Pentagram - Pentagram [aka Relentless]
Pentagram Records
Traditional Doom Metal
11 songs (42' 51")
Release year: 1985
Reviewed by Andy

It seems like it's been forever since our last Classic review, so it seems appropriate that we focus this week on a band that took what seemed to be forever to release its first LP: Doom metal pioneer Pentagram's self-titled debut, re-released as Relentless in 1993. Formed in 1971 and heavily influenced by Cream and Blue Cheer, they had underground success with demos, but went through a tortuous series of reformations, renames, demo recordings, and sessions with would-be providers of recording contracts that never ended up going anywhere, a lot of which could be laid at the feet of vocalist Bobby Liebling. All was not lost, though, and in 1985, the band put together their first LP, in which they ignored pretty much everything others were doing in the 80s in favor of a sound that was already almost fifteen years old. This could easily have been a disaster, but ended up being a classic instead. Contemporary doom bands took the original Black Sabbath influences in different directions -- Witchfinder General following NWOBHM, Trouble using traditional heavy metal --, and in Pentagram, we see Pentagram's original psychedelic rock songs re-imagined by Liebling and guitarist Victor Griffin as true doom metal, making them heavier, fuzzier, and darker than they ever were before.

And they are incredibly catchy songs. Death Row starts up with chugging like an industrial washing machine that eases into its comfortable, swinging beat with Liebling belting out the lyrics in a huge, hearty voice, a voice that sounds sadistically delighted by the misery the subject of the lyrics is undergoing. All Your Sins, on the other hand, is chunky and spare, with a central riff that sounds like a more primitive, distorted version of a Doors bassline. The bass itself is dull and thudding, and the drums are mixed in such a way that the lows and highs -- especially the throbbing lows -- are the most noticeable part to the listener, and they get even more noticeable with the more melodic Sign of the Wolf; the whole instrument section is low, downtuned, and fuzzy, a precursor to the atmosphere that explicitly stoner-oriented doom bands would later make famous. Liebling, every once in a while, raises his voice to end his normally clean verses in an agonized shout as Griffin wails a bluesy solo. The production sounds old even for its time; part of that's the fuzz that one doesn't normally hear much of in an album released in 1985, but there's also a grimy spontaneity to the whole album that makes it sound like the band is recording the whole thing in a single take in a relative's garage.

After the pure Sabbath-style doom of The Ghoul, Relentless is a surprise; it has a cleanly-attacked intro riff that I'd normally associate with early Judas Priest, and the rolling, quick-step beat sharply conflicts with the early-70s sound of some of the throwbacks such as 20 Buck Spin or Run My Course. Those tell one a lot about what Pentagram accomplished here; a fair amount of these are clearly from their earlier period, before they knew much about doom metal, and listening to earlier, pre-LP versions, it's quite interesting to see how much Liebling and Griffin tweaked the tamer sound of some of these tracks until they turned into the lumbering monsters they eventually became. One thing they didn't do was make them any longer; the songs max out at 4 minutes on average, and even on tracks like Dying World, filled with guitar-and-bass soloing and big, muddy riffs, they keep everything short and sweet.

Even though later generations of doom bands paid homage to Pentagram both in sonic elements and more explicitly via covers, it's easy to overlook Pentagram due to the slapdash way it made it to market. From a band that was retro from the moment it reformed in the 80s, the debut was clearly made of a collection of stitched-together, reworked demo tracks of varying production quality from previous incarnations of the band, combined with some new material. This practice of the band prevailed over the course of their entire career, mostly a result of Liebling's insanely prolific songwriting in the 70s (and his equally legendary drug addictions repeatedly hamstringing the band's fortunes), and caused a lot of inconsistency in their musical output. Despite its confused origins, though, Pentagram still stands out as one of the timeless classics of traditional doom metal, a tough and unique metal alloy of British doom with American psychedelic hard rock.

Killing Songs :
Andy quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Pentagram that we have reviewed:
Pentagram - Show ‘Em How reviewed by Jeff and quoted 66 / 100
Pentagram - Turn To Stone reviewed by Jeff and quoted no quote
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