Pentagram’s 2011 album, Last Rites, was a first on many levels.
It was their first studio album in seven years, their first (and last) for Metal Blade; their first since their role as forefathers of the whole doom subgenre had finally been fully recognised by the mainstream metal audience; their first since frontman Bobby Liebling had kicked his various longstanding substance abuses and first since 1996 with their most iconic guitarist Victor Griffin.
Yet ultimately, despite few minor triumphs such as Into The Ground, it sounded too much like a compromise, lacking the element of danger that made their previous recordings so special – even when they were down to the duo of Liebling and Raven’s Joe Hasselvander working with a shoestring budget.
Curious Volume does its best to put things back on an uneven keel, but still betrays the terms of the contract that now links Griffin and Liebling. Back in the 70s, the latter was steering the ship, making the most of the young but promising Griffin (he first joined in 1983, aged just 21) but also introducing the dark side and myriad drugs that would eventually provoke his downfall 10 years later. Having long sobered up and become a born again Christian, Griffin’s condition for reuniting with his former mentor was that he would now be the one calling the shots – a double-edged sword, as he possesses a low-end guitar sound to die for and can summon the kind of subtle yet menacing riffs that urges Liebling to come out of his comfort zone. But he can also be held responsible for depriving them of their garage vibe in favour of a massive, yet a tad too sanitised, US market-friendly sound, keeping his once volatile yet vibrant frontman on a too short a leash and sneaking in sub-par material (Close The Casket and closer Because I Made It) that sound too much like his other band, Place Of Skulls. By cleaning up their act, Pentagram have probably saved their lives – but for those looking for that one living-on-the-edge spark that ignited their multiple 70s demos or first albums, it may be too late.