French and German borders. On October 5th 2013, a new puff of smoke will rise up from the one of the very best Swiss venues : Z7 KONZERTFABRIK ! Take part and join us !
date : 05th October 2013 place: Z7, Pratteln, Switzerland
The roadfestival UP IN SMOKE stops its caravan in Switzerland for a new rendez-vous: after 3 years of wandering around Europe, we have decided to offer a “home” to UP IN SMOKE for one full day in the sweetest swiss rock venue : Z7. Description: Heavy Rock, Stoner, Sludge, Doom & Psychedelic Festival 16 bands – 2 stages – 1 day
Line up so far:
PENTAGRAM (US) ***excl.Switzerland Show COLOUR HAZE (D) ***excl.Switzerland Show TRUCKFIGHTERS (SWE) ***excl.Switzerland Show MY SLEEPING KARMA (D) ***excl.Switzerland Show RADIO MOSCOW (US) GLOWSUN (F) MONKEY 3 (CH) SHEVER (CH) JOULES (CH) MARANT (CH) + more bands to be announced soon
The photo above is of my wristband for this year’s Desertfest. You’ll note it’s not attached to my wrist. I got back just a little bit ago from the Electric Ballroom and had meant to ask at the front desk of the hotel for them to cut it off with scissors, since it’s pretty sturdy material — it’s had to be to last these several days — but forgot on my way up and wound up just pulling it off around my hand. I feel like I should have it framed.
Late nights beget later nights, so I’m not gonna waste time here. Day three was no less righteous than one would have to expect after the first two. Here’s how it went down for me:
The other day I received a vehement recommendation to check out Throne, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they played last year and were cool.” Turns out they did play Desertfest 2012, at The Underworld, but this year the trio moved over to The Black Heart, which was where my day began with their unpretentious Sleep riffing and nodding rhythms. They still didn’t have an album for sale downstairs that I could find, but The Black Heart was, as it has been this whole weekend, packed out. On my way through, I watched a couple seconds through the doorway in the spirit of Roadburn and found myself still persuaded by their languid pacing and largely-unfrilled stonery. I had finished my cup of coffee about two minutes before they started playing, so it was a cool way to wake up.
Meanwhile, at The Underworld, Brighton/Manchester-based Blackstorm were dishing out a pounding the likes of which I’d not yet seen here. They were a band about whom I knew next to nothing, but their double-guitar uptempo crushcore was a longer way away from what Throne were doing at The Black Heart than the street that divided the two acts physically. I arrived part of the way through their set, which the five-piece delivered in lively fashion, with lots of movement, a swinging mic stand and big, chunky riffs set to breakdown beats. “Then You’ll Drown” was a burly basher, and I caught “Run with the Wolves” from their late-2012 EP, The Darkness is Getting Closer, which was distinguished by the dual vocals of guitarist Neil Kingsbury and frontman Karl Middleton. They were tight and had it together on stage, though my head was already preparing itself for the cleaving it would no doubt receive from who followed them.
Suddenly I had to wonder why I bothered bringing earplugs in the first place. British trio Conan weren’t through the second verse of “Hawk as Weapon” from last year’s low-end raging Monnos(review here) before I felt like they’d melted in my ear canal. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil just released their set from last year’s Roadburn as the new Mount WrathCD and vinyl, and while that’s definitely a satisfying listen, I was glad to see them in-person again, because no matter how loud you turn up a record, I don’t know if there’s any way to do justice to what Conan are live. Beastly heavy. Heavy to whatever degree hyperbole you might want to put to it, and while that heaviness and Davis and Coumbe‘s tones are still the star of the show, the three-piece also have grown as a stage act since I last had the good fortune to see them. Coumbe‘s low growls and Davis‘ shouting worked especially well together, and in addition to “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” and “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos, Conan also played two new songs, “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm,” which continued the warmongering gallop of the earlier album tracks that set up an excruciatingly slow finale, all the while keeping their fury front and center and proving there’s more to their heaviness than what comes through their amps.The other day, when I got stopped by that customs agent, he accused me of trying to illegally emigrate to the UK. I’m still not planning on it, but Conan make a solid argument in favor of doing so.
Kudos to whoever handled scheduling the bands’ timeslots for putting Conan and Toner Low right next to each other. I’d never seen the Dutch three-piece before — they’re now in their 15th year and have just released their third album — but they actually share a lot in common with Conan in terms of their general ethic. They are unreasonably loud, unremittingly heavy in tone and seem like they’re ready to follow a riff anywhere it might lead them. The difference is aggression. Where Conan are all beheadings and mayhem, Toner Low are purely stoned. Toner Low played in the dark but for a psychedelic lightshow setup they placed in front of their drummer and a sheet with projected falling pot leaves on the guitarist/vocalist, but yeah, they’re about as stoner as stoner gets, working in elements of more primal drone here and there, but keeping a solid foundation of riffs at hand at almost all times. They brought their own rigs, which made sense for the bassist since her gear was different from what seemed to be on hand, but the guitar — which seemed to be actually coated in resin from the look of it — ran through an Orange half-stack and amp they brought, and there’s been so much Orange around Desertfest I can practically taste it. I can’t argue with their having done it, though, since Toner Low sounded unbelievably good. I bought their new record and am looking forward to checking it out.
Naam beckoned. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like, “Why the hell would you go to London and see a band you can see in New York?” The other part of me was all, “No way dude, this is gonna be awesome. Naam have a new record coming out,” and that part of me won. Once a trio, now a foursome and tonight playing as a five-piece with the addition of a second guitar — not that they were lacking texture before, but more never hurts – Naam‘s universe seems to be in permanent expansion, both in terms of their lineup and their sound. Tonight was the best I’ve seen them play, and I’ve seen them play a few really killer shows. The integration of John Weingarten‘s keys along with Ryan Lugar‘s guitar/vocals, John Bundy‘s bass/vocals and Eli Pizzuto‘s drums is complete, and to show that, “Starchild” from last year’s The Ballad of the StarchildEP was the highlight of their whole set, though “Beyond” from their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Vow, came pretty close. They’ve nearly perfected a balance between stoner riffing and Hawkwindian space rush, and not surprisingly, their heavy psych went over huge at the Electric Ballroom. Naam are just starting a two-month European and UK tour that will have them in this part of the world for a while — perhaps it’s telling of their relative receptions that they’ll be in Europe when Vow releases — so I imagine they’ll only further solidify, but already they played a headliner’s set, closing as always with “Kingdom” from the EP of the same name (it also appeared on their 2009 debut LP), the layers of which shimmered with psychedelic vibes prior to a full-on freakout at the end of pushed-over drums and guitar destruction. Awesome.
