Metal holds its purest origins in Great Britain, and specifically in 1969 Black Sabbath pioneered a new genre of music later to be known as doom metal. One of the first bands to be influenced by them would be Alexandria, Virginia’s Pentagram and their vibrant front man Bobby Liebling who formed the band in 1971 at age 18. The band would go on to record some material but never quite got a hold of things until they recruited guitarist Victor Griffin from the band Death Row. After this union was made, they finally released their 1985 debut Relentless and eventually the potent sophomore album and topic of this week’s column: Day Of Reckoning, from all the way back in 1987.
The title track opens with Victor Griffin’s infectious guitar tone, which buzzes louder than most as he does his best to pay homage to the forefathers of doom, and in doing so the tone and speed possessed by this song effectively blurs the line between doom and classic heavy metal. Liebling’s voice is more powerful than Ozzy Osbourne’s, and that combined with excellent riff writing could possibly top the genre’s hallowed originators on a good day. The doomy mood sets in on the following track called “Evil Seed“, which opens with an introspective Liebling thinking the following: “Frustrating thoughts within my brain // There’s not too much that’s keeping me sane.” The vocal effects help to convey the mental madness that is plaguing the band throughout, and is eventually tempered by a particularly gloomy guitar solo towards the end.
“Broken Vows” comes next and leads a mid-paced crawl through the mental recesses of the band. This is another examination of the band’s particularly vivid mental breakdowns; making them shine that much brighter through blackened skies. The overall feeling is one of helplessness, albeit now in the way that the late Peter Steele described during his time with both Carnivore and Type O Negative. Arguably one of the band’s most recognizable songs is “When The Screams Come“, and you would know it purely by the opening riff, as Griffin – like many doom greats – is known for this contribution to the doom riff lexicon. As opposed to the meaty and loud riffs of Tony Iommi, Griffin leans heavily on emotion for his effect, and this can be heard in the later stages of songs and specifically his solos; absolutely teeming with sadness and despair. Not to be all gloom and doom, the band kicks it into high gear before song’s end and lets Liebling loose for a short bit, with the lyric: “You’ve entered hell I guess and weren’t so cool // Now Satan makes your rules!” finishing strong.
Melodies abound as we enter “Madman” after the lengthy and special “Burning Saviour“, and the intro riffs feature a lot more bombast than the previous songs. It feels like much more of a rocker and it even features drummer Joe Hasselvander pounding the skins unlike the rest of his work on this album.
“Wartime” is a slow song that plods along at a particularly familiar doom metal pace, with particularly good use of the word “bastards”. The atomic winter is constantly referenced and the plight of the nations and the children held within allow the listener to experience this madness for themselves; the picture painted across the canvas of your minds quite vibrantly. Thus ends the album as it is one with very few positive emotions and plenty of sad truths and imagery to make one take a better look at the world around you.
Pentagram helped to forge new ground the US doom scene as well as provide ample inspiration for Swedish proto-metal band Witchcraft. Liebling recently had a documentary film done for him called Last Days Here and is certainly worth your time to check it out. The band would go on to release several albums – most notably 1994′s Be Forewarned, which marked the end of Victor Griffin’s 1st tour of duty (he returned for their most recent output Last Rites and has since left again). You’d do well to check out their first three albums and experience one of the original US doom metal bands. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. More doom to follow, just what the death dealer ordered! Until next week.