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 Post subject: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 5:53 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:23 am
Posts: 26
Once again, here is the Pentagram Buyer's Guide that I wrote back in 2007 (?) for Stonerrock.com. I updated it with new releases, and added the early singles and compilation appearances, but otherwise the same reviews. I figured since I did such a detailed Wino discography, I should do the same for Pentagram.


Pentagram

Pentagram has a very long and somewhat confusing history, involving many lineups, releases, and monikers (Stonebunny, Macabre, Virgin Death, Wicked Angel, Death Row etc). The only constant throughout the band’s history has been vocalist/songwriter Bobby Liebling, who formed the band with drummer Geof O’Keefe in 1971. This lineup lasted until ’76, and only issued three mega-rare singles, pressed in small quantities for promotional purposes. The next lineup, the “High Voltage”-era of ‘78/’79 also only produced one 7”.

During the 1980s, off and on until 1996, was the “Death Row” (the name used until ‘84/’85) era of Pentagram, featuring Victor Griffin (currently of Place of Skulls fame) on guitar. This version of the band released three albums, and is responsible for Pentagram’s reputation as one of the world’s best doom metal bands.

The last few years have seen a slew of both new and archival releases, including two new albums featuring just Liebling and Death Row-era drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Hasselvander, a studio album with Liebling backed by members of Internal Void, and two volumes of ‘70s era recordings released by Relapse Records.

The conventional wisdom for a first-time Pentagram buyer would be to start with either the 1970s Relapse compilations if you’re more into hard rock, and the Death Row- era on Peaceville (or original vinyl, if you’re lucky!), if doom metal’s your thing. This is not to take away from any of the other releases, but you’ll appreciate them more once you’ve heard what made them legends in the first place. In short, buy First Daze Here or Relentless, then go from there.

However, be aware that there is a large number of low quality bootlegs floating around out there, usually for sale on eBay – these are not endorsed by the band, are pressed on CDR, have photocopied “covers”, and are $25 - $30. Don’t buy these; you are being ripped off (it is one individual using many user IDs on eBay who is responsible for these). These can be easily obtained for free amongst traders, and if you are a fan of the ‘70’s era of Pentagram, it is well worth the effort to get someone to tape/burn these for you. We can only hope that these rough, but rocking recordings will be given a proper release some day...

For now, though, all official releases are listed below, in chronological order of release.


Be Forewarned b/w Lazy Lady 7” (1972, Intermedia)

The recording debut of…Macabre! Briefly known as Macabre (or mistakenly, as “Macbre” on the first 500/1000) copies, Pentagram’s first single is classic garage-y hard rock. “Be Forewarned” actually feels quite ‘60s to me, maybe it’s the echo on the vocals (which must’ve been the template for that first Witchcraft album!). But it makes me think of a heavy Animals or something! Anyway, “Be Forewarned” is still one of my favourite tracks by the band, so it was a real shame that the version that ended up being presented to the world on First Daze Here was overdubbed and remixed (“Lazy Lady”, too). Here’s the real deal.


Hurricane b/w Earth Flight
7” (1973, Boffo Socko)

“Hurricane” is 2 minutes of pure genius; Liebling’s vocals are on fire, and the whole thing is driven by an unusual, but utterly rocking, main riff. The flip side is “Earth Flight”, a better take of which appears on First Daze Here. This one’s good, but slower and less unhinged than the ’74 version. Only 200 of these babies were pressed, with half going missing shortly after release. Par for the course with these guys, I guess…


Under My Thumb b/w When The Screams Come 7” (1974, Gemini Productions)

Their well-done Stones cover was their commercial attempt at wooing labels, although the incredibly raw flipside of “When The Screams Come” must’ve scared them off! Only 100 copies made, I believe. Both tracks are now available on First Daze Here Too.


