Monday, August 29, 2011


Pentagram. If there's any band singularly more responsible for the "Doom" genre becoming distinct from simply "Heavy Metal", it's Pentagram. Their history is an incredibly long and confusing one (just looking at the wiki entry can make one's head spin), so I'll post a long and meandering history for those interested and then boil it down for those not. Taken from AMG's excellent biography page:
Pentagram first came into existence in 1971 in Woodbridge, VA, when singer Bobby Liebling met guitarist/drummer Geof O'Keefe. In the coming months, the duo played with a variety of local musicians, including guitarist John Jennings, bassist Vincent McAllister, and drummer Steve Martin, but by early 1972, McAllister had switched to guitar, O'Keefe took over on drums, and Greg Mayne joined on bass guitar. This lineup of Liebling, McAllister, Mayne, and O'Keefe would remain intact for the next six years, and though they occasionally performed under different names, including Virgin Death, Stone Bunny, and Macabre (the last of which graced their first single, "Be Forewarned," in 1972), they always inevitably returned to Pentagram. Another element of stability was their musical direction, which never strayed too far from the distorted psychedelic hard rock of heavy metal pioneers like Blue Cheer and the Groundhogs. A set of independent 7" recordings, "Human Hurricane" and "When the Screams Come" (this last was never released) preceded their first live performance on December 15, 1973, by which time a visible Black Sabbath influence had begun to take hold. Second guitarist Randy Palmer joined their ranks mid-1974 and his addition coincided with Pentagram's most prolific period of the decade, including close calls with record deals from both Columbia and Casablanca Records. But by 1976, Palmer was out (briefly replaced by Marty Iverson) and all of the band's professional prospects had dried up, leaving Pentagram to grind to a halt at the end of the year.

After years of silence, Liebling was finally encouraged to resume his career in mid-1978, when he met a musical soul mate in local drummer Joey Hasselvander, but it wasn't until Halloween 1981 that Pentagram was truly brought back from the dead. By then, Hasselvander had joined a new group called Death Row, which featured a young, Black Sabbath-obsessed guitarist named Victor Griffin. When Liebling stopped by for a jam, creative sparks flew almost immediately and with the addition of bassist Martin Swaney, the group officially assumed the Pentagram name once again. More years of hard work playing in clubs and composing new material followed, but in 1985, Pentagram finally recorded a full-length, self-titled debut (minus Hasselvander, who was replaced at the last minute by drummer Stuart Rose). Later retitled Relentless, the record may have been dedicated to Blue Cheer, but its contents owed an almost singular stylistic debt to Black Sabbath and along with its even more accomplished 1987 successor Day of Reckoning, it helped set the stage for the looming doom metal movement. Not fast enough for Pentagram to capitalize, however, and following another lengthy hiatus, a new contract from Peaceville Records finally led to another comeback via 1994's Be Forewarned LP (featuring a reinstated Hasselvander). But the musical climate of the time was very unfriendly to heavy metal of any kind, and the doom scene had never managed to coalesce as expected, leading Pentagram to another, seemingly final breakup.
Now for those who don't give a ****, here's what you need to know:  Bobby Liebling, strictly a singer, started the band "Pentagram" in the 70's. The band members played a mix of psychedelic hard-rock and sometimes heavy metal (Geof O'keefe would even be involved later in a project called Bedemon which was probably closer to Doom than 70's Pentagram), but it's important to remember that Bobby Liebling was the primary songwriter, and he was more of a Blue Cheer nut than a Sabbath nut. So the songs from this era will be much closer to Summertime Blues than War Pigs.

In the 80's, Bobby joined an unrelated band called Death Row (Bobby knew the drummer, Joe Hasselvander). Death Row's guitarist, Victor Griffin, was the real Sabbath nut, and his bluesy, downtuned guitar playing is equally as responsible for the "vintage" Pentagram sound as Bobby's psychotic vocals. Bobby convinced the band to rename itself Pentagram--handy for Bobby, since he owned the rights to the name--and along with Hasselvander and bassist Martin Swaney, set about writing three of the most important Doom albums ever recorded. Those privy to all the eras of Pentagram bootlegs can watch the evolution of their library as a standard track from one of Liebling's 70's outfits receives a Doom make-over under Griffin's wing.

