After listening to Pagan Altar‘s “Mythical & Magical” LP more, I feel that I need to give it a much better review than my last one, especially because of the high hit counts I have been getting from people specifically looking for more info on Pagan Altar’s newest offering.
So here’s what I got to say…
First, I was curious about the bands history, so I did a little research. Apparently they got together in the late 70’s and recorded their debut album in 1982, titled “Volume 1.” After the release of this album they pretty much disappeared for the next twenty-some-odd years. In October, 2004 they released “Lords of Hypocrisy,” a major success, then in December, 2004 they released “Lords of the Dead,” which is “Volume 1” re-released with different cover art. Each of these albums represent a backwards look at Sabbath-inspired doom metal, and in addition Pagan Altar’s sound has few hints of “modern” metal music.
Now enter the year 2006. Pagan Altar put all the elements together that they’ve been working with over the last 20-odd years and create the opus called “Mythical & Magical.” It’s this reviewer’s humble opinion that it resides within a small pool of this millennium’s greatest and potentially most influential metal albums. Although, it remains to be seen how long it will take to be influential.
The album is dichotomous in that it has a vintage feel, kinda like Cirith Ungol, kinda like Candlemass, kinda like, well Sabbath, but really, I imagine them playing right alongside each of these bands, as they did in the case of Sabbath. When I listen to this band I picture the smokey old venues in which they played, along with the rotting-leaf-smelling old holes they practiced in. They are legit! The dichotomy lies, therefore, in their retro sound, but also in their advancing it to the 21st century. The band plays an obviously Sabbath inspired form of Doom Metal that’s not quite as “heavy” as other contemporary doom bands, but shows more originality and better song writing skills than most out there now. They know how to create an aesthetic without keyboards, death metal vocals, and heavy post-production editing. These guys are raw and good.
Getting back to “Mythical & Magical,” though, I must say that it’s not quite as heavy as “Lords of Hypocrisy,” but it pulls more at the listener as it creates a more beautiful aesthetic which serves to create an intense listen. Alan Jone’s riffing jumps out at you because he has a huge sound, but he doesn’t go over the top. The solos are well-timed and fit with the music perfectly. Putting these elements together, Jones gives us a winding, plummeting, and soaring guitar experience, one that is almost inexplicable in how it meets its great success.
Jone’s guitar work isn’t the sole reason why you should be listening to this album though. Terry Jone’s voice, the element that most listeners might be put off by, is definitely an acquired taste. I must say that it took me a bit to get used to him, but once I did I feel like the music soars even more. Some people describe him as sounding like a mix of Manila Road’s Mark Shelton and Ozzy Osbourne. I’m not sure if I totally buy this simply because his voice is so unique in the metal arena. I think no one, or combinations of vocalists, sound like him. His voice adds to, and I think makes, the bands feel though, as he totally sells the moment out of time that this music embodies. His voice exists outside of musical trends and commerciality, and for that I give him all my support.
Drumming is Mark Elliot, and his work propels “Mythical & Magical” perfectly, with just enough speed, and just enough bump to bring a wonderful tactile feel to the songs. Without his, at times hard and propulsive, and at times soft and spare, drumming the album would lose much of its power.
One song that stands out to me that brings the guitar work, drumming, and vocals all together is “Samhein,” which uses a more folksy feel to push an atmospheric song towards epic status. Every time I hear this song it sounds better to me. It’s slow and methodical, but at 6 minutes long I still feel that it could go longer. I want more of its goodness. Faster songs like the fear themed “Cry of the Banshee,” the retroish “The Witches Pathway,” and the quintessential doom of “Daemoni Na Noiche” each regress into folkish, floridly constructed guitar leads, that on paper sound lame, but to your ears sound awesome.
I think the album really gets hot during the few 8 minute songs. “The Sorcerer” and “The Erl King” each frame a softer sound that still ruminates on doom metal themes like fear and magic. They don’t really sound like doom, but they turn out to be beautiful, well composed pieces of music. Closing the album is “The Rising of the Dark Lord,” which might just be the best song Pagan Altar has ever composed. It’s dark, satanic, and is guaranteed to get your headbanging.
This album, although I liked it the first time I listened to it, grew on me more and more with each listen. I can listen to it any time, unlike some metal that requires that you already be in a mood to enjoy. Not this one; it puts you in the mood that Pagan Altar knows you must be in to get the most out of the music. How genius of them! They put it out back in ’06, which was a long time ago, but since then I can only think of a handful of albums that rival its originality. This is pure, uncompromising Doom Metal. You need to listen to this if you are into true metal.
This clip doesn’t do their sound justice, but it does give a good example of their live show (Athens).