Here’s a direct quote from my notes on Truckfigters‘ set: “Everyone in the world who’s never seen Truckfighters live is a jive sucker and that’s that.” More or less, that covers my feelings on the matter. The Örebro trio — Ozo on vocals/bass, Dango on guitar and now Poncho on drums — are easily the most energetic and engaging fuzz rock acts I’ve ever seen, and before they were through perpetual opener “Desert Cruiser,” both Ozo and Dango had gone past the monitors at the front of the stage to be closer to the crowd, who were singing along loud enough to be heard over the instruments. But Truckfighters – who are fresh off a tour with Norwegian blackened punkers Kvelertak and shortly headed to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows — aren’t just getting their cardio in, they’re also nailing the material and delivering it with a genuine sense of spontaneity and the impression that anything can happen at any given moment, such as Ozo jumping into the crowd during closer “In Search of The” or the band launching into “Chameleon” after someone in the crowd requested it, jamming on “Desert Cruiser” or unveiling two new songs, the first which fit (“fett?”) well with the bounce of “Monte Gargano,” which came later, and the second which had a fuller, fuzzier shuffle in the beginning and wound up thicker but still moving, with a quick bass and drum break to set up a return to what seemed on first impression to be a solid hook. “Majestic” was welcome, and from their audience interaction to the tightness of their performance — at one point Dango fell on stage after jumping off the drum riser and didn’t even stop playing as he got up — there are few records supposedly coming out before the end of this year that I’m looking forward to as much as the new Truckfighters.
An hour hardly seemed like enough time for a proper Colour Haze set. Back in September 2012, the ultra-influential Munich heavy psych trio rolled through London and did a full three hours, complete with guest appearances, keys, and so on. Still, I’ll take what I can get, and when it came to “Transformation” from She Said (review here) — my album of the year last year — I still heard the horn parts in my head even though no one was playing them live, so I’m not about to bitch that the experience was somehow lacking. It wasn’t. Colour Haze were a complete 180 in terms of presence from Truckfighters, mostly subdued, no jumping, no running around, plenty of grooving, but less about getting the heart rate up than giving the audience something to shut its eyes and get lost in. As guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald jammed past “Moon” from 2008′s Alland into “Love” from their ’04 self-titled, they were so locked into what they were doing that the real miracle of it seemed to be they didn’t lose the crowd in the slightest. An extended take only gave everyone watching more to dig on, so that by the time “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” and “Tempel” came around, the Electric Ballroom was suitably hypnotized. Seriously, I just wanted to give them money. Like, “Here, Colour Haze, I have 50 Euro left over from last weekend. Please take it.” I’ve seen them before — their set at Emissions from the Monolith in 2006 changed my life (ask me about it sometime), and at one or two Roadburn fests along the way — but even though this felt like a sampling, it was ultra-satisfying to watch these godfathers of the modern European scene do what quite simply nobody does better. As I already knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire Pentagram set, Colour Haze were sort of my closeout for Desertfest, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer farewell than that. They were masterful.
I got a press release earlier this week that oft-imitated doom pioneers Pentagram had a new guitarist in the form of Philly-based Matt Goldborough, but that the lineup was otherwise the same as when Victor Griffin was still slinging axe, with Sean Saley on drums and Greg Turley on bass with frontman/defining presence Bobby Liebling on vocals. Of course, lineup changes are nothing new for Liebling‘s band — their legacy is as much about tumult as it is about the riff to “Forever My Queen” — but Griffin‘s presence brought a certain legitimacy to Pentagram‘s recent run and their 2011 Last Rites comeback album (review here), and his departure, whatever the circumstances may have been, changes the context of the band, Griffin – who also played today with his new outfit In~Graved – being one of very few others who’ve done time in Pentagram who can lay reasonable claim to the material. He may well have come out to guest on guitar (I recall seeing the band in 2009 when he wasn’t with them and that happened), but if he did, I wasn’t there to see it. I stayed for about four songs and then had to split to come back to the hotel, write and pack for my flight out tomorrow. For the portion I did catch, however — “Day of Reckoning,” “Forever My Queen,” “Treat Me Right” and “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” — Pentagram were tight and Liebling was Liebling. There are few things as much fun to watch in a concert setting as Bobby Liebling flipping out to a guitar solo. Like he hasn’t been staring at them for 40 years now. Awesome. Turley and Saley have the material on lockdown, and as the new guy, Goldborough more than held his own on guitar, a younger presence giving some freshness to what might just as easily have come across stale otherwise. I’ve seen worse from Pentagram, and though one can dream of this or that reunion lineup, the simple fact that they exist and persist is to be… respected? Maybe. Probably. Definitely gazed at in astonishment. And so they were.
I have work to do. As in, for my job. And so I know that Desertfest, as blissful as it has been, must be over. My plan is to write up some concluding thoughts for this whole trip tomorrow on the plane, and I’ll include a thanks list with that, but before I switch off to picture-sorting mode, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to be back here in Camden this weekend, to see the bands I’ve been lucky enough to be here to see and to meet the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. This place is awesome (but for the weather), the music is great and I feel like even more than last year, Desertfest is developing a genuine vibe all its own. I was beat today, t-i-r-e-d, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to take as much of the proceedings in as possible, because when I’m back home slogging away in the office, I’m going to miss it.
More to come tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks as always for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Before they head overseas to play both Desertfests and the Barrosela Metalfest in Portugal, US doom legends Pentagram will make a stop at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar, as the latest in an increasingly long line of impressive gets for the venue that’s also included such landmark acts as Eyehategod, Floor (who’ll be there next Friday) and Saint Vitus themselves. Pretty fucking astounding, if you ask me. I’ll be on a plane while the show is happening, but this one’s bound to be a good time for anyone who can make it out and/or won’t be able to see the band at this year’s Maryland Deathfest.
