Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Pentagram - First Daze Here

Pentagram
First Daze Here


AOTM #46, March 2004ce
Released 2001 on Relapse Records
  1. Forever My Queen (2.24)
  2. When the Screams Come (2.59)
  3. Walk in the Blue Light (5.35)
  4. Starlady (5.15)
  5. Lazylady (3.48)
  6. Review Your Choices (2.57)
  7. Hurricane (2.05)
  8. Livin’ in a Ram’s Head (2.16)
  9. Earth Flight (2.51)
  10. 20 Buck Spin (4.57)
  11. Be Forewarned (3.27)
  12. Last Days Here (6.08)

Note: Take a look at the longhair in the centre of this LP sleeve and see his Iggy t-shirt in 1972! That hard, youth! Then cop these sleeve notes by Pentagram’s Geof O’Keefe, babies, and tell me yooz not intrigued immediately: ‘It was 30 years ago in the fall of 1971. Blue Cheer had lost both their fire and guitarist Leigh Stephens, Cream had disbanded, and Hendrix had been dead a year. But a new wave of sound and fury had begun to emerge in the form of bands like Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, the Groundhogs, UFO, Scorpions, Budgie, Budgie, Bang, Stray and the Stooges. And influeneced by these bands and many, many others, Bobby Liebling and I sat in a friend’s house … when it suddenly dawned on us: why not start a new group, playing all original music influenced by the bands we loved!’


Bobby Liebling VOCALS

Ingrown Sociopaths hanging from the Tree

This Pentagram record is that same kind of mop-up Album of the Month that we got with the Electric Eels and the Mirrors a bunch of reviews back, in that none of these groups ever made a ‘proper’ album at the time because they lived in the world’s biggest cultural desert, America’s Mid West. However, whereas the Eels’ music was ignored because they were actively doing their damnedest to wind up blue collardom, and the Mirrors were treading too much on the toes of Kinksy Velvetdom when even the two originators were themselves in a backwater, Bobby Liebling’s Pentagram was deadly melodic proto-metal that would have been huge and mainstream had they ever got that first LP away. One single listen to FIRST DAZE HERE reveals the kind of compulsive refusenik hookiness that the best Rawk is always imbued with, from the automatic writing of Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild’ to the roadtrips of Montrose’s ‘Bad Motor Scooter’. This Pentagram music ain’t unknown because it’s difficult in any way, it’s unknown merely because of the obscurity of the pond from which it chose to ooze. Yup, unfortunately, that simple wrong place/wrong time syndrome seems to have been Pentagram’s stumbling block; and their hometown Arlington, Virginia weren’t never gonna see the rise of its own mavericks without them all first re-locating Alice Cooper/Janis Joplin-stylee to some rock’n’roll centre then returning be-limousined in snotbag splendour to accompany their own single finger salute.
And so for Pentagram, although five of the songs herein were culled from a single recording sesh, even getting into a proper studio was always the biggest deal. Indeed, some of very best stuff on this record was caught live in their rehearsal room – probbly the ONLY place they coulda sung what they wanted without being paranoid that some urbane studio engineer wasn’t smirking behind smoked glass. But that steaming hi-hat heavy recorded-in-our-gang-HQ element only makes the sense of desperation more real. And as Pentagram’s only contemporary 7” releases came out under different monickers (as Macabre and Boffo Socko) in the misguided attempts of local entrepreneurs to hoodwink the population that they was pushing something brand new, so the sense of utter cultural abandonment was made even greater! The great shame is that without that big label deal, Pentagram never got into a position to do the unwieldy long death tracks that surface only when you ain’t having to load the gear in and out of the studio, but leaving it all set up for a coupla days and settling into your own corner behind the percussion racks and Leslie cabinet. Still, maybe Pentagram’s sense of urgency is precisely because they never could do that comparatively bourgeois shit! I mean, although they do sound superficially like Sabbath in a Too Much ‘Grease it out’ kind of way, Pentagram didn’t sound anything at all like the sludge Blue Cheer spunked out. In truth, this lot sounded mostly like a slower Dust only a fuck of a lot better1 because they took the more obviously Goyisch side of Dust such as the odes to shagging camels and the learning to die songs and the suicide songs and did them better (Hail babies, Bobby Liebling musta sung Dust’s ‘Suicide’ in the shower 200 times at the very least). Pentagram also trimmed the excess cling-ons off the Dustian butt (but not all, natch), thus streamlining it, distilling it and making it coherent and believable.