1985 - Pentagram (Relentless)
The first Pentagram album (originally self-titled) was released in 1985 on their own label, evidently tired of waiting for someone else to pick it up. I've got an official release of a live show they did still as Death Row sometime in 1982 with most of the songs that would appear on here, so evidently they had been written for awhile (to say nothing of the ones Liebling wrote in the 70's). As far as distribution goes it leans more towards Death Row material, but "20 Buck Spin" was a well-known staple of the 70's lineup. I'd say the album is probably better for it, because even when Victor writes a speedier number like "Relentless" it ends up sounding better than most of the 70's material, at least to my ears. This album is loaded with classics, from the fantastic "Sign of the Wolf" to the immortal "Death Row". I've taken pains to emphasize Griffin's contribution to this (hopefully not to a fault) because he tends to be criminally downplayed next to Bobby's charismatic and often insane antics and Bobby's "seniority" as a Pentagram member (nevermind that it was anywhere from three to four completely different bands with Bobby as the only real constant member). But it's hard to imagine a singular riff more important to the "Doom" sound than the opening to Death Row, except perhaps the original Black Sabbath riff. Supposedly Victor Griffin tuned down to a B to get that demonic sound.

An excellent album overall. It was re-released by Peaceville Records in 1993, with a remastered sound, a new title, "Relentless", and a much better track order--Death Row is simply too important a track to bury in the middle of the album. Joe Hasselvander's fantastic and informative blog had this to say about the original release:
The debut Pentagram album on Dutch East Records NY. 1985 was a remixed version of the original Death Row demo "All Your Sins" ! Later on in 1992 Peaceville records U.K. signed the album once again for rerelease in England and restored the origial mix of "All Your Sins"!
It would seem the remaster, then, contains the intended track listing. Good to know the next time a Pentagram purist insists only the original vinyl should be listened to. Fuckbags. In 2005 the album was re-released again as a Digipack. I've got three different versions of this album, but I'm guessing the one I've uploaded is the latter, since it's the loudest. Not necessarily a bad thing, given how lo-fi the original sounds.
original cover
"Relentless" remaster

1987 - Day of Reckoning
Their second album handily avoids the common sophomore slump--probably not too difficult when they've still got piles of Death Row and 70's Pentagram material to choose from. If anything, it's more consistent and a bit doomier than their first official outing. From the outset, the title track pushes the grim, hopeless atmosphere with Griffin's trademark guitar tone and downtuned riffs. "Evil Seed" follows suit with similarly bleak vibes. It's also the only song in Pentagram's library to outright borrow a couplet from Black Sabbath, specifically the opening to Sweet Leaf:  "All right now / Won't you listen?". Meanwhile, "Broken Vows" is easily one of the best songs they've ever done, with its laid-back but nonetheless engaging riff. "Madman" and "When the Screams Come" are both 70's numbers, but fit in well enough with the rest. "Burning Savior" sports a fairly creepy intro and a main riff that manages to sustain the song for its entire nine-minute run. Album closer "Wartime" is another fantastic track and one of my favorite riffs the band's ever done (if my affinity for Wartime and Broken Vows is any indication, I'm easily amused by hammer-ons. Go figure). An excellent album overall. Maybe even better than their debut, Death Row and Sign of the Wolf alone give the debut a fighting chance in my book. I love it to death, although if I had one complaint, I'd like the bass to be a little higher in the mix; I'm a bassist and even I struggle to pick the thing out under the guitar overdubs.

The album was originally released with Joe Hasselvander only playing on the track "Burning Savior" and another drummer named Stuart Rose playing on the rest of the tracks. In addition, it had a slightly different track order. When the album was finally released on CD in 1993, Hasselvander re-recorded all of Stuart's tracks. Usually I find that sort of thing unprofessional (looking at you, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman reissues), but since Hasselvander was really part of the "vintage" Pentagram lineup (he's on the next album, too), I'm willing to make an exception here. I'm not a drummer, so I can't really tell you what kind of a difference it makes. I've got the original pressing lying around somewhere--not terribly easy to find, given that it never got a CD release--so I may yet upload it for completionist's sake later.

Original album cover

1994 - Be Forewarned
This is the last album of the "classic" lineup, and to a certain extent it feels a little less inspired than the previous two albums. Not to say it's at all a bad album--the band is as tight as they ever were musically, and if anything this album probably has the best split of Liebling, Griffin, and Hasselvander-written songs. Several of the Griffin tracks here--"Too Late", "Wolf's Blood", and "Vampyre Love"--are from a batch of demos Griffin had recorded for a then-unreleased solo album (my pressing of Late For An Early Grave says 2004; I don't know if this is when it was actually released or if it's a repress from one released earlier). Griffin's tracks have more of a Wino-vibe to them, which shouldn't be surprising, given that Wino actually guests on a few tracks. They're also among the better tracks on the album. Too Late has an excellent main riff going, and Vampyre Love's almost poppy structure is strangely catchy, even with a rather strange midsection involving what sounds like a cowbell. "Frustration" has some brief moments of choir hinging on Pagan Altar territory, while the title track is another relic from the 70's incarnation. There's fewer instant classics here than Day of Reckoning or Relentless, but it's still a solid album, and I daresay it's quite a bit more ambitious in its mix of softer numbers than the strict funeral dirge that Day of Reckoning was.

