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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Offering Alms to the Pagan Altar

Pagan Altar - The Time Lord EP reissue
2012 Shadow Kingdom Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Doom metal has been so strangely vogue in the metal underground these days credit of its popularity can be shared amongst high profile resurrectionists Down, a rekindled interest in Black Sabbath and the advent of seventies-based sludge courtesy of Clutch, Fu Manchu, Crowbar and Kyuss. 

Fortunately, this spike of hype towards doom metal has found listeners, new and old.  They're scampering towards the works of Witchfinder General, Pentagram, Cathedral, Candlemass and Saint Vitus, the most recognizable proponents of seventies and eighties doom.  The more young blood out there tackling doom modes in their work these days, the better chance we have of seeing more obscure artists such as Pagan Altar receive their due. 

Though they were mostly active from the mid-seventies through the early eighties, this British occult band has been sought out by genre freaks over the years and they have been cropping up intermittently through the 2000s.  There's even a new Pagan Altar album in progress, Never Quite Dead, ringled by Alan and Terry Jones.

At the height of their activity, it might be said Pagan Altar trailblazed paths of funereal visual presentation later adopted by Candlemass, Sunn O))) and Ghost, even Martin Ain of Celtic Frost.  Pagan Altar came out onstage in monks' robes to a whirl of faux fog and a mock high-rise black altar transformed overtop their Marshalls.  Skulls, inverted crosses, black candles, all which have become common props of dank theatricality found in future doom and black metal acts.  Perhaps they owe as much to Pagan Altar as they do Sabbath.

While Pagan Altar was far rawer than Sabbath and even their later contemporaries, there's undeniable grit and subliminal harmony to their largely mid-tempo thrust which can be savored on their reissue of The Time Lord EP. 

This stuff is for purists, because some of the material is choppy and undercooked, but most of The Time Lord is really damned good.  The intricate intro to "Reincarnation" with its Gothic guitar lines from Alan Jones and the Ozzy-esque dirge swoon from Terry Jones serves up a depressing through articulate timbre leading into the extensive, banging rhythm the remainder of the way. 

The lengthy title track is the highlight of the EP as Pagan Altar weaves fuzz-drenched ostinato that must've been some kind of recording session back in 1978.  There's a wicked magic pervading "The Time Lord" that supersedes the blunt , Sabbath-heavy satanic overtures of "Judgment of the Dead" and "The Black Mass."  Whereas the latter two songs are dirty and crunchy (sounding even more so due to the age of the original tapes), "The Time Lord," like "Reincarnation," is far more disciplined and epic-spirited. 

"Highway Cavalier" might or might not be considered the archangel cousin of Deep Purple's "Highway Star," but they're kindred in theme, which champions dropping out and dropkicking all that which binds one down.  Pagan Altar rides a few clicks slower than Deep Purple, but the gnarly grind and globbing bass hum from Glen Robinson gives "Highway Cavalier" a shoot-to-thrill vibe without being too slick. 

This is the insiders-only music you could've (or should've) been hiding from your parents and peers back in the day because none of them would've understood it.  Maybe that's why Pagan Altar never received their fullest accolades once the NWOBHM put heavy metal on the map.  They were right there in the thick of things, but were mostly missed alongside Witchfinder General in the doom uprising that was likewise missed for at least a couple of decades.  Cathartic may not be an applicable term to this rediscovery of Pagan Altar.  Still, no doubt the Joneses, Ivor Harper, Glen Robinson, Les Moody and those who filled the spaces thereafter are feeling something along the lines of catharsis right about now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reviews by Ray Over at Blabbermouth and Stay Tuned Here...

Keeping a hot pace over at Blabbermouth with album reviews of Triumph, Dio, The Casualties, Mos Generator, For the Fallen Dreams, and Cryptopsy and Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple's Machine Head, plus examinations of DVDs for Queen: Greatest Video Hits, Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender and the late Gary Moore's brilliant tribute to Jimi Hendrix.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more goodies coming shortly here at The Metal Minute!