Pentagram is led by doom metal cult figure Bobby Liebling, who spent the better part of the last 40 years on the couch in his parents’ sub-basement, a psychonaut engaged in a solitary inner voyage aided and abetted by various illegal substances. Liebling has finally emerged from the depths, both literally and figuratively, and is now married with a child, and his band, which has seen various incarnations since its inception in the early 1970s, has re-emerged this year with a great new album, Last Rites, and a tour to support it.
This stop at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge club was a triumph. The recently sober Liebling has reunited with his former guitarist Victor Griffin, who has created some hard rock classics of his own with his band Place of Skulls. The two men make a formidable team, with the underrated Griffin’s grungey, Tony Iommi-influenced guitar stylings underpinning Liebling’s demonic lyrical visions, which often function as warnings to avoid the various pitfalls of human existence which the singer himself has fallen into.
The band led off with “Treat Me Right,” a hard rock grinder from their latest album, which draws not only on the Black Sabbath brand of “doom metal” that makes Pentagram so beloved of that genre’s aficionados, but also on the work of 1970s hard-rockers like Sir Lord Baltimore and Groundhogs, bands like Pentagram for whom critical recognition has come very late, if at all. Pentagram standards “Forever My Queen” and “Review Your Choices” saw Liebling in fine voice, hitting the high notes with ease. The band’s signature tune, “Sign of the Wolf,” came early in the set, and seemed to be slightly rushed, as Liebling played around with his vocal phrasings, perhaps in an attempt to reinvigorate the song for himself more than for the audience of rabid Pentagram devotees.
With the following number, “Vampyre Love,” however, Pentagram kicked into a higher gear, as Griffin turned it up and Liebling immersed himself in the role of lusty goth-metal rocker. “Evil Seed” was as suitably doomy-sounding as the title suggests, while “8” (from Last Rites), which, perhaps in an attempt at numerological significance, was indeed the eighth song of the set, was a standout. Like much of the new album, “8” features some moody psych-rock touches, and in a live context, the pulsating drumming of Tim Tomaselli pushed the band onwards and upwards.