Heavy metal legends, PENTAGRAM, will be returning to the road in 2013 in Europe, as well as North America, for select shows and festivals. The band will once again perform at Maryland Death Fest as well as Farmageddon Records Music Festival, Metaldays (Slovakia), Barroselas Metalfest XVI (Portugal), and more. PENTAGRAM’s list of confirmed performances can be found below.
PENTAGRAM will have new merchandise designs available exclusively at these shows. Also, the band has listened to their fans and will be performing some classics and fan favorites that have never before been performed live! Be forewarned, everything’s turning to night!
PENTAGRAM 04/16 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus Bar 04/25 Berlin, DE Astra *Desertfest 2013* 04/26 Barroselas, PT Barrosela Metalfest XVI 04/28 London, UK Electric Ballroom *Desertfest 2013* 05/26 Baltimore, MD Forme Sonar Compound *Maryland Deathfest 2013* 07/20 Warsaw, PL Days of Ceremony 2013 07/22 Tolmin, SI Metaldays 2013 07/25-07/28 TBA, Montana Farmageddon Records Music Festival
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 17th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Legendary Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling will be hitting the stage with Houston’s own Sanctus Bellum on Dec. 22 at Rudyard’s British Pub, playing a set of ’70s Pentagram classics. Also joining Sanctus Bellum for a set will be James Rivera of Helstar, and while that means Sanctus Bellum bassist Ben Yaker and guitarist Jan Kimmel will be performing a staggering triple-duty night on their shared birthday, something in me doubts they’ll mind, given the circumstances.
Pretty badass way to celebrate your birthday, if you’re into that kind of thing. Here’s all the info and charm-tastic poster with art by Will Broadbent:
Members of Pentagram and Helstar to Perform One-of-a-Kind Sets with Sanctus Bellum in Houston, TX
Bobby Liebling of Pentagram and James Rivera of Helstar will perform special one-time-only sets with members of Sanctus Bellum at The El Birthday Metal Fest II on December 22, 2012 at Rudyard’s British Pub in Houston, TX. The sets with Liebling and Rivera, styled Sanctus Bellum Sanctuary and Sanctus Bellum Sanctus respectively, will see the heavy metal icons performing songs that they have rarely, if ever, performed previously during their lengthy careers.
For the Sanctus Bellum Sanctus set with Rivera, the band will perform a set of classic metal covers reflecting Sanctus Bellum and James Rivera’s shared influences. The set will include material by both well-known and comparatively underground bands and is sure to please fans of Rivera’s extensive body of work.
For the Sanctus Bellum Sanctuary set with Bobby Liebling, the band will perform a full set of 70s Pentagram classics, most of which have not been performed live in decades and some of which have never been performed live at all. Speaking on the Sanctus Bellum Sanctuary set, Sanctus Bellum bassist Ben Yaker stated that “anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a huge Pentagram fan for years and that my favorite incarnation of the band is the 70s lineup. This show has given me the opportunity to select some of my favorite, but often overlooked, Pentagram tracks that I’ve always wanted to hear Bobby perform live. It’s an incredible honor to be able to share the stage with Bobby, who’s been the driving force behind my all-time favorite band, Pentagram, and with James, who’s helmed the most significant metal band ever to come out of Houston.”
The festival, which will also feature performances by Sanctus Bellum, Cauldron (ex-Gammacide), H.R.A., Owl Witch and Serpent Sun, celebrates the birthdays of Yaker and Sanctus Bellum guitarist Jan Kimmel. Artwork for the event by Will Broadbent Illustration, which will be available as a full color 24×36 poster at the show, features the members of Sanctus Bellum, along with Liebling and Rivera, animated as members of the Legion of Doom.
The El Birthday Metal Fest II Saturday, December 22nd, 2012, 5pm Rudyard’s British Pub 2010 Waugh, Houston, TX 77006 $15, 21+
Lineup: Sanctus Bellum Sanctuary (Members of Sanctus Bellum with Bobby Liebling of Pentagram) Sanctus Bellum Sanctus (Members of Sanctus Bellum with James Rivera of Helstar) Sanctus Bellum Cauldron (ex-Gammacide) H.R.A. Owl Witch Serpent Sun
Sanctus Bellum’s most recent album, The Shining Path, was released on June 12, 2012.
Posted in Reviews on February 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
*ALERT: There be spoilers ahead.*
I’d read the email wrong. Perhaps it was my subconscious knowing how little I want to be in Midtown Manhattan, ever, but the address where the press screening of the long-awaited Bobby Liebling documentary, Last Days Here, was taking place was 1619 Broadway, and not 1616, as I swore up and down to The Patient Mrs. We still made it on time, and when I walked off the elevator on the fifth floor of the building — which, while we’re relating things to movies, I’ll say looked like something out of The Hudsucker Proxy — I awkwardly stumbled through identifying myself to the guy with the clipboard and the press list on it and we soon made our way inside, to the front row, and waited for the film to start.
Filmmakers Damien Fenton and Don Argott of 9.14 Productions — who between them directed, edited, produced and operated the cameras — also serve as the guitar duo for Philadelphia instrumentalists Serpent Throne, who released their third album, White Summer/Black Winter (review here), in 2011. Between this and the recent screening of the Southern metal doc Slow Southern Steel helmed by CT of Rwake (covered here), I’ve had occasion recently to think a lot about the nature of self-examination as regards heavy and underground metal and rock. Last Days Here was made my professionals, absolutely — Fenton and Argott crafted the documentary Rock School in 2005, prior to taking on this project — but professionals well inside the culture they’re documenting.
On an anthropological level, that’s bad science. Ideally, you would want someone outside of the subculture analyzing and reporting on its characteristics. One does not expect in watching one of his nature specials that David Attenborough should be a penguin, so why is it that no one but headbangers can be trusted to convey the ideals of the heavy metal lifestyle?
The simple answer — and what I’ve come to reconcile myself to in watching these movies — is they’d fuck it up. You couldn’t have Last Days Here filmed by a group of people without a direct appreciation for Liebling‘s contributions to heavy metal and more specifically to doom. It would either fall flat, ring hollow, or collapse on its own insincerity. It takes someone who knows not only what that appreciation feels like, but how much of your life it can consume and how much of your worldview it can shape. I don’t think heavy metal is alone in this regard, but had Last Days Here been produced by “outsiders,” it would have been condescending and cynical, and since the emotional investment is part of what typifies the culture, it has to be present on the most basic creative level for a film like this to work.
