I have been starting to draft a post outlining the basic etymology of Doom Metal, and I thought as a preface to it I would first provide information on Pentagram’s development, which inherently shows their underground contribution to Doom Metal. Pentagram remains a band at Doom’s subversive and non-populist/popular best. Really, besides Black Sabbath, the most influential Doom Metal band ever has been Pentagram, who have continued to influence contemporary acts such as Reverend Bizarre, Witchcraft, and so on. So, I think their history and contemporaneously burgeoning style are worth mentioning.
As a nod to an anonymous reader’s comments, parts of the band information I list below have been summarized from an article found at StonerRock.com.
Pentagram has a long and labyrinthine histrionics. Throughout their discography they have had member changes, side projects, odd releases–including live shows, releases with mixes of old and new material, and multiple band name changes and psedonyms (Stonebunny, Macabre, Virgin Death, Wicked Angel, Death Row, Bedemon, and so on). The only member throughout Pentagram’s lifespan has been Bobby Liebling, vocalist/song writer, who formed the band with drummer Geof O’Keefe in 1971. This Pentagram lineup lasted until ’76, and produced three super rare singles. After this lineup came what many call the “High Voltage” encarnation of the band, which lasted from ‘78 to ’79 and produced one 7” disc.
The “Death Row” era of Pentagram was active off and on between the ’80’s and ’96. This incarnation of the band contained guitarist Victor Griffin (current member and founder of Place of Skulls). The “Death Row” era released three albums and was known for making a name for Pentagram as Doom Metal band.
In recent years the band has released a number of new (partially) and old releases, including two new albums featuring just Liebling and Death Row-era skinsman/jack-of-all-trades Joe Hasselvander, a studio album with Liebling with backing members of Internal Void, and two volumes of ‘70s era recordings released by Relapse Records.
So if you have never listened to Pentagram and you are interesting in starting to get to know their catalogue, you have two choices in which to go to get aquainted with them. If you like hard rock then you probably want to get the 1970’s Relapse compilations. If you are coming from the Doom Metal side of the spectrum you will want to start with the Death Row- era catalogue on Peaceville (or original LP vinyl, if you’re lucky!). For the most part, their other releases are awesome too, but to get into them you need a solid starting point, of which I mention above, and will describe in detail below. Listening to these examples will allow you to trace and understand the band’s genesis and get a better view from where they started and to where they have evolved.
Here’s a list of all their official releases in chronological order. Stay away from anything that’s not on this list as it is more than likely a BAD bootleg, so you are wasting your money if you buy it.
Pentagram aka Relentless (1985, Pentagram Records: reissued 1993/2005, Peaceville)
Pentagram’s debut album is the most raw, most primitive recording in their catalog (rehearsal/live recordings notwithstanding), and is one of the undisputed classics of doom metal. The record includes some of Liebling’s songs from the ‘70’s (something the band would continue to do throughout all their albums), and they mix seamlessly with Victor Griffin’s more overtly Sabbath-like material. Every song is a classic, from the slower, creepier material like “The Ghoul” and “Sinister” to more uptempo, rockin’ numbers like “Sign Of The Wolf,” and the calling card of the Death Row era, “Relentless.” This album, like Black Sabbath’s eponymous LP is mind blowingly awesome and provides the groundwork for great if not greater things to come.
Day of Reckoning (1987, Napalm Records; reissued 1993/2005, Peaceville)
This is probably Pentagram’s most doom soaked disc, and it is one of my favorites. Day of Reckoning picks up where the debut left off. It’s heavy and chunky, but enjoys more powerful production, even at times including some intricate acoustic guitar interludes. This LP even includes an unusually long song (not for other Doom outfits, but true for Pentagram), the 9-minute “Burning Savior,” one of many versions of “When The Screams Come,” and the incredible “St. Vitus Dance”-riffing of “Broken Vows.”
Be Forewarned (1995/2005, Peaceville)
This disc marks the last of the so-called classic “Death Row” era records, and got the most production time than previous records, although this isn’t saying much. The LP included more guitar tracking and overdubbing and vocal tweaks than previous albums, but does not lose the Pentagram sound. The songwriting is evenly divided between Liebling, Griffin, and Hasselvander, showing three separate styles that work perfectly well together. The title track contrasts the same Macabre single, being longer, slower, and more doom soaked.
Human Hurricane (1998, Downtime Recordings)
I know I said earlier not to get any bootlegs, but this one has been endorsed by Liebling, and contains a mix of studio and rehearsal cuts from the original ‘70’s lineup. A predominate number of these recording can be found on other comps with better sound quality. I think the main perk of this disc is it’s rarity–if you see it definitely buy it!
