"Under the Black Cross"

(Ibex Moon)

01. Into the Fiery Jaws
02. Raise the White Ensign!
03. March of the Campbletown
04. A Devil's Shooting Gallery
05. The Utmost Desolation
06. Storming Through a Hail of Steel
07. The Last Flight (ML 306's Stand)
08. Awaiting the Blast of Death
09. Divus de Mortuus

RATING: 8/10

Just the sight of the name Wannes Gubbels should make this a must-buy for any fan of dirt-caked, primeval, doom-lurching war death metal. As a member for the last decade of the most recent lineup of ASPHYX (not to discount his other bands, SOULBURN or BUNKUR), he is clearly not only a practitioner of that legendary band's gloom-and-clatter vibe, but a huge disciple as well. Though these guys are no slouches musically, PENTACLE is not the name to turn to for technicality, excessive blast beats or grindvomit violence.

No. PENTACLE captures what Gubbels has called "the ancient feeling" – a martial, almost stately war dirge that owes much to early PESTILENCE and CELTIC FROST/HELLHAMMER. It's strikingly primitive, and it oozes feeling — an organic, muddy and malevolent Lovecraftian dread that you just don't get from the Pro-tooled sanitation of modern death metal. Listen to the swaying midtempo lurch of "Storming Through a Hail of Steel", Gubbels shredding his larynx in a very van Drunen way, the drums marching in time, sick guitar tones groaning forth like the creak of tank treads in a St. Petersburg winter – talk about some damn atmosphere!

Don't get the mistaken impression that PENTACLE are purely slow and doomy – far from it. When they cut loose, as on the full throttle "Into the Fiery Jaws" or the POSSESSED-like "The Last Flight", there are chaotic thrash riffs scattering everywhere, the band sounding ready to fly off the rails at any moment, attacking with a fierceness that isn't diluted by the studio one iota. It's "To Mega Therion"-era FROST hit broadside with some wild-eyed early PESTILENCE mania and an added dose of BOLT THROWER's inexorable lead-weight stomp for good measure.

This record's been out for a bit in Europe; its Stateside release (on the always-reliable Ibex Moon, the label run by INCANTATION mainman John McEntee) comes with a tasty bonus track (NECROVORE cover "Divus de Mortuus"). As awesome as this song is, it's kind of a shame the record still can't end with the incredible "Awaiting the Blast of Death" — a song that wraps up the various modes of PENTACLE, from their sinister midtempo chug to their frantic thrashing and warlike proto-death attack, into one seven-minute mini-masterpiece (complete with slow, grinding surprise outro laced with divebomb solos and double-kick punishment). However the tracks are sorted, the fact remains that for those who still prefer their death metal raw, bleeding, twitching and hacked off at the stump, PENTACLE are still delivering the real goods, a napalm-belching howitzer attack of analog in a world that's perhaps gone too digital to get why this is so necessary.


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