Livin’ In A Ram’s Head b/w When The Screams Come
7” (1979, High Voltage)

The only studio recording of the “High Voltage” era of the band, featuring Liebling, Joe Hasselvander, Martin Swaney, and two guitarists, Paul Trowbridge and Richard Kueht. These aren’t my favourite versions of these two all-time classics, but they’re good, for sure. Both are available on A Keg Full Of Dynamite.


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. A few of Liebling’s songs from the ‘70’s are presented here (a trend that would continue throughout all Pentagram 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.” Along with the ‘70’s recordings, this is my personal favourite. The original vinyl sports a different cover, running order, and slightly murkier (but still gloriously filthy) mix.


Day Of Reckoning
(1987, Napalm Records; reissued 1993/2005, Peaceville)

Probably Pentagram’s doomiest offering, Day Of Reckoning picks up where the debut left off. Still thick and heavy, but boasting a more dynamic production, with occasional acoustic guitar present in the mix. Features the unusually long (for Pentagram), 9-minute “Burning Savior,” one of many versions of “When The Screams Come,” and the incredible “St. Vitus Dance”-esque riffing of “Broken Vows.” Once again, the original vinyl features different artwork (which has been more or less restored on the most recent reissue), a different (more effective, IMO) running order, and more importantly, a completely different mix. The original drum tracks, featuring Stuart Rose, were re-recorded by Joe Hasselvander for the 1993 reissue, and the original mix is most definitely preferred.


Relentless b/w Day Of Reckoning
7” (1993, Peaceville)

Pentagram’s Peaceville debut is notable for the fact that the version of “Day Of Reckoning” here is taken from the original mix of Day Of Reckoning, with Stuart Rose on drums, and not the re-recorded version with Joe. ‘Course, good luck finding this these days, too….how about reissuing the original Day Of Reckoning, guys? It’s sooo much better….


Be Forewarned (1995/2005, Peaceville)

The last of the classic “Death Row” era records, and the most produced effort so far (but hey, this is Pentagram…it’s not that produced). More guitar overdubs and background vocals on this album, but still unmistakably Pentagram. The songwriting is pretty evenly split this time between Liebling, Griffin, and Hasselvander. Each has their own distinctive style, yet all complement each other perfectly. The immortal title track is much different than the Macabre single; here being presented in a much slower, longer, doomier form (incidentally, there’s a rehearsal recording of the ‘70’s lineup playing this arrangement on a bootleg dated 12/08/1973). My second favorite of the Death Row-era.

Reissued on double vinyl on Svart Records, 2011.


Human Hurricane (1998, Downtime Recordings)

I debated whether or not to include this compilation, as it is technically a bootleg (although not from the most notorious source mentioned in the introduction – this is actually quite well packaged). It was endorsed by Liebling only, and contains a mix of studio and rehearsal cuts from the original ‘70’s lineup. Most of these recordings can be found on Relapse’s two comps in much better sound quality. Long out-of-print, but if you see it in the used bins, grab it.


Review Your Choices (1999, Black Widow)

The first of the “duo” albums, with Hasselvander tackling all the instruments. While he does an excellent job, his lead playing is nowhere near the caliber of McAllister’s or Griffin’s. Still, the production is ultra heavy, and the tracks are a mix of Liebling’s old ‘70’s compositions, and (mostly) new songs of Hasselvander’s. Liebling’s vocals are unusually effects-drenched, and he takes a more eccentric approach to singing on a few tracks. Probably not the best place to start with Pentagram, but a good album, and my pick of the Hasselvander/Liebling era. The dark horse of the catalogue, IMO.

Season Mist’s 2008 CD reissue includes two bonus tracks, outtakes of “Forever My Queen” and an instrumental “Mow You Down”. Really not much different than the album versions, but slightly rawer, I guess.

Also reissued on vinyl on Emetic Records in 2010, and again as a picture disc in 2011 with different artwork (by Malleus) on Svart Records.


