Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sign Of The Wolf!

(Pic. by Mike Westbrook)

Ok, here’s how I’ll admit my thought process went on this whole thing when I first heard about it: Bobby Liebling may either a) not show up or b) if he does, will be in no shape to do a show and may even keel over during the set. So, the reality of the situation is that while fearing a PENTAGRAM meltdown, I took a look at the rest of the line-up and said “Hey, why not, at least 3 or 4 good band for less than $20.” So, without further ado, let’s get to the nitty gritty.

Philladelphia’s SERPENT THRONE hit the stage first at this 1,000-ish capacity club in downtown Charm City and proved that I’m on the money in being impressed by their new CD, “The Battle Of Old Crow.” To say this 4-piece is a throwback wouldn’t be fair but they sure have been influenced by great bands of the past. They are completely instrumental but before you get ready to ask me how boring they were, don’t. These guys know how to do it and boredom is never a problem. Mingling together all the best aspects of early Maiden, Sabbath, Wishbone Ash and Uli-era Scorps, they come up with some absolutely killer riffs that are as catchy as anything you’d ever hear wrapped around a vocal line. Laced atop this heavy backdrop are as gorgeous harmony leads as you’d ever hope to hear and live, they really pull it off, obviously getting into it like hell. I also picked up their 1st disc “Ride Satan Ride” at the show and found that it’s a scorcher as well. Look for an interview on the REALM with these cats soon.

Next up was local band MOONSHINE and I have to admit, their set was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Based around a heavy sludge platform, the band featured a female singer who alternated between clean vox and a sort of black metal shrieking. The two guitarists also added in gruff growling at times as well as some fairly head-turning axe leads. Despite all that (and, like SERPENT THRONE, great sound) I couldn’t help getting the feeling at times that this crew are often trying to be weird for the sake of it, as far as their arrangements go. In all fairness, that impression could stem partly from my unfamiliarity with their material and I’m doing what I can to locate a copy of their CD. I actually attempted to buy one at the show but while a band member told me they were for sale at the merch table, there were no signs of them anywhere. (??)

Onstage next were The Netherlands’ THE DEVIL’S BLOOD and, having listened to their “Come, Reap” disc a lot in late ’08, I was anxious to see what they were all about live. Ironically, while having heard rumors of everything from Satanic rituals to an actual black mass onstage, this band had at very best, no stage presence whatsoever. Truly I have never seen a band who stood as stock-still as these five guys and one woman did over the course of their show. This stationery playing was broken up only by the constant head-banging of the one (of 3) lead guitarist and the occasional move by the female singer to turn around with her back to the crowd during some of the instrumental sections. In fact, there was nothing even said to the audience by the band between songs. Now, I must be fair and say that with all this complete inactivity, the music was fantastic! Creating a quite original blend of psychedelic rock along with metalized chords and intricate 2 & 3 part guitar harmonies, THE DEVIL’S BLOOD then put a musical cherry on top with the gorgeous Christine McVie-like vocals of their equally visually gorgeous vocalist. In fact, I really loved the way this band sounds and as a guitarist was more than impressed with the 6-string artistry on display. But, fer Chrissakes, at least move around a little bit! Tony Iommi has the metal moratorium on kicking ass while motionless. Don’t try to match him in that regard!

So far, a pretty decent night for music and also a great “reunion” atmosphere for getting together with some old friends like Eric Dixon, Jim Powell, Dave Wright, Pat, etc. I meandered around the venue drinking Cokes (yeah, big partier that I am…taking heart rhythm medication’ll do that to you) and talking metal, family, etc. I was disappointed at the 2XL size PENTAGRAM shirts being sold out, but the copy of the 1st SERPENT THRONE disc in my pocket eased the pain.

At any rate, next to take the boards was Montreal’s PRIESTESS. I heard some people bitching & moaning about these guys not “fitting in” with the rest of the bands but that was a bunch of shit, as I think they fit very well. They’re unique combination of stoner, thrash & traditional metal went down really well on these ears and was a nice contrast while still kicking butt. To be honest, PRIESTESS’ “Hello Master” album was my top record a couple years ago and the new songs they did this night sounded even more intense. Can’t wait for the new one, guys!

And so, the time finally came to see exactly what was going to go down under the name PENTAGRAM. The house lights went down and an eerie intro began to play as we stood, our ears sobered for what might come as we gazed upon the 3 Marshall stacks at stage right and the enormous bass rig to the left. One crony of mine was heard to comment, “Glad I brought my ear plugs.” I had not, however, and yet like a moth to a flame I eased my way through the crowd & closer to the stage. Then, before I knew it, Gary Isom had taken his seat behind the drums, Mark Ammen appeared bass in hand and directly in front of where I stood, Russ Strahan got ready to unload the pain with his Flying V. Within seconds, the band launched into a crushing, leaden “Wheel Of Fortune” and Bobby Liebling took the stage. Now, let’s be realistic. The man is surely no spring chicken and does not look like one. Sure, he’s been through some shit and it shows. But understand something very clearly. I have not seen Bobby look as well as this since the time I saw them down at the Paragon in College Park, MD probably 20 years ago. Gone was the orange hair from the last few times but back was a man who was driven & focused from the first note that came out of his mouth till the last of the evening. He sounded great, whether it was on newer material or older classics and there were notes on the upper end of the register that, again, I haven’t heard emanate from his mouth in 20 years. I was not only pleasantly surprised but delighted with Liebling’s performance. As for the rhythm section, Isom (who also served a much earlier tenure in PENTAGRAM as well as Spirit Caravan) and Ammen (part of the MD doom family, having been in Unorthodox, for one) were heavy as hell and solid as a freaking rock. Last but not least, however was the “X” factor, guitarist Russ Strahan. A member of the band LAND OF DOOM, Strahan was not familiar to me but he sure as hell is now. The simple fact is that this guy is a guitar god! Not only were his rhythms heavier than a ton of witch’s tits tied to bricks, his lead tone was clear, high-pitched and nasty! Combine that with his searing, liquid Trower-like playing & you’ve got the makings of a new doom legend. This was a fact obviously not lost on Bobby Liebling as, when he introduced the band, he referred to Strahan as “my secret motherfucking weapon!”

Basically the new PENTAGRAM opened up an imperial-sized can of unadulterated whoop-ass on Sonar this night, from chestnuts like “All Your Sins,” “20 Buck Spin” & “Sign Of The Wolf” to a couple new scorchers such as the plundering funk/doom monster, “South Of The Swamp.” Prior to the show, some people had speculated that this (and the gig in NYC the night before) were basically set up as Bobby’s farewell to his fans. I am here to say that the gig I witnessed did not look like anyone’s goodbye to anything except the crowd’s hearing! PENTAGRAM in general, and Liebling in particular appeared for all the world to be a heavy metal outfit who were announcing their ongoing life in no uncertain terms. All I can wait for now is the new studio album, tentatively entitled “Last Rites” and 2009 should be quite a new beginning for one of the greatest bands of all time!


perryfalcon75 said...

Wow, Ray! I'm glad you got to see Pentagram live again. If I still lived in the States I'd probably have gone. Instead I get to live vicariously through your story and pic. Didya catch up with Scott Carlson?

Tony93666 said...

man, I would have loved to see that show...