Friday, September 18, 2015

Review of Pentagram's Curious Volume

As everyone knows by now, 2011's Last Rites and the accompanying Last Days Here documentary depicted Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling getting off the drugs, crawling out of his parents' basement, and restoring his band's relevancy in the modern doom community. Misfortune has plagued the man in the four years it's been since that album's release but the persisting exposure and return to Peaceville Records are enough to suggest that the band's fifteen minutes may not be up yet. Most miraculously, the lineup changes are minimal by Pentagram standards as drummer "Minnesota" Pete Campbell was brought on, guitarist Victor Griffin left but came back on in time to record the album, and bassist Greg Turley stayed on all the while.

Like the last couple albums before it, the sound of Curious Volume draws more from the classic 70s style than the heavy doom of their first couple full-lengths. But while Show 'Em How tried its hand at energetic rock and Last Rites offered a more contemplative outlook, the album has a noticeably gritty style in comparison. The reflective nature can still be felt in spots, particularly on the closing "Because I Made It," but most of the songs on here have a much more driving nature. This is best seen on "Misunderstood" as its upbeat protopunk riffs make it one of the band's fastest songs since "Drive Me To The Grave."

This subtle shift in style is also reflected in the musicianship. While there aren't too many classic riff driven monsters on here, Griffin's guitar has a rough edge that has arguably not been seen since the days of Be Forewarned. The drums have the typical loose feel and Liebling's vocals don't stray too far from the haggard, lower pitched delivery of Last Rites. This may be the only sound that his voice can sound good with but I'm sure there's an alternate universe where he went down the Ozzy Osbourne route of vocal processing and overcompensation. I'm glad I don't live in that universe.
And true to all Pentagram efforts, Curious Volume is packed with variety. While the start-stop riffing on "Lay Down And Die" starts things off on a slightly awkward note, things pick right back up with the "Black Night" style swing on "The Tempter Push" and "Sufferin'" utilizes the tempo later on to entertaining effect. First Daze Here fans should also be pleased by the inclusion of the bass heavy "Earth Flight" while doom fans will go for the downtrodden grooves on songs such as the title track and "Close The Casket."

Amidst the various lineup changes and tonal shifts that have plagued Pentagram through their forty year career, they've been on a solid plateau in terms of songwriting since Be Forewarned. The same could be said for Curious Volume. It doesn't rise too far above any of their previous efforts but it fits right in with them and may be their most authentic sounding effort since their heyday. Established fans will eat this up and listeners who missed the last couple wouldn't be discouraged from giving this a shot either. No one knows how much Pentagram has left but let's hope they can hang onto Victor Griffin for a while longer.

"The Tempter Push"
"Earth Flight"
"Close The Casket"

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