November 17, 2017

Pagan Altar - Volume 1 (1982)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 1982 Oracle Records Ltd.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Before it was dredged from out of the depths of time and obscurity for official release via the band's own website in 1998, Pagan Altar's Volume 1 had been one of the most bootlegged unreleased albums circulating within the heavy metal underground over the previous twenty-odd years. Recorded at the band's own Pagan studios in 1982, these high-quality demos were shopped to no avail for record companies of the day before landing on the bustling pre-internet, underground metal tape-trading network -- then eBay, where opportunistic bootleggers began commanding outrageous prices for them in the mid-'90s. This finally motivated long retired bandmembers to make Volume 1 available themselves, but how is it possible that such an acclaimed band -- even if it was cult acclaim -- slipped under the music industry's radar during one of the most prolific periods for signing heavy metal bands in the genre's history: the early-'80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal? Well, along with a reputation for stubbornness and doing things their own way, Pagan Altar were clearly swimming against the current of most successful N.W.O.B.H.M. bands; ignoring the innovative simplicity and accelerated pace brought on by punk rock, to carry on embracing heavy metal's earliest, largely slothful and exceedingly gothic template, as laid down by original masters Black Sabbath. Amazing as it may seem today, both qualities were radically unfashionable during the rise of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, et al, leaving Pagan Altar's music sounding positively ancient by comparison -- even though all songs contained here had been written between 1981 and the London-based group's inception, in 1978. Gregorian chants from the same intro tape used to open Pagan Altar's highly theatrical live shows launches the band's eponymous song: a doom-laden affair marked by such recognizable Sabbath-isms as foreboding, downtuned power chords, bowel-loosening bent notes, and stunning lead work from guitarist Alan Jones topped with the curiously nasal delivery of his sibling vocalist Terry (later attributed to a bout of the flu!). The comparatively vigorous "In the Wake of Armadeus," meanwhile, splices together slightly altered versions of the riffs from "Electric Funeral" and "Black Sabbath" -- the song -- with memorable results; and the synth-introduced "Judgment of the Dead" arguably qualifies as the album's best track, with its strikingly melancholy melodies and explosive punctuations from the rhythm section of bassist Trevor Portch and drummer John Mizrahi. Along with subsequent offerings like "The Black Mass" and "Night Rider," all of the above epitomize post-acid rock '70s heavy metal at its best (i.e. -- "classic" doom), recalling the work of American also-rans Bedemon and Pentagram, while generally proving more authentic (and better executed) than the work of like-minded British contemporaries Witchfinder General. Only as the end draws near does the album swerve into unfamiliar territory, via Alan Jones' acoustic guitar solo piece, "Cry of the Banshee," before segueing back to habitual sounds for the thundering stomp of eight-minute closer "Reincarnation," which duly reopens the gates of Hell for a relatively up-tempo, but still typically heavy descent through all nine circles. With that, Volume 1 runs its course, and while its D.I.Y. production and old-fashioned metal aesthetic certainly explain why Pagan Altar were overlooked by the chart-minded wardens of the music industry, the band's inspired songwriting, musicianship, and vision also justify their rise to cult status in the eyes of heavy metal fans with little care to commercial success.

tags: pagan altar, volume 1, vol 1, 1982, flac,

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