Death Row: Death Is Alive 1981 – 1985 (2000, Game Two Records)

A long out-of-print limited vinyl-only release of live material from the early ‘80’s. Very rough recordings and for die-hard fans only. Strange, as much better quality live recordings from this era exist.


Sub-Basement (2001, Black Widow)

Again, a mix of new tunes and ‘70’s tunes re-recorded (or recorded for the first time). The production is sharper, and Hasselvander’s lead playing has improved. A couple of clunkers on here, but the oldies “Buzzsaw” and “Out Of Luck” hit the spot.

Season Mist’s 2008 CD reissue contain Review Your Choices outtakes, “Megalania” and “Review Your Choices”. Shame they couldn’t have included the Blue Cheer and Captain Beyond covers, instead as they are the only other recordings of the Liebling/Hasselvander era.

Also reissued on vinyl on Emetic Records in 2010 with different artwork, and again as a picture disc in 2011 with (further) different artwork (by Malleus) on Svart Records.

2011 update: Just want to say that I think my original review really short-changed this album; it’s damn good, and just gets better with age. For insight into the Hasselvander/Liebling era of the band (and more!), read Joe’s excellent blog: http://joehasselvander.blogspot.com/


First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection (2002, Relapse)

The first of only two authorized releases of the 1970’s lineup, this compilation features a mix of Pentagram’s demo recordings and first three promo 7”s. Looser in feel than later lineups of Pentagram, this incarnation mixes the best aspects of the first two Blue Cheer albums, the Stooges, Sabbath, Budgie et al and creates a unique ‘70’s hard rock sound of their own. Incredible, timeless songwriting from Liebling, who also exhibits a much more diverse vocal style here than was present on the Death Row-era albums. Every fan will have their own faves, but for my money, “Forever My Queen,” “Hurricane,” and “Be Forewarned” (annoyingly remixed and overdubbed by Liebling here – seek out the original) should be as famous as any ‘70’s metal greats. Essential.


Turn To Stone (2002, Peaceville)

A single disc compiled from the three Peaceville releases. No rare/unreleased tracks, and minimal packaging - buy the full-length albums instead.


A Keg Full of Dynamite (2003, Black Widow)

A 1978 live recording of the short-lived "High Voltage"-era Pentagram, featuring Hasselvander, Swaney, and two guitarists, Paul Trowbridge and Richard Kueht (and Liebling, of course). Decent quality for a 25 year-old recording that was never intended for release, but it’s still pretty lo-fi, with vocals being fairly low in the mix. Notable for the presence of “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” put out by this lineup - “Livin’ In a Ram’s Head” b/w “When The Screams Come.” A solid release, but for diehards only.


Show ‘Em How
(2004, Black Widow)

Bobby’s got a new band here, none other than 3/4 of Internal Void! The majority of the album is classic oldies, but the three new songs are also quite good, particularly the somewhat autobiographical “Prayer for an Exit Before the Dead End.” 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 quieter moments reveal the effects of age and hard living on Liebling’s voice, a development that has received mixed reactions from fans. But for the most part, Liebling delivers, and the excellent band behind him gives it their all. Some of the songs, like “Last Days Here,” could never compare to the monumental versions laid down by the original Pentagram, but “Goddess,” “Catwalk,” and “Wheel of Fortune” will please most longtime Pentagram fans.

Reissued on vinyl with Malleus artwork in 2011 on Svart Records.


Bedemon – Child Of Darkness: From The Original Master Tapes (2006, Black Widow)

Not Pentagram per se, but this excellent mid-‘70’s project of occasional Pentagram rhythm guitarist Randy Palmer (R.I.P.) does include Liebling and original drummer Geof O’Keefe, and is stylistically very much in the Pentagram mold. The quality of Palmer’s very doomy compositions shines through brightly, transcending the primitive nature of these rehearsal recordings. Very heavy for its time, with druggy/horror-movie lyrics to boot, this is mandatory for fans of the ‘70’s Pentagram (and doom metal fans in general). Contains a very informative and heartfelt liner notes from O’Keefe, telling you all you could ever want to know about Bedemon. Keep an eye out for the 2002 Bedemon sessions, recorded just before Palmer’s tragic death.


