Released: 2015, Peaceville Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Pentagram are kind of like a doom version of AC/DC. They’ve been around forever and all of their albums pretty much sound the same, albeit some better than others. Classic ‘70’s inspired riffs, a mix of new material and reimagined older tunes (some that predate you reading this by at least a decade), and Bobby Liebling’s signature tales of good and evil - it’s a formula that Pentagram has refined over the course of four decades. CURIOUS VOLUME doesn’t deviate from that roadmap; nay, it desperately wants to prove its value to the Pentagram legacy.
But man, Bobby Liebling sounds tired.
The man’s personal struggles have been well documented, and the band has endured an almost Charlie Brown existence; every step closer to the football of fame seems to only move it further away. But 2011’s LAST RITES was a definite step in the right direction and the 2012 LAST DAYS HERE documentary earned Pentagram some goodwill and an overdue moment in the spotlight. CURIOUS VOLUME tries to carry on like nothing has changed since that time, but one only has to listen to these 11 tracks to know that something is amiss.
The obvious issue is Bobby Liebling himself - 40 years of rock n’ roll excess has finally taken a toll on his voice. Despite double tracking and studio wizardry, his vocals are frail and often sound like he’s fighting to get the air out of his lungs. “The Tempter Push” sounds like the rummy at your local bar on karaoke night and “Earth Flight”, a song he’s been singing for decades, sounds like a wet sack of syllables falling out of his mouth. It gets to a point where you almost feel bad for passing judgement, and CURIOUS VOLUME is unfortunately littered with moments like this.
The songs on CURIOUS VOLUME are also a mixed bag. You’ve got some definite standouts like “Dead Bury Dead”, “Close the Casket” and the title track, where the miles in Liebling’s voice are paired magnificently against Victor Griffin’s iconic riffs. These tunes all reference the theme of “I know where I’ve been, and I know where I’m going”, and there’s something genuinely moving in their presentation. And then you’ve got throwaways like the wannabe biker anthem “Misunderstood” and the directionless, marble mouthed “Sufferin’”. At least LAST RITES sounded like it had a greater sense of purpose, CURIOUS VOLUME sounds like it’s just trying to keep up appearances and hopes that nobody notices. Speaking of sound, the production on CURIOUS VOLUME is more processed than anything bearing a Pentagram moniker should allow. The whole thing sounds very pro-tool’d, and despite a valiant performance from longtime ally Victor Griffin and whoever else is in the band at this moment, it’s a sonically flat experience.
Is there a future for Pentagram? I have mixed feelings about that. As much as I adore the band’s catalog and their influence on the genre, CURIOUS VOLUME is proof that the reaper always catches up with you eventually. Be Forewarned, Pentagram's Day of Reckoning is upon us.