There are arguments to be made on either side of that, I suppose, but the notion of the “true” and underground heavy’s seemingly endless search for authenticity is an essential piece of understanding that Last Days Here takes as a given. It’s part of what revived Pentagram in the first place for the latest run that winds up as the triumph with which Fenton and Argott cap their film — well, that and the birth of Liebling‘s son in 2010 — and it’s what serves as the driving motivation that leads Philadelphia native and former Relapse Records employee Sean “Pellet” Pelletier to spearhead that revival.
We open on a toothless Liebling living in his parents’ sub-basement, smoking crack and promising not to die before the film is completed. Going into it knowing that Pentagram successfully completed tours of the US and Europe since this time, that Liebling was able to stay clean long enough to oversee the recording and release of the first album in a three-record deal for Metal Blade — 2011′s Last Rites (review here) — it’s obvious he keeps that promise, but if I wasn’t familiar with the band, it would be easy to see that as a foreshadow of his death to come. He looks neither long for the world nor particularly thrilled at having to spend another day in it. His arms are bandaged from what’s soon to be revealed as perpetual scratching and picking off his own skin as a result of crack-induced paranoia. He is a mess of injection scars and infection.
Last Days Here is ultimately sympathetic to Liebling, but at times brutally honest. We meet Bobby‘s parents, Diane and Joe Liebling, who’ve had to come to terms with their son’s failure at life and love him anyway. Their role as enablers of his lifestyle, such as it is, is touched on but never explored, and for a moment, it’s a bit like an episode of the tv show Intervention gone wrong. Before long, Pelletier (who is not to be confused with fellow Philly resident Chris Pelletier, the US label manager for Season of Mist; that’s a mistake I’ve regretted making a few times) is introduced as the second of the movie’s major focal points (that’s not to use the word “characters” to refer to people who actually exist), and he tells his story of discovering Pentagram‘s music at a record show with his then-girlfriend and having it change his life to the point of putting together the compilation of unreleased ’70s-era material, First Daze Here (The Vintage Collection), which was put out on Relapse in 2002 and instrumental in raising the profile of the band’s influence on doom, as well as somewhat ironically becoming one of their most influential releases in and of itself. All of a sudden, Witchcraft made a lot of sense.
A full history of Pentagram, its members, its legacy and its breadth of impact on the Maryland/D.C. doom style and underground and commercial metal is a project that the format of a feature-length documentary simply cannot cover, and Fenton and Argott must have either learned that early on or realized it going into the filming. Instead, Last Days Here crafts a narrative after giving a basic background from interviews with the likes of original drummer Geof O’Keefe, Joe Hasselvander, Victor Griffin, soundbyte-worthy journalist Ian Christie, Pelletier and others as well as telling the stories behind the band’s several failures — the audition for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley they flopped, the lambasting Liebling gave Blue Öyster Cult engineer Murray Krugman (who appears to discuss the incident and the fame the band could’ve had in one of Last Days Here‘s several cringe-worthy segments) that unraveled their chance for a major-label contract — and laying much of the blame where it seems to belong: on the troubled singer writhing on his couch and rambling about parasites he needs to get out from under his skin, going to the hospital, signing a contract to turn over his record collection to Pelletier, Argott and Fenton if he ever smokes crack again.
He does, and so far as I know, keeps his records, and that’s one of the moments where the line between the filmmakers and the subject are the most blurred, but it’s also one of the most honest scenes in the movie, which one imagines is why it made the final cut and what must have been hundreds of hours of footage was cut. As regards the narrative that emerges in Last Days Here, it’s the story of Pelletier and Liebling — their troubled friendship (one gets the impression, particularly in hearing from O’Keefe, Hasselvander and Griffin, that Liebling knows no other kind) and Pelletier‘s attempts to get Bobby clean and put together a new Pentagram album with the original lineup. O’Keefe squashes those hopes after an entertaining trip down memory lane of some of Pentagram‘s negative reviews from their early days, but what shines through without any real outward mention is Pelletier‘s passion for the idea and for the band. As charismatic as Liebling is on camera — and even at his most addled, he is that; I had my own experience with it interviewing him early in 2010 — it’s Pelletier‘s belief in Liebling that drives the movie and serves as its emotional crux.
Liebling meets and falls for Hallie, a woman literally half his age (he’s 52, she’s 26), but though she eventually becomes his wife and the mother of their child, their own tumultuous relationship is seen more as an extension of Liebling‘s many addictions than the shot at redemption it ultimately wound up being. As Liebling moves to Philadelphia from the sub-basement to be near Hallie, it soon turns sinister (you can hear the musical shift in the Stars of the Lid drones that serve as a soundtrack when Pentagram‘s own music doesn’t) because of his drug use and Hallie dumps him, breaking his heart. We see Liebling as devastated, but it’s not heartbreak as much as it’s an addict needing a fix and she’s the fix. He pines, he moans, he gets tossed in jail for violating a restraining order she’s had put on him, and it’s Pelletier who puts his arm around Liebling and says how glad he is to see him after he bails him out. This is one of the most subtle and pivotal scenes of Last Days Here, because while Pelletier says this, he also adds that at least while Liebling was in prison, he knew where he was, reminding of an earlier confession that while Bobby was in jail, at least he could get some other work done.
Still heartbroken, Liebling returns to live with his parents and puts together a new Pentagram around the lineup of drummer Gary Isom, guitarist Russ Strahan and bassist Mark Ammen (all of whom would be gone by the time Last Rites came out). Its formation is somewhat nebulous, but Pelletier is nonetheless thrilled when he finally hears about it, only to be disappointed as Liebling continues using and mourning his loss of Hallie. Going to jail had cost Pentagram a deal with Phil Anselmo‘s Housecore Records — Anselmo shows up and appears as little more than a cartoon caricature of himself during his time on screen; I wanted to imagine the cameras shutting off and him asking in a perfectly clear and semi-British accent, “Shall we do another take, then?” — but Pentagram is moving forward anyway, mostly, from Liebling‘s perspective, as a means for him to prove to Hallie that he can not make it as a person more than a human being.