 Sometime after Be Forewarned, the classic lineup of Pentagram disbanded. Victor Griffin got out of music for awhile and didn't do much until he started Place of Skulls in 2000. Bobby continued for a few more albums.

1999 - Review Your Choices
This is one of two "duo" albums, in which the entire album was performed by Bobby Liebling on vocals and Joe Hasselvander handling all instruments. Hasselvander's talent on multiple instruments is certainly impressive, but he's no Victor Griffin, and both the solos and his guitar tone leave a little something to be desired. For his part, Bobby draws in a large portion of his 70's work for inspiration (this album was recorded shortly after an unauthorized compilation of 70's Pentagram works was released by Peaceville under the name Human Hurricane without Bobby's consent, possibly explaining his need to update the stuff). Most of them sound better than their familiar demo counterparts, although on a few the "update" doesn't feel terribly inspired--like they did little more than slow down the tempo and throw late 90's, overdriven guitars over the old tracks. As always, there are some great tracks to be found. "Change of Heart" starts off a bit slow but has an absolutely killer last minute, "Living in a Ram's Head" sounds as good as it ever did (another 70's fan-favorite), and the title track sounds infinitely better than the scratchy demo I've got from a rehearsal bootleg in '74 (mine lacked proper song names and sometimes proper track separation, leading to my simply thinking of it as, "That song that comes after Please Don't Forget Me"). Liebling's vocals are a little uneven through the album--he sounds in general form on tracks like "Forever My Queen," where elsewhere he sounds completely coked-out and/or out-of-his-mind. Not a bad album, although the lack of the golden lineup is sorely missed.

2001 - Sub-Basement
Reflecting the living environment of the average Pentagram fan, Sub-Basement continues the past album's precedent of scraping for 70's Pentagram classics with a side of new cuts, all written and performed by Liebling and Hasselvander. The problem is, it really does feel like they're scraping this time. "Drive Me To the Grave" sounds decent enough, and "Mad Man" sounds somewhat interesting in an admittedly retro-70's way (supposedly Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley offered to buy "Mad Man" and another 70's track, "Starlady", from Bobby, provided they also receive writing credits--Bobby turned them down), but other tracks simply feel by-the-numbers, and Bobby's voice sounds fairly weak throughout the whole album. This period of his life was apparently something of a low-point, so I suppose that's to be expected...but that doesn't mean I have to give the burned-out druggie recording my patronage. Probably the weakest overall Pentagram album, except maybe the following.

2002 - First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection
Finally, after having teased you with passing mentions of Pentagram's 70's material, I can present here in guilt-free, officially Bobby Libeling-approved compilation format. It's not bad. Personally, I'm more of a fan of their 80's sound, but since nearly album contains at least a few cuts from this material, it's interesting to hear it in its original form.

2003 - Show'em How
I really hate being that guy. You know, the guy who complains at the recent Guns n' Roses show that the band now is basically a GnR tribute band with Axl on vocals (not that I'd ever go to a GnR show anyway), or the guy who won't shut-up that the new Alice in Chains should've renamed themselves because it's not Alice in Chains without Layne Staley. And I'd try to avoid similar slander against Bobby Leibling, alleging that he simply took over vocals for another band and redubbed it "Pentagram", but god dammit he did! Pentagram's entire backing band for this album was a perfectly competent other doom band from the area called Internal Void (we'll be covering them later), sans the vocalist. Meanwhile Bobby still sounds like he's a few inches shy of Syd Barrett, somewhere between singing and gawking at the ceiling while the rest of the band is content to follow his lead in re-recording more old material Bobby scraped off his shelf of 8-tracks. The doom makeovers that were once a pleasure to listen to and compare now just sound phoned-in, as if run through some sort of cheap software to turn any song into a Doom Metal song. The original compositions hardly impress, either. It's not a terrible album, but it's a weak album both by Pentagram's standards and even by Internal Void's standards. Thank God this is not the end.

2006 - First Daze Here Too (The Vintage Collection)
Not to be deterred by the fact that the second visit is obviously no longer a "first" daze, the second compilation installment gives us even more of those delicious 70's demos that make Pentagram collectors rush to change their shorts. This time we get two disks' worth.

What the hell happened to the middle guy's left arm?

