Pagan Altar - The Room of Shadows
Temple of Mystery Records
NWOBHM/Doom Metal
7 songs (46' 49")
Release year: 2017
Pagan Altar
Reviewed by Andy

One of the late-blooming NWOBHM greats (had a demo in '82, didn't release an LP till '98), Pagan Altar was unusual even for its time. Unlike many of their punk-influenced fellow acts, the band played an elaborate, atmospheric brand of doom-inflected heavy metal with idiosyncratic touches of English folk to it, sounding like the back-country cousin of their more well-known NWOBHM relations. Begun about thirteen years ago, The Room of Shadows was held back by the band's dissatisfaction with the finished product until two years after the passing of frontman Terry Jones, when guitarist and son Alan Jones re-recorded the problematic parts and released it this past month.

To listen to The Room of Shadows is to travel back in time -- not thirteen years ago, but nearly forty. The production hasn't changed since the band's inception, and neither has the musical signature: Slow, doomy, and occult, calling to mind creepy folk ballads of the nineteenth century and accented with Terry's thin, nasal vocals. These last may take a little getting used to for new listeners; though people have compared them to Ozzy Osbourne's, a better comparison may be those of Manilla Road's Mark Shelton. Once you get past those, the work that got put into this one shines out. The clean portions of the guitar are soft and shimmering, switching to a sharp-edged overdrive of the old school with guitar work that bears the stamp of vintage 70s picking, and it feels like Pagan Altar decided to put more emphasis on the folk song portion of their sound than straight Sabbath-style doom -- though that's still there, too.

The ultimate strength of this last effort by the band stands out the more you listen, but in my opinion, the best two are the last two. The band's refusal to stick to a radio-friendly format leads to some great balladic moments on the rest of the album -- Dance of the Vampires' doomy crunching is a must-hear -- but that atmosphere culminates in the second-to-last track, The Ripper -- a more nuanced and conspiracy-theory-filled treatment of the subject than the Judas Priest classic. The Jones father-and-son team's harmonized vocals weave a complex tapestry, the lead guitar riffing alongside the entire time. The last track, After Forever, bears none of the doom or NWOBHM hallmarks of the others, and is the most poignant despite its short length. Crystalline clean guitar work echoes across Terry Jones' reflective song about the end of life.

After Forever fades into silence, and with it the final notes of one of the great originals of doom metal and NWOBHM, both the man and the band (at the time of this writing, it appears unlikely that Pagan Altar will continue with a new vocalist). The Room of Shadows puts the finishing flourish on the output of a band that always forged their own path in the metal world -- and always delivered the goods.


Killing Songs :
Dance of the Vampires, The Ripper, Danse Macabre, After Forever
Andy quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Pagan Altar that we have reviewed:
Pagan Altar - Mythical & Magical reviewed by Thomas and quoted 95 / 100
Pagan Altar - The Lords of Hypocrisy reviewed by Adam and quoted 92 / 100
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