A sentimental pang went off in me when I saw the Metal Maniacs logo on the poster for Pentagram‘s 2009 comeback gig at Webster Hall. I didn’t go to that show (because that’s how much I hated working in New York), but seeing Liebling prevail on stage is Argott and Fenton‘s climax of Last Days Here. Off to the side of the stage is Pelletier, crying happy tears for Liebling‘s being able to pull it off this time as opposed to the several other flubbed comebacks mentioned as part of the buildup to the show, and in an interview shortly after their set, he says it was the best night of his life. His belief in Liebling, which doubtless came at the advice of those around him in his private life and, at times, himself, is validated, and the film fades to black after Bobby in repose and drunk on joy, quotes Forrest Gump in saying “life is like a box of chocolates.” As much as it kind of shot that moment in the foot to see it reduced to commodified film dialogue — the stuff of pop culture cliché — one almost has to applaud Argott and Fenton for leaving that in, unmanipulated. Muting him after the sentence before, which was poignant enough, and keeping him on screen in slow motion during the fade might have also worked, but it’s not really worth speculating.
Since it was finished before the album was released, Last Rites and Victor Griffin‘s return to Pentagram are never mentioned. Instead, an epilogue comes in seeing Liebling cooking breakfast and calling Hallie into the room. The two have gotten married, Liebling is living clean, and there’s a baby boy on the way. “There’s gonna be another me!” Liebling hams for the camera, while Hallie averts her eyes, clearly showing a preference for the man off-screen than the one on it. Nonetheless, this is grown up Bobby Liebling we’re being shown. Maybe 25 years too late, but grown up all the same. He has a bank account, he accompanies Hallie to the doctor to hear their son’s heartbeat for the first time, and in the very last shot of the movie, in a still photo, he and Hallie stand with their child, Robert Joseph Liebling, born in August 2010. He’s still posing for the camera, and there’s no guarantee that life is going to keep its serenity going forward — Argott and Fenton were wise not to make any such ridiculous promises — but you get what you get, and it’s certainly a happier ending than the opening promised.
After the credits rolled through, The Patient Mrs. and I joined the group of writerly-types in the hallway to head back downstairs and out. In the elevator, in a discussion between two critics in which I took part, one man told enough, half-laughing, that Last Days Here was well made, but that he had a hard time sympathizing with a pedophile — referring to the age difference between Bobby and Hallie Liebling — and I was astonished at how someone could so easily miss the point of the movie. Last Days Here isn’t the story of a musician who chases down a young girl and tricks her into bearing his seed, it’s the story of addiction, and each of Liebling‘s behaviors prior to getting clean as relates to Hallie can — and I’d gladly argue, should — be seen in that blue light more than any other.
The fact that at 26, Hallie – however sweet-faced or youthful she might appear next to her husband’s grizzled visage — was eight years beyond legal adulthood at the time of filming and at least deserves the respect of being allowed to make her own decisions on how and with whom to spend her days no matter how counter those decisions might run to one’s own perception of social norms and mores, is another issue altogether, but most importantly as regards Last Days Here, if Liebling proved able to correct his addictive behavior on all levels, including Hallie, and a healthy relationship was able to emerge from that, well, that’s more than a lot of people get. Hallie herself acknowledges the age difference and realizes that some people might think it’s weird. “If they think I’m only with him for his money, he doesn’t have any,” she says. And she’s right. If there wasn’t a strong emotional attachment there, why bother putting up with an addict whose track record of failures spans decades?
Hearing that, more than anything else, cemented for me the assertion above that you have to be within a subculture to fully understand it and that without the foundational appreciation for Liebling‘s creative work, no accurate portrayal of who he is and what he’s done as a person and as the leader of Pentagram, for better or worse, could be enacted. Last Days Here is that, and it’s a skillfully crafted, expertly edited narrative of friendship, love, failure and redemption in doom. I don’t know what the film’s appeal to those outside the sphere of the music will be, and I don’t have to care. If Pentagram have ever been anything, it’s been understood and embraced by a select group of people on whose lives they’ve made a serious impact. If that turns out to be the case with Last Days Here as well, the film can only be called more accurate for it. Doom on.
I’ve said a couple times now that I only like comps after the fact. When they’re first released and they need to be reviewed, they’re a pain in my ass, and they sit and sit and nag on me until I finally write them up. It’s not until a few years later, when the material is rare as hell and a few of the bands have collapsed, that I’m even remotely interested. You say Welcome to MeteorCity has a different version of a song from Lowrider? Sign me up.
For a while now I’ve been trying to chase down a copy of Bastards Will Pay: A Tribute to Trouble to absolutely no avail. Amazon, eBay, Gemm, physical stores, stoner and doom distros — nobody’s got this friggin’ thing. And yeah, I know I can just type it into Google and download it. I don’t wanna do that. I want to own it. I like my little plastic discs, thanks. You keep the cloud.
To quell my tributary jones and in the meantime hear a couple badass bands, I recently placed an order on the cheap for a copy of Blue Explosion: A Tribute to Blue Cheer on Black Widow Records out of Italy. Released in 1999 and featuring the likes of Drag Pack and Norrsken, among others who don’t exist anymore, it fits my law of comp appreciation perfectly. I don’t even know Garybaldi, but their version of “Fresh Fruit and Iceburgs” is killer and doomed and gives me something to look up tonight while I’m sitting on my ass, so that’s an immediate plus.
Perhaps best of all, though, is that Blue Explosion is bookended by Pentagram. And not just any Pentagram — it’s Joe Hasselvander on all the instruments and Bobby Liebling on vocals, and that’s it. They were working with Black Widow at that point (released Review Your Choices in ’99 and Sub-Basement in 2001 with the duo lineup), and so the disc opens with a nine-minute version of “Doctor Please” on which Hasselvander pretty much just jams with himself. It’s amazing, and his tones are unbelievably heavy. Internal Void follows with “Parchment Farm” and it’s like a one-two punch out of the Doom Capitol.