2011 - Last Rites
Sometime in the last few years, Bobby Liebling got sober, got married, and converted to Christianity. The latter might seemingly spell the end of a band titled "Pentagram," but conversion to Christianity is not always a bad thing; see Place of Skulls early Place of Skulls. Liebling's vocals have markedly improved since the last few albums, and the rejoining of Victor Griffin brings some much needed energy to the group. With Victor back on board, as well as former member Greg Turley on bass, Pentagram has produced their best album in over a decade, if not close to two. That's not to say it's perfect, and I'm equally hesitant to rank it alongside their three golden-years recordings. But it's certainly a step up from the "duo" albums or the "Internal Void w/Bobby Liebling" effort. Opener "Treat Me Right" certainly took some time to grow on me. At first listen I was powerfully turned-off by the nu-metal tone of Griffin's guitar; but the riff is competent enough, and while the tone still bothers me, the rest of the songs has all the right ingredients for a vintage Pentagram concert staple: powerful riffs, tasteful solos, and a psychotic frontman (the difference being you want the frontman to only act psychotic, not actually be psychotic, lest he look look like this while he's supposed to be performing). Other than the opener, the album's other immediate highlight is the gripping "8", which has a slightly more laid-back vibe to it, not unlike "Broken Vows", and a tom-heavy, tribal drumbeat I absolutely love. There's still a good bit of 70's Pentagram material lurking throughout the album--two of the songs are so old they even go into Bobby's pre-Pentagram outfit, Stone Bunny, but they've been rebuilt much better under Griffin's tutelage than under Hasselvander or Internal Void. It's still got some lulls, but it's a breath of fresh air after the past decade, and (I hope) portends better efforts on the horizon.

I've had the pleasure now of seeing both the most recent iteration of Pentagram and the reunion Death Row trio (Griffin handled vocals), and I can safely say that Pentagram in its current state still kicks ass. Bobby's sounding better than he has in years, and the band mixes just the right dose of songs from their latest album with fan-favorites in their setlist. I was able to talk to both Bobby and Victor after the show, and according to Bobby, they're more popular than ever (like a jackass, I saw Victor for about five seconds and the only thing I could think to ask was, "Are you ever going to do anything with Wino again?"). Good on them. While they're far from achieving the multi-platinum success they deserve that other less-talented bands have received (looking at you, hair metal. And nu-metal. And wherever the hell we're throwing Between the Buried and Me.), they've achieved some level of notoriety. They deserve it.

Next-up: Solitude Aeternus


  1. I saw last tim e the soku LAST DAYS HERE and i thourd... what a poor boy Liebling is...

    And then i here the musik. BOOOAAAAAHHHHHH. Yeah. great riffs and lyrics

    Love you for post those records

    Thank you thank you thank you


  2. thank you! thank you! thank you so much for all these links all the other blogspots links were dead, thank you!

    p.s. the Review Your Choices link is the same as Sub-Basement so you might want to fix that

  3. Whoops! Review Your Choices was uploaded, but it looks like I pasted the wrong link when I wrote this up. I've fixed it.

    - Aganar

  4. Muchas Gracias!!!

  5. excelente! muchisimas gracias por compartir!

  6. Muchas gracias, los link funcionan bien !!!!!

  7. Excelente muchas gracias.

  8. Bobby and Victor are friends of mine. I disagree with your take on Sub Basement-To me it's one of the most brutal and sick (and that includes death metal) albums ever made. It's without a doubt the darkest of them all-you can hear Bobby slipping away on the album. Like the album is diseased. Liebling told me it's one of his favourites, but can't listen to it very often given his state at the time.

  9. really really thank you so fucking much for sharing this glorious stuff....666999

  10. You should give Sub-Basement another listen. I think it's surprisingly good and actually like every track on the album. Nothing beats Relentless, but there is some really underrated material here. Overall production could be better, yet the guitar sound is great and there are enough quality licks to hold my attention. A lot of catchy moments from Bobby, too. I'm a longtime Pentagram fan (since mid 80's) and it's great the band is finally getting its much deserved recognition.

  11. Excelente, muito obrigado por compartilhar essa raridade !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Muito Obrigadoo!!!!

  12. thank very much maniac,it's great band...hail and horns up...
    p.s. the Review Your Choices link is the same as Sub-Basement so you might want to fix that

  13. Absolutely brilliant post! Can't thank you enough! Sadly I'm only now discovering Pentagram, I wish I was born earlier so I could have a broader experience, but you made the perfect introduction! Thanks a lot!

  14. Gracias amigo... compartimos el fanatismo por Pentagram! Cheers!


  16. a lot of thanks comrade, I'm getting all the Pentagram albums and other stuff, really nice blog, cheers from Brazil

  17. muy buen post!

    les dejo mi crítica del Day of reckoning por si les interesa

  18. Hey man, thanks a lot for the uplouds, but don´t you have the original lp mix of the first album ? i used to own a copy and i've been looking for another to listen since i lost it; if you could uploud it, you sure would make my day.

  19. Dude, please, PLEASE keep on working this blog!!! It was a promising project. I beg!