Pentagram’s songs are mainly short and brutal and flow from the Nornian fountainhead of Bobby Liebling, whose name I drop regularly in these reviews because he’s got the kind of one-of vocal and Muse-based lyrical sensibility that only such Capt. Scarlet ‘shamanic other’-ly types as Sean Bonniwell seemed to capture on record.2 When Bobby says he’s gonna die tonight, U-Knows he’s gonna kick it! He’ll resurrect fer shit-damn-sure but that don’t undermine a damn thing. When I use the term shamanic, you gots to understand the shaman ain’t always successful but the mere fact that he’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’ puts him right out of the regular space of thee average human being. As I wrote of Faust in the KRAUTROCKSAMPLER all those years ago, aiming for the stars is so much more than people generally do that you cain’t beat on someone when they don’t actually achieve it. Bobby Liebling was Lugh and his light reflected directly into the songs. As he himself sang:
‘Now you’re confused so I’ll set you straight
Many men die ‘cause they left it too late
If you don’t know what I talk about
Walk in the blue light you can find out.’

Motherfucker! It’s not ‘Too “too too” to put a finger on’ as Tommy Verlaine sung all those years ago. Give Bobby Liebling four lines and he says it all. Moreover, there is a stomping refusenik heathenism herein that particularly smokes my pole because I grew up in the West Midlands where those same attitudes that stopped Pentagram were found in large doses, nay in fucking overdoses. Hard to explain in the 21st Century, but growing up in the middle of the English West Mid of the early ‘70s bred a weird sort of anarchy of cough mixture surrogate trips and Amon Düül 2. The biggest thing in our school was when my mate Barry Clempson’s older brother joined Humble Pie. That the Pie was brownnosing the sub-sub-basement of the Everyblues was hardly the point, dahlings. In our minds we were collectively on a major label and it was fast times at Wincott High from here on in!

Vincent McAllister GIBSON S.G. GUITAR

Contextualising the Motherfuckers

The first time I heard Pentagram was on the compilation A GATHERING OF THE TRIBES. Their maudlin death trip ‘Be Forewarned’ particularly stood out among the other stuff because it was like an ever-descending sibling of 1970-period Love’s OUT HERE version of ‘Signed D.C.’ It took a traditional 6/8 minor chord sequence, stuck an ur-bass rumble underneath and sibilant Zildjian cymbal tinitus-inducing percussion over the top, and told a traditional tale of kidnapping your intended love in a manner redolent of ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women’ (only this weren’t no ‘SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS’ whitewash, motherfuckers!). Even the presence of Josephus’ 16-minute ‘Dead Man’ across most of side two couldn’t deflect the power of this three and a half minutes of doom and judgement, and boy was Bobby Liebling Judge Mental!3 So when you listen to this Pentagram record, remember always that, although most of it comes from one 1973 session, the rest was culled from a whole bunch of stuff created between 1972 and 1976. I don’t mean this as some kind of apologia for the band, babies, I mean the exact opposite – that this weren’t no progressive rock that ‘improved’ therefore tidied up as it went along, and you don’t see any lessening of sonic impact in later tracks, etc.

FIRST DAZE HERE

The album starts with three of the five songs that came from their March ’73 recording sesh and gives the album its real coherence. However, the album hits its peak later on, so give it time if this stuff don’t smoke thy pole immediately. ‘Forever My Queen’ opens up just like Bang doing Sabbath in that remedial Bleib Alien-meets-‘Future Shock’-style, a grunge-a-holic trawl through the lowest grade of Iommi riffs. Vincent McAllister solos wildly and inappropriately all through and then it just… fades and fucks off in my favourite kind of AM radio fade – 3 secs max. Then, off into the next under 3-minutes bliss of ‘When the Screams Come’, complete with Bill Wardian bibles-at-the-sofa drum fills and Sabbalong time changes. Man, these guys are screaming out for an LP of their own but there’s not even bones for these dogs! And slowly out of the mists comes the sub-Joy Division/E Pluribus Sabbalong of ‘Walk in the Blue Light’ in which Vincent McAllister exposes his bassist-turned-guitar hero provenance with another Bleib Alien riff you always thought Ace Frehley woulda been knocking out before his Kiss days (not true, I’m sure). In fact, that whole Roky Erikson/Bobby Liebling thing that the Swedish band Witchcraft had going really manifests here in the atmosphere of ‘Walk in the Blue Light’, enjoying a real soaring clarity and openness that Sabbath obviously never approached because of their ubermetal groovelessness.