And Norrsken (the Swedish band from which both Witchcraft and Graveyard were born) are indeed a highlight — they present “Pilot” with expectedly killer vintage sounds — but Natas doing “Ride with Me” and Rise and Shine‘s take on “Sun Cycle” are also standouts, and “Peace of Mind” might be the most purely psychedelic I’ve ever heard Ufomammut sound. Whether it’s the boozy Euro-rock of Space Probe Taurus or the loose organ jamming of Standarte, I’m into it, and the fact that it’s all Blue Cheer material makes it even better.
So yeah, if it was coming across my desk for review now, I’d probably be all huffy-puffy about it and bitch about how compilation reviews are basically just plugs for the bands involved and there’s never any flow or basis for any overall analysis of the release, but in buying something like Blue Explosion: A Tribute to Blue Cheer, I don’t give a shit. It rocks and the rest is secondary to that. For something that was a consolation prize, I definitely feel like I won out.
When Saint Vitus first visited Greece (2/2/2010), Violet Vortex did not have the time to rehearse to play a full show as it was proposed. Instead they played an Obsessed/Pentagram six-minute medley with Wino on vocals, when St. Vitus finished their show. Enjoy!
So the situation seems to be that Greek doomers Violet Vortex — whose only full-length to date, Lure Elegant, was released in 2001 — were supposed to open for Saint Vitus, couldn’t for whatever reason, and wound up doing a couple songs after the Vitus set with Wino singing. Am I wrong or does that sound like the best deal in the world? “Gee, sorry we couldn’t open the show like we said we would, but how about we kick ‘Forever My Queen’ with one of the greatest doom frontmen ever instead?” Sign me up.
And yes, they do “Forever My Queen.” They also do “Hiding Mask” from The Obsessed‘s 1991 classic, Lunar Womb, and they hold it down. Watching the clip, you’d never know Wino had just played a show with Vitus either, since he pretty much nails both songs. I guess sometimes life presents strange situations and this is one of them, but anyway, near as I can tell, this clip is a one of a kind, which makes it perfect fodder for a Wino Wednesday.
Of all the doom albums that have come out of America since the birth of the genre, these are probably the two that are the most singularly influential, the most pivotal, and at their base, the most doomed. Saint Vitus released their self-titled debut on Greg Ginn‘s SST Records in California in 1984, and one year later, the East Coast answered back with Pentagram‘s Relentless essentially marking the beginning of what we think of today as Maryland doom. The question of which is the superior album seems ridiculous even to ask, since I feel like what we should be doing is just being glad they were both made, but here goes:
Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus flew directly in the face of what was expected both of SST and of the SoCal underground. It was slow, it was lurching, and it was miserable. Saint Vitus did not have Black Flag‘s sense of self-righteous social rage — they had slow suicide with booze and pills. Their message was not of rising above, but of being buried at sea. Scott Reagers‘ vocals remain a blueprint for doom singers to follow, but try as so many do, the same black magic has never managed to be captured. Together with the foreboding bass of Mark Adams, the noise-infected guitar of Dave Chandler and Armando Acosta‘s unbreakable plod, the combination of elements was overwhelming. Even now, listening to Saint Vitus makes you feel like you’re drowning in it.
But if Chandler‘s guitar tone ever had a rival in that era, it came from Victor Griffin. One listen to the churning malevolence of “All Your Sins,” and there’s no question you’re hearing some of the most wretched doom since Sabbath‘s heyday. As much as Pentagram came to be known later for frontman Bobby Liebling‘s fabled drug addiction and a constantly rotating lineup, with Griffin, drummer Joe Hasselvander and bassist Martin Swaney (who had performed together as the trio Death Row), the band’s overdue first full-length was a milestone, and 26 years after its release, the title Relentless feels no less appropriate. “Sign of the Wolf,” “The Ghoul,” “Relentless,” “20 Buck Spin” — these are the standards by which we measure what doom has become since.
I could go on at length about both these records, but you get the point. Here’s what it boils down to: Two epics, two black covers, two of American doom’s greatest, and you’ve got to pick one. Damned if I can choose, but if you’re feeling more decisive, please, have at it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 10th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
I don’t know whatever happened to Last Days Here, the documentary about Bobby Liebling, but the When the Screams Come DVD that Metal Blade is putting out at the end of the month isn’t it. It’s Pentagram‘s performance at the 2010 Maryland Death Fest, which has an appeal all its own, but I was looking forward to seeing that doc and hope it makes its way out soon in one form or another.
This was posted on the forum earlier today, but here it is with the DVD cover too:
Metal Blade Records is proud to release the first ever Pentagram DVD in the 40-year history of the band! When The Screams Come features a full Pentagram show, recorded on May 30, 2010, at the tail end of the Liebling / Griffin reunion dates at Sonar in Baltimore, Maryland, during Maryland Deathfest VIII! There is also exclusive interview footage with vocalist BobbyLiebling!
When the Screams Come track listing: 1. Day of Reckoning 2. Forever My Queen 3. Ask No More 4. Run My Course 5. You’re Lost, I’m Free 6. Review Your Choices 7. Relentless 8. All Your Sins 9. 20 Buck Spin 10. Sign of the Wolf 11. When the Screams Come
When the Screams Come will be released in North America on Aug. 30. Clips from the DVD as well as music from the band’s latest album, Last Rites, can be seen and heard now on metalblade.com/pentagram. Several pre-order bundles are available with LastRites vinyl, an exclusive t-shirt and more. Fans can also purchase limited colored vinyl European imports of LastRites all exclusively on Metal Blade‘s Indiemerch webstore HERE.
Posted in Features on April 16th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was a good one.
I thought it was strange that they played “Forever My Queen” second. They always seem to give that one away too early. “20 Buck Spin” is a great song, but kick off that last section of the show with “Forever My Queen,” then push it into “Pentagram (Sign of the Wolf)” and close with “When the Screams Come,” and man, it’s gonna take people a while to recover from that one. Anyway, Pentagram rules and this is what they played at Roadburn on April 14, 2011.
Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
The Pentagram story is as long as the story of heavy metal itself. In 2011, vocalist Bobby Liebling marks 40 years since the inception of the seminal Washington D.C. (it’s the “Doom Capitol” for a reason) outfit, and with the much-anticipated release of Pentagram’s Last Rites – a title they’ve been tossing around since this latest inception of the band got going in 2009 – the start of their fifth decade could legitimately be a new beginning for them. Liebling, who has a legacy of drug abuse trumped only by his band’s influence, is reportedly clean and staying that way. Now married with a daughter (of doom), he’s also reunited once more with guitarist Victor Griffin (also of Place of Skulls and Death Row), whose mere presence goes a long way in making the difference between Last Rites being Pentagram, the band, and The Bobby Liebling Show. Together with bassist Greg Turley (also Place of Skulls and Griffin’s nephew) and Place of Skulls drummer Tim Tomaselli, Pentagram 2011 present the first new studio album under the moniker in seven years, and easily the best batch of new material they’ve had in more than a decade.
Of course, Last Rites isn’t all new material. Catchy single “Into the Ground” and hard-hitting closer “Nothing Left” date back to Liebling’s pre-Pentagram band, Stone Bunny’s 1970 album, Nothing Left, “Call the Man” dates back to demo tapes from 1971, and Last Rites highlights “Walk in Blue Light” and “Everything’s Turning to Night” were available in rougher versions on Relapse Records’ First Daze Here (2002) and First Daze Here Too (2006) collections of vintage ‘70s-era material. That still leaves six of the 11 total tracks unaccounted for in Liebling’s vast and sometimes murky catalog, and though a song like “Treat Me Right” has that classic Pentagram feel, it’s easy to hear the modernity on songs like “8,” “Windmills and Chimes,” “American Dream” (on which Griffin takes the lead vocal with Liebling backing during the chorus), “Horseman” and “Death in First Person,” which, while definitely still riff-based and in line with what one might expect from Pentagram, have more complexity to them – especially in Griffin’s guitar – than the older, more rudimentary material. I’ll add also that my estimation of what’s new and what’s not (apart from what can be found on prior releases) is speculative on my part and just based on what I’m hearing in the music. In a career as long and
The effect that mix of old and new has is that Last Rites comes across as a healthily varied collection of songs. “8” is perhaps the most satisfying of the new-sounding cuts, and the record as a whole isn’t without its missteps, but taken in the context of both the Pentagram history and 2004’s disappointing Show ‘em How outing, it’s hard to think of Last Rites as anything but a net victory both for the band and longtime fans. They make the right move opening with “Treat Me Right” and Griffin’s signature (and fucking excellent) guitar tone ringing out like a beacon letting you know this is, in fact, a Pentagram record you’ve just put on. The song is short, repetitive of its title line, and as I already noted, vintage Pentagram. I’d say it’s definitely older, but can’t find it on any previous release, so can’t be sure. In any case, it’s an excellent show of what this version of the band – over the years, more people have been in and out of Pentagram than almost any other of the Doom Capitol bands – can do. To be fair, they’ve had something to prove all along since Liebling got the band going again, and it’s obvious the intent behind starting Last Rites with “Treat Me Right” was in shutting up the better part of the doubters out there among both critics and the general listening public. There’s no arguing with it.
Second track “Call the Man” has, like most of the songs, an excellent solo from Griffin, but also a classic stomp in its central riff that seems to go further than the mere 3:49 it lasts. Liebling is one of the rare vocalists in metal who can give a sense of his showmanship on a studio album and not fall completely flat, and that’s clearly at play here, but when it comes right down to it, the lyrics leave me wanting and there are other cuts on Last Rites I think might have worked better to back up “Treat Me Right.” To the credit of the band as a whole, Turley doesn’t get lost in the melee of leads and crash hits, and the material across the board sounds thick and heavy. There’s something to be said for striking that balance, and even though there are some less than landmark moments throughout, the sound of Last Rites in general is perfect for what Pentagram should be doing after 40 years. They’re neither trying to ape their ‘70s sound (as many are), nor affecting some bizarre and wrongly interpreted take on “today’s metal.” The vision of Last Rites is that of an accomplished doom band claiming their due. As the album proceeds, they seem more and more likely to get it.
It’s the first of the two Stone Bunny inclusions and Pentagram played it on their most recent live shows, and sure enough, “Into the Ground” proves a high point of Last Rites as well. It’s an excellent balance of doomed atmosphere, classic heavy rock and Griffin’s added ringing notes to the chorus do well to blend it in among the newer of the songs. Liebling seems to relax a bit on the vocals as compares to “Call the Man,” and as he double-tracks the chorus, his voice seems to be in the best shape it’s been in, in a long time, and it doesn’t sound like studio trickery. Last Rites is unquestionably a modern production, and there are liberal effects put on Liebling’s voice, but the underlying performance is there to start with, as it has to be for him to be able to pull off the material. “Into the Ground” leads almost directly into “8,” which starts with Griffin playing subdued notes over Tomaselli’s tom work before launching into one of Last Rites’ most effective riffs. The verses return to that quieter feel, and Liebling plays to that, but a driving chorus ups the energy, and as the longest song on the album at 5:02, it’s also a highlight among the newer-seeming pieces. Griffin shows personality in his encompassing layers of guitar, and though it’s moodier than “Treat Me Right” or even “Into the Ground,” the lyrical chronicle of Liebling’s dark times feels heartfelt and is all the more compelling for it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
No sense in delaying this one, the headline pretty much says it all. The Last Rites, the new album from doom legends Pentagram, is due out April 12 on Metal Blade.
The PR wire speaks:
Pentagram, who has been churning out widely admired hard rock/doom metal for over four decades, has just revealed the tracklisting and artwork to their highly anticipated full-length album, Last Rites. Last Rites, out on April 12 via Metal Blade Records, contains 11 new tracks of behemoth tunes that fans have been clamoring for since the last Liebling/Griffin masterpiece was released in 1994 (Be Forewarned).
Last Rites tracklisting:
1. Treat Me Right
2. Call the Man
3. Into the Ground
5. Everything’s Turning to Night
6. Windmills and Chimes
7. American Dream
8. Walk in Blue Light
10. Death in 1st Person
11. Nothing Left
Cover art for Last Rites was handled by Mo Moussa (website here) who is best known for his work with Marvel & DC Comics. Mo Moussa‘s other credentials include New Line Cinema, Nickelodeon as well as the four major TV networks. A Philly native and a huge fan of underground music, his work also graces the covers of several of his favorite local bands including Total Fucking Destruction.
