Unsurprisingly solid offering
Genre: Doom, traditional
Perhaps no American doom band has a longer, more convoluted and remarkable history than Pentagram- specifically vocalist Bobby Liebling, who is the lone member to have been present for pretty much the entire duration of the band's career. The details are way too complicated to go into here, but Liebling, whose struggles with substance abuse are the stuff of almost Keith Richards-like legend in the metal world, has also struggled to keep a steady band lineup for any significant length of time, but the band's current incarnation may be the closest they've come since the 1980's. Guitarist Victor Griffin and bassist Greg Turley were both present for Pentagram's last album, 2011's Last Rites, while drummer Pete Campbell is a new arrival.
And like the band's current lineup, the quality and sonic traits of Last Rites and Curious Volume display about as much consistency as Pentagram's long but sporadic series of album releases ever has. Which isn't saying much, but after years of seemingly always teetering on the brink of collapse, Pentagram seem to have finally settled into something approaching a routine musically as well. The production of the two albums even manages to be quite similar. This time, however, the band seems to have tweaked their musical direction ever so slightly. Last Rites was dark, haunting, and often a bit more subtle and complex than I had come to expect of Pentagram, perhaps a little too much so for some fans' tastes. If you fall into this category, you will probably like Curious Volume quite a bit better, as it's definitely more of a straight ahead rocker. Personally, I actually felt a bit worried when I heard opening cut "Lay Down And Die." Yes, it rocks in a reasonably catchy, non-nonsense fashion, but to me, something was missing. And while most of the other songs fare quite a bit better in my opinion, the haunting but simultaneously inviting atmosphere that dominated much of Last Rites is noticeably absent, as the band mostly eschews atmospherics in favor of good, simple, old-fashioned riffage. Songs like "The Tempter Push," Dead Bury Dead" and the infectious, upbeat "Misunderstood" work this approach in solid, powerful but never life-altering fashion, making this an album that, while not the band's best, is guaranteed to be a good time for both band and audience live. (Note: saw them live at the Met in Pawtucket, RI for the second time in a year, and not too surprisingly, they had added several songs from this album to the set, most of which received a noticeably positive reaction, though not nearly as raucous as material from their much-loved debut album.) Throughout it all, Griffin provides some of his most accomplished lead playing to date.
Overall, Curious Volume is an unsurprising yet unsurprisingly solid offering of Pentagram's trademark combination of doom and traditional heavy rock elements. Definitely not a game-changer, but a welcome and easily headbangable addition to the Pentagram catalog. Considering the band's long history and Liebling's well-documented past screwups and more recent triumph, it's fairly miraculous that they can still crank out solid material and deliver the goods live with the reliability that they have recently shown. May their very belated purple patch continue for years to come!