So you're telling me that we're supposed to shell out money for another odds-and-sods collection of demos from this seminal doom rock band? That disc one, the only seven decently recorded tracks here, contains two covers and a well-loved but already-released gem? And that in the liner notes, drummer/band historian Geof O' Keefe spells out, in blunt and forthright terms, why the band never made it big in the 1970s?
Yes, yes, and yes. PENTAGRAM is one of those bands whose near-mythical past and scattershot body of work ensures lots of those twists and turns in the discography that so delight and frustrate record collector nerds. Relapse is remedying the situation, slowly but surely, with this series of albums compiling demo versions of many songs laid down by the band's '70s lineup. Most of these songs were never properly cut in a studio, which makes their demos — rough and raw as they may be — well worth release and collection by the faithful.
The seven tracks on disc one will satisfy any denim-swaddled doom freak — even the ones where O'Keefe admits (in the liner notes) that the band was blatantly trying to appeal to the record labels. "Teaser" finds the band writing some frankly pandering lyrics and adding a little cock-rock swagger to their sound, but they put it over — it's no worse than your average THIN LIZZY radio rocker, and it ends up being pretty damned catchy. Their cover of ROLLING STONES chestnut "Under My Thumb" is a relatively sedate cut, but they kick the hell out of THE YARDBIRDS' "Little Games". And "Wheel of Fortune" is one of those "worth the price of admission" cuts, opening the album with a ferocious roar that reminds you why PENTAGRAM was so damn cool to begin with, and had all the ingredients to become hard rock icons on the level of a SABBATH or PRIEST.
Disc two archives rehearsal demos — stuff never intended for release at the time, literally the sound of the band evolving in their practice space. Hell, you want lo-fi? Vocalist Bobby Liebling never owned a real PA system, according to O'Keefe, and often plugged his mic into a spare guitar amp! The results can drag a bit (as anyone who's sat through someone else's band practice can well imagine) — but there are some amazing songs here, and if this is the only way we can get 'em in their original form, I'll take them.
O'Keefe's liner notes beg one question — when is this poor S.O.B. gonna write a book? Taking an unflinching look at where the band stumbled on their vain quest for the big time, he documents studio squabbles with BLUE ÖYSTER CULT producer Sandy Krugman and a disastrous audition in a friend's living room in front of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. He also casts an unsentimental eye on the band's own songs (calling Liebling's work on one track "amazing. Dumb, but amazing") and admits when they were writing with one eye on the brass ring.
Overall, fans couldn't ask for a better, more exhaustive document of unearthed treasures. Casual fans should start with the first disc in this collection, by all means — it hangs together better, and is about as close to a best-of as PENTAGRAM can achieve, given the limits of the '70s lineup's source material. But for the diehard denizens of the ram's head, reviews are moot — there's only the freaked-out doom rock eccentricity of PENTAGRAM, and every crumb from their table is well worth collecting and enjoying. One of the all-time underrated, unfairly-passed-over rock and roll bands, well deserving of the cult that's sprung up around them since those relatively innocent days.