Last Rites

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The release of Pentagram's latest album, 2011's ominously titled Last Rites, via Metal Blade, is emblematic of the Virginia doom icons' painfully slow rise out of obscurity, as this is undoubtedly the most powerful record company association of the band's ill-starred 40-year career. Heck, at this rate, Pentagram leader Bobby Liebling will be signing on the dotted line with Columbia Records by the time he turns 100! Well, maybe not, but bet against the old ghoul at your peril… And seriously, aside from being the first Pentagram studio album released since 2004's disappointing Show ‘Em How, Last Rites' biggest headline is probably the unforeseen return of iconic guitarist Victor Griffin (Pentagram's six-stringer, off and on, between 1979-1996), who set aside years of animosity and even his born-again Christian values to collaborate once again with his old creative foil, Liebling. The resulting LP, like most every Pentagram album before it, combines a few brand new compositions with select reworked material unearthed from Liebling's seemingly inexhaustible store of unreleased demos; but, to its credit, the songs and performances are consistently strong enough that identifying each culprit's period of origin is for once nigh on impossible. It's certainly a lot more difficult, and unless you happen to be scholar enough to instantly call out ‘70s nuggets like "Everything's Turning to Night" and "Walk in Blue Light" based on their gothic psychedelia, not even the songwriting credits give away much. Pounding opener "Treat Me Right" could have been written last year or retrieved from the same raging power source that yielded raging old classic "Burning Rays"; the more introspective, acoustic guitar-laced and clearly flower-powered "Windmills and Chimes" is probably as old as the hills…but is it? Even the album's three Liebling/Griffin co-writes (among which the fairly stunning "Into the Ground" is an absolute keeper) all absolutely reek of the duo's '80s heyday: from their elephantine doom riffs to their vampiric vocal delivery, to their soaring, lyrical guitar solos. But are they? Oh, who the hell cares? At the end of the day, only a couple of tunes bearing the Griffin/Turley (as in bassist Kyle Turley) credit evade the stamp of classic Pentagram, and that's not because they are newly penned, but because neither one impresses all that much (though "American Dream" notably features Griffin on lead vocals). In short, can we all agree that the hour has grown far too late to dissect the mysterious ways of Pentagram and crazy old Bobby Liebling? Good, then let's just shut up and enjoy living treasures of American doom like Last Rites while we can.

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