Apart from Black Sabbath, no doom band can claim the same progenitor status Pentagram can. Coming into existence in 1971, they were the first American doom band and along with their slightly older British brothers in arms, they wrote the book on the entire genre. They also penned another book over the years on how to become the ultimate obscure, underground and kvlt act and stay that way for four fucking decades without ever getting proper recognition. Anyone who watched the harrowing, heartbreaking 2011 documentary Last Days Here will understand why I say I’m always extra thankful to receive new music from Pentagram. It does my metal heart good to know that despite all the heartbreak, setbacks, failures and personal demons, the band is still here like some anachronistic fugitive from a forgotten time, stubbornly remaining true to the sound they started so long ago. And that brings us to Curious Volume, their ninth album – a lovingly crafted follow-up to 2011s excellent Last Rites featuring more of their “street Sabbath” sound full of bluesy swing and sleazy barroom atmosphere. If you’ve been a fan for a while, think of this as another trip to the Pentagram Inn, where you know every grimy inch of the bar and are on a first name basis with every unsavory customer. What more could you want besides extra pickled eggs and a vat of Purell?
As the second “reunion album” featuring founding vocalist Bobby Liebling and indispensable guitarist Victor Griffin (Place of Skulls, In-Graved), this is the band at their seasoned best, delivering their traditional mix of Sabotage and Never Say Die era Sabbath, 60s psychedelics, Cream and biker rock. The songs are all well conceived and loaded with the vintage riffs and grooves Pentagram are known for, and the material feels meaner and harder-edged this time. Opener “Lay Down and Die” is all geeked up with geezer strength and Bobby’s “crazy homeless dude” cackle sound particularly biting and vital. Victor picks his moments and drops all kinds of old timey wah-wah fests and the music is well-suited for a Hell’s Angels rally.
“Tempter’s Push” is a dark anti-drug screed with an anthemic “Children of the Grave” bounce and a hooky main riff. “Dead Bury Dead” and Close the Casket” harken back to the classic Day of Reckoning album, and “Walk Alone” is one of those instantly likeable, tough-as-nails rockers Pentagram does so well (and that lead riff just smokes). The band dials in the brooding and despondent emotion on the grim title track, and “The Devil’s Playground” starts life as classic doom, but adds elements of country rock into the guitar-work for an interesting result.
All the songs are winners with loads of classic riffs and Bobby’s ghoulish charm. The production is perfect for the material, emphasizing Victor’s raw, fuzzy guitar but leaving plenty of room for Bobby to skulk around in the background like Golem. The bass is thick and everything sounds street lethal, punchy and meaty.
While Bobby is the fascinating face and soul of Pentagram, it’s Victor’s playing that really sells the material. I’m a sucker for his style and he’s long been one of my favorite guitarists. He seems to exist in several decades simultaneously, with copious 60s rock influences sitting alongside the expected Tony Iommi worship, and for every Sabbath idea, there’s two from Cream or The Yardbirds and some of the leads could appear on a Kyuss album. He’s so adept at locking into a bluesy groove and riding it like a magic carpet until the walls start to change colors and melt, he makes you realize how deficient many other guitarists really are (do yourself a favor and check out his In-Graved project for more proof). Naturally, Pentagram wouldn’t be the same without Bobby’s skincrawling vocals. He can sound so vulnerable and heartsick one moment, and so likely to cut out your spleen the next, he’s truly unique. His eerie garbled delivery on “Misunderstood” makes the song pop and his crooning at the beginning of “The Devil’s Playground” is right off a Clutch album.
This is exactly the kind of ballsy, gritty doom rock I need when cleaning my guns, drinking cheap whiskey and plotting against competing websites. If you need a dose of hard drinking, hard living doom, Curious Volume is the magic ticket. Easily one of the best albums of the year and another jewel in the crown of these living legends. Stay gold, Ponyboys, stay gold.