Who would have thought seven years ago that Victor Griffin and Bobby Liebling would reunite under the name PENTAGRAM just to record a new record? Not me. Even as recently as 2 years ago, PENTAGRAM consisted of Bobby Liebling, Russ Strahan, Gary Isom as well as Mark Ammen and it seemed as if this lineup would record the upcoming seventh album entitled 'Last Rites'. But then it all came totally different. Bobby Liebling soon parted company with guitarist Russ Strahan who has been replaced by Johnny Wretched and then by Victor Griffin. He was something like a special guest first, because Place Of Skulls had priority. Shortly afterwards Gary Isom and Mark Ammen left PENTAGRAM and this could clear the way for Place Of Skulls drummer Tim Tomaselli and bassist Greg Turley, who was already in the mid-1990's lineup of PENTAGRAM. Basically, here we almost have the mid-1990's formation, except for Tim Tomaselli. This was reason enough for me to look forward to 'Last Rites' with anticipation.
The past has shown us that Bobby Liebling and Victor Griffin go great together, and even if I don't want to diminish the work of all the other great guitarists who have been in PENTAGRAM, I have to point out that especially Victor Griffin has shaped the sound of the band more than anyone else. The combination of Liebling's hypnotic vocal style and Griffin's crushingly heavy, doom-laden riffs has ensured that PENTAGRAM as well as Death Row became an important part of doom metal history. And that's what's making 'Last Rites' so worthwile: it's the interplay of both musicians. Victor Griffin's guitar work is sublime and lends the band a majesty other can only dream of. Bobby Liebling puts in one of the best performances of his career by capturing the essence of every song with the right accompaniment. Never overdoing it, but always strong and commanding, he stamps the songs instantly with his soulful vocals.
In direct comparison to 'Be Forewarned', which was the last studio collaboration between the two musicians, Last Rites' is a natural progression of the 1994 double album. In concrete terms, this means that 'Last Rites' is not a desperate attempt to revive the early 1990's, but rather a modern sounding album. In doing this, it weaves threads from each stage of their career into a defining statement of character and class. As in the past, the tracklist includes a lot of older songs, but as always the re-recorded versions are consistently strong. They give the album an underlying 1970's touch and PENTAGRAM present an updated and surprisingly breezy interpretation of rather unknown tracks such as 'Call the Man', 'Windmills and Chimes' or 'Everything's Turning to Night'. But there are also a few new tracks, which are mainly penned by Greg Turley, Bobby Liebling and Victor Griffin. They fit smoothly into the tracklist and if you are not familiar with PENTAGRAM's convoluted career then it's difficult to say which songs dates from the 1970's and which one has been written before the studio recordings of 'Last Rites'. But that also already worked on the last six records, so it's a well-known fact and no surprise.
What is more surprising is that Victor Griffin took over lead vocals in 'American Dream'. As a result, I had the impression that I was listening to Place Of Skulls but hey there're worse things (just kidding). But actually it exemplifies once more the variety of the included eleven songs. 'Last Rites' has a lot to offer with its thoughtful arrangements and dense atmosphere. The music is not only energetic and heartfelt, but also very conscious of its roots that can be traced back to rock 'n' roll and late 1960's/1970's hardrock. So, if you are looking for an album that is fully packed with current doom metal cliches, you will probably hate 'Last Rites'. But if you are seriously interested in an album that slowly unfolds it's beauty, don't hesitate to buy a copy. As an old fan of Death Row and PENTAGRAM, I am very pleased with 'Last Rites'. On their 40th anniversary PENTAGRAM impressively prove that they are still too young for for the scrap heap. They band is firing on all cylinders and has more power and ideas than most of the younger heavy bands. Overall, the album is a smorgasboard of heaviosity, and highly recommended to old and new fans.