Posted in Reviews on January 7th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
As I dove across two lanes of traffic to get to what turned out to be the wrong entrance to the southbound Garden State Parkway, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what happened the last time I tried to see doom mega-legends Pentagram in New York and failed viciously. “Going south to go east?” you ask? Typical.
I rolled into Europa on Meserole Ave. in Brooklyn at maybe 8:30. Bezoar had already played, but that left Judas Priestess, Hull and Pentagram still to go, in that order. Judas Priestess took their time setting up and went on after nine. I knew already it was going to be a late night. A late Thursday is a romantic idea. It’s the ultra-metro NYC myth of “nobody goes out on Friday anymore,” as though no one in the audience had to get up the next day and go to work. For what it’s worth, I didn’t make it to the office today.
Once they got going, Judas Priestess kicked off to a solid start. Everything you need to know about them but their pedigree (members of Van Helsing’s Curse and Angel Rot), the name says. They are, indeed, an all-female Judas Priest cover band. Lots of very elaborate hair, lots of leather, lots of “hey, let’s rock it!” attitude and I had to wonder how many members of decent original bands were in the audience who’d kill to open for Pentagram while Judas Priestess ran their way through a too-fast version of “Metal Gods.” I can’t count myself anymore, but still.
They played “Deep Freeze” from Rocka Rolla in an effort to throw the doom crowd a bone, and it was appreciated. By the time they left the stage, Europa was so crowded that I could barely move. I stood by the bar in the corner and watched as patron after patron came over thinking the bathrooms were down the hallway. They weren’t, and I disappointed several dudes in telling them they had to go all the way around the claustrophobic clusterfuck of humanity to get to the other side of the bar. Too bad.
Hull were good. I like Hull. I’ve known those guys for years in a hand-shaking, “Hi, how are ya?” kind of way, and I’ve watched them grow over the course of however many of their shows I’ve seen into a real force on stage. They were heavy and loud, and they closed with the epic “Viking Funeral,” which might have been a bit much, but was still cool. They’re supposed to have a new album in the works. I look forward to hearing it.
The draw to Pentagram this time around — aside from the fact that they have a new album and thus new songs to play — is that recent Obelisk interviewee Victor Griffin is back on guitar. He had some amp problems before their set, meaning more delays, and they finally got started after 12:30 or so. Not that you need me to say it, but it was late.
Griffin‘s tone was dead on, and he wore the Pentagram songs like a well-fitting shoe on stage. It’s so rare to see a person so obviously born to do what they’re doing, but watching Victor Griffin play doom, that was the feeling I got. Vocalist Bobby Liebling‘s well-reputed stage antics were relatively subdued compared to other times I’ve seen the band, but technical problems are a momentum-killer and as I’ve already said, it was late, so it’s understandable. He still sounded pretty good, and the rhythm section of bassist Greg Turley and drummer Tim Tomaselli (both imported from Griffin‘s other band, Place of Skulls) were in the pocket the whole time.
Even with all the people who’ve been in and out of Pentagram over the years, it’s kind of strange to see Liebling fronting what’s basically Griffin‘s band. Hard not to get a feeling that history is repeating itself, remembering that it was the Griffin-led Death Row that became Pentagram‘s most classic lineup in the ’80s when Liebling joined on vocals. I didn’t get the chance to bring up the parallel to Victor Griffin, or to anyone else, for that matter, because I was too miserable, crushed in by the bar.
The new songs sounded fittingly riffy, and I expect that when Last Rites hits, it’ll be well received, at least by doom heads. Liebling‘s well-publicized sobriety has really given the band new life, and although I was worn out by the end of the show, I don’t think he was. They closed with “Pentagram (Sign of the Wolf)” and threw most of what you’d expect into the set among the new cuts. “Forever My Queen” is always a highlight.
The crowd had thinned out some by the end of the set, so I was able to make my way over to the main area of the venue to watch them finish. It’s astounding, the love that’s behind this band. I know they got paid to be there, but given how late it was, they had every right to cut the show short, or to half-ass it, and they absolutely didn’t. And when Bobby Liebling thanked the crowd at the end and said he loved New York, I didn’t think I was being paid rock-star lip service. He meant it. That’s the difference.
I got back to the valley at 3:45AM, lucky to be alive. I haven’t slept like that behind the wheel in a long time, and if I-287 hadn’t been a ghost town on my way back North (my route was circuitous and affected by my company for the show; would take a longer time to explain than is necessary), I have no doubt it could have been very unpleasant. Last thing I did before head hit pillow was email work and tell them I’d be late this morning. You can see above how that turned out.
Posted in Features on December 23rd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
Legendary American doom guitarist Victor Griffin — of Death Row, Place of Skulls and Pentagram — and I spoke over the course of two consecutive nights. When I called the first night for the interview, he was in the car, listening to an early mix of Last Rites, the new album by Pentagram — whom he rejoined earlier this year — and though that wasn’t the intended topic of the discussion, it was bound to take up some of the time.
What instigated the conversation was the newest record by Place of Skulls — Griffin‘s priority band. Dubbed As a Dog Returns, the album is unquestionably a reboot for the trio of Griffin, bassist Lee Abney (also of Death Row, who reunited for this year’s Roadburn festival in The Netherlands) and drummer Tim Tomaselli. In addition to getting back to their doomed roots, As a Dog Returns also revitalizes Griffin‘s lyrical explorations of his Christian faith, songs like “Breath of Life” and “He’s God” as open and honest in their subject matter as I found Griffin to be in our talk.
The second night of the interview, Griffin was in his studio working on some solo overdubs for Last Rites, and as we moved from Place of Skulls and his beliefs to his return to Pentagram and working once again with vocalist Bobby Liebling, whose sobriety has been discussed here in the past, Griffin took a step back to take a look at both bands’ overall place in doom, and his as well, opining on why in its 30-plus years as a genre, doom has never really hit the mainstream in the way of some other styles, and whether or not he’d even want it to.
Fact of the matter is this: I could go on and on about what Victor Griffin said or whatever, but what it rounds out to is this is one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. For The Obelisk or any other outlet. Victor Griffin was more sincere in his answering my questions than I could have possibly asked, and at the end of the second phone call, I felt like I genuinely knew more about his perspectives on life, music, and God. I hope that as you read through the 7,400-word exchange (with a centered photo to differentiate between the two days), that comes across more than anything else.