First Daze Here Too (2006, Relapse)

A two CD set, featuring the ‘70’s lineup’s remaining studio tracks on one disc, and raw (yet most definitely listenable) rehearsal recordings on the other. A diverse collection, ranging from swaggering Stooges-like rawk, to the very heavy, doomy numbers (“Nightmare Gown”) of some of the rehearsal recordings, to the more commercial (in a mid-‘70’s context) leanings of their ’76 demo. Incredible musicianship from all, especially late, great guitarist Vincent McAllister (R.I.P.), whose extended solos in “Target” and “Show ‘Em How” are simply astonishing. The first Relapse comp is a better introduction to the ‘70’s Pentagram, but this one contains some of the band’s finest moments, IMO (and, like Child Of Darkness, features extended liner notes from O’Keefe). Disc two is 50 minutes of the most blistering hard rock ever.


Death Row: Alive In Death
(2010, Black Widow)

Nicely packaged 2LP/CD set of early 80s rarities. Contains a full soundboard recording of a concert from ’82, including killer non-LP tracks like “Through the Shadow” and “Committed To Vengeance” (Marty Swaney’s only composition…?). These two are lost classics that would fit perfectly on any of the first three albums. Very good sound here, with all instruments (vocals included) loud and clear in the mix. The second half includes a rehearsal demo from 1983 (the “Whore” demo), and the very first jam session between Griffin, Hasselvander, and Lee Abney in 1981. This features several embryonic (and instrumental) Pentagram classics, as well as a few Sabbath covers. Historically interesting, but not something you’d probably play too often. A few miscellaneous live tracks round out the release, including a somewhat pointless inclusion of “The World Will Love Again” (it sounds more or less identical to the one on the “Whore” demo).


If The Winds Would Change
(2011, RamFam/High Roller)

This LP-only release is the premiere release from the newly minted RamFam label, and contains the remaining Human Hurricane tracks not found on either of the First Daze Here comps. And, unlike the Relapse releases, I’m guessing Geof O’Keefe had nothing to do with this, as his always entertaining liner notes are missing. More importantly, he has most of the master tapes from the early daze, and unfortunately these recordings were obviously taken directly from Human Hurricane. It doesn’t sound terrible, but if you compare the difference between, say, “Target” on HH and the same recording on FDHT, you’ll hear there’s a lot that remastering can do for these tracks (and I have better sounding versions of some of the same recordings here). Shame they didn’t bother doing that here, especially if the whole purpose with RamFam is to “beat the boots”….On the positive, it looks great – vintage sepia-toned live pics of the 70s Pentagram (though only Liebling is on the front cover). And despite my nitpicking, the music is awesome, 70s Pentagram in full flight (as long as you don’t mind rehearsal recordings). Limited to 1000 copies, and probably all gone by now.


Last Rites (2011, Metal Blade)

It’s been seven years since the last Pentagram album, and since then a lot has sure changed; Liebling has kicked the smack and crack, married a girl half his age, produced a Bobby jr, and toured the world several times! As a long-time Pentagram fan, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it, if you’d told me a few years ago, but it sure is great to see. And to top it all off, Victor’s back! So, the new album. Liebling sounds a lot better here than on the sometimes warbly-sounding Show ‘Em How. To be honest, it’s a bit hard to be objective about Last Rites, as I’ve been listening to various versions for all but three of these songs for years. However, some do have new twists, like “Nothing Left” (my fave track here) and “Into The Ground”, both of which have been slowed-down and have new sections added. Overall, with Griffin and Place of Skull’s drummer Tim Tomaselli, it sounds a lot like Liebling fronting Place of Skulls, especially on the Griffin-sung “American Dream”, the only track which doesn’t work here. Anyway, on the whole, it’s a good album, and tracks like “Call The Man” and “Walk In The Blue Light” can’t help but rock. Production could be a little rawer, IMO. And let’s hear some of those 450 songs that have never been heard before, next time, Bobby!