Review Your Choices (1999, Black Widow)
The first of the Liebling/Hasselvander albums, with Hasselvander playing all the instruments and Liebling providing the vox. Hasselvander’s leads are not quite up to snuff to McAllister’s or Griffin’s. Still, the production is quite heavy, and the tracks are a mix of Liebling’s old ‘70’s stuff, and (mostly) new songs of Hasselvander’s. Liebling’s vocals are uncharacteristically weighted down with electronic effects and he uses a weird style to effects-drenched, and he takes a more eccentric approach to singing on a few tracks.
Death Row: Death Is Alive 1981 – 1985 (2000, Game Two Records)
This out-of-print vinyl-only live material release from the early ‘80’s has some pretty tiny recordings; probably only hardcore fans would get much out of this one.
Sub-Basement (2001, Black Widow)
This album is a mish-mash of re-recorded tunes from the ‘70’s, or brand new tunes from today. The production is good, but not too good, and Hasselvander’s playing is not too bad. In all the only standouts to me are “Bloodlust,” Buzzsaw,” and “Out Of Luck.”
First Daze Here (2002, Relapse)
This first of only two authorized compilation releases of the ’70’s lineup has Pentagram’s demo recordings and their first three promo 7”s. Not as tight as later lineups, this album has the feel of of the first two Blue Cheer albums, the Stooges, Sabbath, Budgie, and maybe some Rainbow in there, making a great ‘70’s hard rock sound. The songwriting is some of Liebling’s best and shows more of his diverse vocal style than what can be found on the Death Row-era albums. Lots of good songs on this one.
Turn To Stone (2002, Peaceville)
A single disc compiled from their three Peaceville releases. This disc has no rare or unreleased tracks. It’s great if you are getting into Pentagram for the first time, but otherwise, it’s probably more worth it to buy their full length albums.
A Keg Full of Dynamite (2003, Black Widow)
This 1978 live recording of the short-lived “High Voltage”-era Pentagram, features Hasselvander, Swaney, and two guitarists, Paul Trowbridge and Richard Kueht (and Liebling, of course). The recording quality is okay for being 25 years old recording, with vocals being fairly low in the mix. I think the main attraction for this disc is that it has “Much Too Young To Know,” which features completely different music than the song of the same name on First Daze Here Too. This also contains the 1979 7” version of “Livin’ In a Ram’s Head” b/w “When The Screams Come.” This is a hardcore Pentagram fan-only release.
Show ‘Em How (2004, Black Widow)
With three of the four members of Internal Void! Most of this album contains classic songs from the ’70’s, but the three new ones satisfy well. “Prayer for an Exit Before the Dead End” especially stands out. This album is a mix of the ‘70’s Pentagram sound, and the later, doomier style, but with an added emphasis on Liebling’s more morose, ballad-y material. These mellow moments on the disc cause some consternation with fans, but in all Liebling gets it done. Not all the songs, like “Last Days Here,” just do not compare to the versions recorded by the original Pentagram, but “Goddess,” “Catwalk,” and “Wheel of Fortune” are pleasers.
Bedemon – Child Of Darkness: From The Original Master Tapes (2006, Black Widow)
I actually just got this one and it has some definite sparkle moments in it. It’s not really Pentagram, but is a fun and dark mid-‘70’s project of the on and off Pentagram rhythm guitarist Randy Palmer (R.I.P.), which includes Liebling and original drummer Geof O’Keefe, and is aesthetically very much in the Pentagram form. Palmer’s quality doom-ridden dirges take a powerful hold, moving beyond the topically apparent primitive nature of these rehearsal recordings. This is not very heavy shit for contemporary times, but for back then it was, especially on the lyrical side with a large drug, horror movie lyrics. I would say that this album is ’70’s era Pentagram fans and for fans of doom too. Again, don’t get the bootleg; the liner notes are a tribute to Palmer’s tragic death, and providing lots of information about Bedemon.
First Daze Here Too (2006, Relapse)
This two CD set, featuring the ‘70’s lineup’s remaining studio tracks on one disc, and the raw (but quite listenable) rehearsal recordings on the other. This diverse ranges from Stooges-like rawk, to very heavy doomy cuts (“Nightmare Gown”) of some of the rehearsal recordings, to the more commercial (in a mid-‘70’s context) leanings of their ’76 demo. All members playing on this album exhibit great musicianship, especially guitarist Vincent McAllister (deceased), whose fabulously long solos in “Target” and “Show ‘Em How” are worth the whole collection. The first Relapse comp provides a better taste of ‘70’s Pentagram, but this has some of their gnarlier musical moments.