Greg Mayne RICKENBACKER BASS

Then, ‘Starlady’ kicks in from three years later and weez talking about a totally different, blazing, auspicious rock experience that sounds like a band that’s huge. Gone is the autistic, post-adolescent in-yer-boots vibe to be replaced with a Horned God confidence that screams and struts. Also, here we gotta nutha extra guitarist called Marty Iverson, who adds considerable weight to the sound and pushes the whole Pentagram trip into a Dust-as-played-by-Montrose experience even something like the Australian UGLY THINGS period of MC5/Yardbirds influenced groups. I know I keep punishing the Dust metaphors but Leibling’s voice is uncannily like Richie Wise’s at times.

Track 5 is that classic ‘Lazylady’ 7” they recorded a year before as Macabre, and comes on with another ‘Walk in the Blue Light’ morons-on-the-frontier riff (play ‘em back to back – they’ze virtually the same fucking riff: excellent) over an Ace Frehley’s ‘Shock Me’/’Dark Light’-style throw away vocal that meets dirty Frank Zappa around the time of OVERNIGHT SENSATION (though this sucker is a year before that Mothers’ LP) – extremely charming and funny too. This is the toon in which Liebling disses his chick and kicks her out so she buys up the whole apartment block he lives in and has him kicked out, too. Nice.
‘Review your Choices’ is the fourth track from that same session that spawned the first three tracks on this disc. Again, we’re deep in Sabbath territory both lyrically and in its per-riffery. Sounds like Liebling never leaves the first four frets for his songwriting and Vincent McAllsiter is a committed ex-bass player when it comes to copping then staying true to the Liebling lick. He also exceeds at soloing like a flayling moron between each vocal delivery. Satan’s coming round the bend in this one, and there’s a man with a pitchfork, and.. oh whatever, I obviously suck this dung into every orifice with more gusto than most, or you wouldn’t be getting it served up as Album of the Month. Two months after that main sesh came the same Boffo Socko alias 7” ‘Hurricane’ that appears on GUITAR EXPLOSION 2, and is just Hendrix-filtered through Iommi’s week old socks. Deeply excellent, relentless, by numbers and irksome that it ain’t internationally known. A quick 2.05 classic, fade and outtahere.

Then it’s time for two of the three best tracks on the whole record, and both recorded in their rehearsal with sometime extra guitarist Randy Palmer. ‘Living in a Ram’s Head’ (excellent fucking title, Herr Liebling) has a steaming incessant freight train quality you wanna keep playing over and over and over. Man, if they got more of this rehearsal room stuff in the can, clue me druids, I gots to know! The following track is ‘Earth Flight’ which coulda be spunked out in the late 1960s and appeared on PEBBLES VOLUME 5, or UGLY THINGS, or any classic hard rock LP of the time. Monstrous and full of demons, and worthy of ripping off forever. ’20 Buck Spin’ is the final one of the five track session from March 1973, and man does it smoke my unyielding pole. Vincent McAllister is as good here as he is rock in that photo of him you can see in the review. And that SG is more burning here that Iommi’s ever was (honest!) AND this guy never has to resort to soloing OVER his solos as Iommi did countless times (whaddya mean, I cain’t diss Iommi? Only after 20 years did Iommi’s solos become classic through sheer overplaying and I’ll challenge any non-motherfucker to disprove my unhasty assertion!) Someone should release these five tracks as 7” 33RPM European-style pic sleeve maxi single just so we can judge Pentagram on a contemporary 1973 level and understand the songs in context. This band will surely be revisited again and again in the next few years and will, like lost greats such as the Blue Things and the Swamp Rats, become an accepted part of Rock’s great canon like the little glitch that held that first LP up weren’t fucking owt at all.

Geof O'Keefe DRUMS

‘Be Forewarned’ is up next. What do I say? I been listening to this on heavy rotation for 21 years and it is demented and suffused with the kind of incandescant glow that marks it out as the work of the great. Batman-meets-Lucifer Sam-as-played-by-Heavy period Love is not exactly obvious, kiddies, and I think we see here the reason that Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Green Manalishi’ influenced everyone (except its own writer): it has that LOVE IT TO DEATH interweaving minor key dervish quality that we all try to cop, but rarely even glimpse.