Live Rites (2011, Svart)

LP-only release, recorded live in Helsinki, Finland, 2011. Haven't heard it yet.



Misc Pentagram


A Thousand Days Of Yesterday: A Tribute to Captain Beyond (1999, Record Heaven)

The Liebling/Hasselvander duo contribute “Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea Of Air)”, and the performance is heavy and nuanced (down to the “landing on a star…star..star” echo). Despite being a cover, it could be a Sub Basement outtake.


Blue Explosion: A Tribute to Blue Cheer (2000, Black Widow)

Probably from the same session as the Captain Beyond cover, Liebling and Hasselvander tackle “Doctor Please” and “Feathers From your Tree”…and of course, they rule. Hasselvander does a great job of replicating the feedback and leads of the original “Doctor Please”, although he forsakes the piano from “Feathers From Your Tree”. Actually, as tribute albums go, there’s a lot of good versions here, like Norrsken, Ufomammut, and Internal Void.


Like Black Holes In The Sky: A Tribute to Syd Barrett
(2009, Dwell)

Perhaps an unlikely pairing, but Pentagram (in this case, Liebling, Gary Isom, and Kayt Vigil) cover Syd’s “Flaming” from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It’s good, but nowhere as good as the Blue Cheer and Captain Beyond covers.


When The Screams Come
DVD (2011, Metal Blade)

When the screams come, you know that I'm waiting by my mailbox in vain.....for this DVD to show up. Apparently, it's quite an epic journey from Pennsylvania to Ottawa. Anyway, it's a live DVD, filmed at the Maryland Death Festival in 2010. In the meantime, I'd like to use this space to request a legit DVD of the Through The Shadow concert from 1983.

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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 5:54 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 18, 2010 9:29 pm
Posts: 1763
Excellent, man. Cheers..


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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 6:36 pm 

Joined: Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:56 am
Posts: 529
Location: California
Damn Throatwobbler, you're on a roll.
Much appreciated.
Thanks!


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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 6:56 pm 
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Posts: 58
Location: Washington State
Interested in sharing, it would look great on Doommantia with some album art to go along with it. Your call!!

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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:09 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:23 am
Posts: 26
A.C.E. wrote:
Damn Throatwobbler, you're on a roll.
Much appreciated.
Thanks!


haha, thanks! I actually wrote 90% of this a few years ago (same with the Wino one), and the rest a few days ago on a caffeine high.

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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:16 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 2:09 pm
Posts: 370
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Awesome man, thank you so much for (re)posting this! Just like Wino's guide, there's really only 3 albums I still need on that thar list, and rest assured, I'm working diligently to procure them. Thanx again!


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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2011 3:25 am 
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
I miss these things. Glad we can still sift through the ruins of that place.

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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2011 10:04 am 

Joined: Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:56 am
Posts: 529
Location: California
Throatwobbler wrote:
A.C.E. wrote:
Damn Throatwobbler, you're on a roll.
Much appreciated.
Thanks!


haha, thanks! I actually wrote 90% of this a few years ago (same with the Wino one), and the rest a few days ago on a caffeine high.


Then please have some more coffee.


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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:55 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:29 pm
Posts: 115
Location: WA
I really want to hear that Syd Barrett cover, I didn't even know it existed. Btw, if anybody wants Live Rites and doesn't want to import it it, I have it available for pre-order at my shop. It'll be in stock this weekend.

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 Post subject: Re: Pentagram Buyer's Guide
PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:10 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2011 5:04 pm
Posts: 162
Location: Houston, TX
It used to be streaming on the Pentagram Archives myspace site. In all honesty, it's probably my least favorite pentagram recording ever.

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