Review Your Choices: Pentagram prevails at Jaxx on 8/12/11

Pentagram are local heavy metal heroes who have graced our pitiful existence on this planet with some immortal riffs for 40 years. Frontman Bobby Liebling has kept the legacy alive in one form or another for all the tumultuous decades past, but he sounds almost as if he’s at his peak—and for those not fortunate enough to see the band in the old days, he pretty much is. His presence is unreal and unforgettable; his bulging eyes instill a morbid fear in your soul; his, um, eccentric wardrobe choices tell you that he may not have gotten the memo that the ’70s are over, but that you’d be a fucking poser for even suggesting such a thing. And to sweeten the deal, Victor Griffin, the guitarist who provided the unforgettably dark and menacing tone and riffs on their ’80s material (arguably when they transitioned from the psychedelic hard rock of the ’70s to crushing, heavy doom metal), has returned to record a new album with the band: “Last Rites,” released by the big-name label Metal Blade.
The success of this album and subsequent tour are evidence of the band’s tenacity, and speak to a newfound stability after a long effort to negotiate with a label (an issue that Liebling bemoaned often when speaking to the crowd at shows in previous years, delivering stunning performances absent new material). The band is experiencing a resurgence of popularity, and it’s been a long time coming. The thick, enervating riffs churning out of the amps demand the immediate devotion of the listener, and in the comfort of this musical catharsis, even the most bitter and cynical music fan can look past all the seedy, half-baked schemes that have been coming out of nowhere to trample on metal’s former glory. So forget that Thin Lizzy is somehow still touring, or that Ozzy outlived Dio, forget about Morbid Angel and Cryptopsy, and that you probably won’t be able to afford tickets to Judas Priest’s farewell tour—Pentagram has risen!
I mention all these rough cultural times of the present, the rampant and tacky corporatization that has left no area of heavy music unscathed, to emphasize the sense I got at this show that Pentagram was transcending all the bullshit to a degree I had never seen before. They had horrendous opening bands, played at a sleazy venue (there were multiple Jaegermeister banners hanging up around the place, for fuck’s sake), and the world is getting to be just as frightening a place as it was in the mid-‘80s, yet Pentagram’s performance was stellar, delivered with resounding confidence. I felt truly sorry for those who wanted to see them at Sonar, a far superior venue in Baltimore, but were unable to due to the hurricane. It would have been pretty awesome to die in a hurricane while seeing Pentagram—much better than providing financial support to the scumbags running the rock ‘n’ roll swindle known as Jaxx. Hell, I completely forgot the pain of a recent wasp sting while I sang along to classics such as “All Your Sins” and “Sign of the Wolf” while being pleasantly surprised with my favorite new tune, “Call the Man”; and of course, fans were treated to the mandatory last song, “When the Screams Come,” during the encore.
It was as if Phil Collins and Duran Duran opened for the Beatles’ rooftop concert—just that much contrast between good and bad. I won’t dignify the opening bands too much by actually discussing them, but I’ll give a brief recap. One of them was a laughably wimpy Dark Tranquility/Children of Bodom rip-off, so absurd that the aptly-named Angry Black Metal Elitist blog couldn’t resist mocking them (http://waldemardaninskyjr.blogspot.com/2011/08/who-fuck-is-massakren.html). Yet another was so repulsively awful, with an unforgivably high ratio of breakdowns to melody that is characteristic of only the worst derivations of nu-groove-core wankery, that I will only mention their name to warn you to steer clear of them (though if you ever find yourself in the same vicinity as a band called “One Slack Mind,” and the inane moniker and complete absence of long hair didn’t tip you off already, you might be too stupid to kill yourself properly).
I had hopes that King Giant would smooth things over, since I’d heard they were supposed to be a quality sludge/doom band. Instead they were just mediocre southern rock with some sludgy distortion. The metalhead rednecks of Northern VA seemed to dig ‘em, so I’ll refrain from passing too much judgment; I prefer uncovered long hair over trucker hats, but that’s just me. To make a long story short, even when I was physically unable to stay inside the club room after the first few songs of One Slack Mind’s set, I did not lose hope for Pentagram.
Jaxx is a shitty venue. Music promoters are shitty people. The world is a shitty place. But through the music of Pentagram, those who are all but ready to completely despair are given some respite. Sure, it may be doom metal, the very soundtrack of tragic despair, the demon-spawn of the foreboding tri-tone from Black Sabbath’s first record, but all is not lost. From the very first utterance of the monster riff of the band’s new single “Treat Me Right” (check it out, it’s ridiculously heavy), one can feel the immediate potency of the music on a deep level you may have forgotten you possessed. It is eerily spiritual, and even the most strident atheist can forgive the occasional Christian overtones in the songs—I find that in these instances, heavy metal and Christianity may have some factors in common: a reaction to the primal fear within man that we are ultimately powerless over our fate and mortality. (Trouble and Saint Vitus also come to mind with regards to this theme.) So when it seems that all is lost, that the music you thought was great no longer has a place in this century, when it seems you may die alone and riff-less, when the screams come you know that you’re dying in vain… Sorry, couldn’t help myself—anyway, Pentagram still fucking rules. – by Diego Aguilar

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