Then, we conclude with Pentagram’s finest hour by about ten bazzillion miles. ‘Last Daze Here’ is a beautiful, gleaming jewel of a death trip, with Bobby singing like he’s staring out of some spectacular ice palace and ain’t never coming back to the real world. He’s Mithra trapped in the mountain, he’s Loki with the poison reigning down on him,, but there ain’t nobody there to wipe it away in this particklier scenario. This song is imbued with a sense of tragedy you rarely hear in heavy rock. For those who don’t quite get it… whatever. But if you ever approached that post-everything vacuum, that empty cathedral in your head, that hollow, unspeaking, unblinking, unhuman emotionless inertia that even Iggy could only hint at in the flatness of ‘Sick of you’ then you truly NEED NEED NEED this song in your life. If Pentagram had only done this one song and been killed in a plane crash thereafter, we’d still be celebrating it 50 years from now. And when Bobby takes it down from his dazed almost whispered tenor to flat shark-eyed semi-spoken baritone and states: ‘Said it’s bin a little bit too long’, you feel the ice melt, then re-freeze instantly, and you know in that moment how tragic human life is, how intolerably short human life is, how the moments of adolescence that resurface in adult life must be celebrated and further celebrated, then howled about, shrieked out, screamed out… man, we are dead and in the fucking ground for so long… No No No No No No No… Gimme Life and gimme the six minutes of this toon on endless rotation.


Aftermath

I feel a little cold right about now, myself, babies. After such deeply moving sounds, you just wanna sit quietly and not even think. Imagine how Bobby Liebling, Vincent McAllister, Greg Wayne and their hugely poetic drummer Geof O’Keefe felt that they never got to spunk this stuff across the coasts of the U.S.A. Dammit makes me sad. In various Liebling-led guises, they continued at a local level on and off for years. They even went through some dodgy incarnations as a horror rock band, before this Relapse re-issue got them together and a chance to sift through the past. It was Stephen O’Malley who allerted me to its existence and I furry freaked the first time I played the sucker. A newly-recorded album REVIEW YOUR CHOICES came out about three years ago, featuring re-recordings of their classic stuff plus a bunch of new toons. Then Greg Anderson’s Southeren Lord label put out SUB-BASEMENT that I’ve played a few times and is excellent stuff, though how it holds up over the years I can’t say as I ain’t had them nearly long enough. SUB-BASEMENT includes compelling versions of ‘Buzzsaw’ and ‘Drive me to the Grave’ that anyone would wanna have at home, though. However, much better than all this for me are the two songs they contributed to that Blue Cheer eulogy CD, choosing ‘Feathers from your Tree’ and ‘Doctor Please’. Both versions are revelations and excavate the chaos from the Cheer originals without losing out, although for me you cain’t really do the former justice without at least approximating Ralph Kellogg’s absurdly grandiose dub pianos, however righteously proto-MC5-ian the vocals are. However, their choosing to do a version of ‘Doctor Please’ seems more than a little poignant with the recent news from my dear friend Herr O’Malley4 that all the years of substance abuse means Bobby Liebling is right about now having to have both arms amputated! All I can say is such a bizarre sting in the tale has gotta have a mythological provenance waiting round the bend!



FOOTNOTES:
  1. Because, whereas Dust’s team of Kenny Kerner, Ritchie Wise, Kenny Aaronson and the future Markie Ramone were better musicians, producers and arrangers than Pentagram, they was also way too eclectic and suffering (Bang-stylee) from the need to prove they could muso along with the worst of them. Also, despite the images of Viking dwarves and Germanic lettering, they still had a mawkish tendency towards the kind of Leiber & Stoller sentimentality that eventually got Kerner and Wise drummed in to produce Kiss’ 2nd LP HOTTER THAN HELL.
  2. I always imagine Pentagram doing a version of The Music Machine’s ‘Dark White’ because it has that perfect mix of gothic Yardbirds vocal, elusive Frejyan Priestess as its subject matter AND it builds and it fucking BUILDS!
  3. By 1982, the hip East Coast compilers of the great psychedelic garage compilations (PEBBLES et all) were, like Lenny Kaye with NUGGETS, starting to break out of their self-imposed time restrictions and throwing some serious heavy shit into the works. They’d realised that the Mid West of the U.S. had never even had the ‘60s let alone got over it. Like the Krautrock scene and the Japanese music scene, all the Sabbath/Bang/Blue Cheerisms had, in the Mid-West, merely been subsumed into the whole post-Stones catalogue and shit out the other end in true teen rebel proto-doom somewhat akin to Sean Bonniwell’s black clad Music Machine on a Troggsian death trip. But the real diff was this: it weren’t no teen angst anymore, ‘twas the cry of the West sung by real grown men crying like a several singular voices in the wilderness.
  4. By email last week



Discography

As MACABRE:
Lazylady b/w Be Forewarned 7” (Intermedia Records 1972)

As BOFFO SOCKO:
Hurricane 7” (one-sided promo R13859)

As PENTAGRAM:
FIRST DAZE HERE (Relapse CD 2001)
Review Your Choices (Relapse CD)
SUB-BASEMENT (Southern Lord CD 2001)