Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Pentagram - Sub-Basement

Pentagram
Sub-Basement


AOTM #75, August 2006ce
Released 2001 on Black Widow Records
Side One
  1. Bloodlust (2.30)
  2. Buzzsaw (2.29)
  3. Drive Me To The Grave (4.30)
  4. Sub-Intro (4.00)
  5. Sub-Basement (6.00)
  6. After The Lust (3.43)
Side Two
  1. Go In Circles (5.16)
  2. Mad Dog (2.17)
  3. Tidal Wave (4.40)
  4. Out Of Luck (3.54)
  5. Target (5.10)


Note: Who does Bobby Liebling think he is? Or, more to the point, what he is? Is it only in his later years that Pentagram’s leader and primary songwriter made the connection between himself and the ghastly underworld figure that he portrays himself as on the inner gatefold of the recent SHOW ‘EM HOW LP? Or did Bobby Liebling always suspect that he was more, much much more, than the ‘dinosaur relic stuck in the twilight zone’ that cruel contemporaries (successful mechanics and computer operators, most likely) and chiding older authority figures have been accusing him of being for the past four decades? Rock’n’rollers of the ‘70s all were victims, at some point or another, of accusers who pulled the ‘grow out of it’ card. And I identify personally with Bobby Liebling when he sings on the title track of this LP: ‘Some think of me as fried, but it’s a choice of my own’. Right on, brother motherfucker. Because however much I think I’m making sense to the world at large, there’ll always be those who dismiss it as ravings from the Underworld. But whereas I recorded my first songs (‘Sleeping Gas’ EP) in ’78 and had some measure of instant success, Bobby Liebling recorded his first songs in ’72 and did not. Separating me and Herr Liebling was a thing called Punk, a would-be anarchic phenomenon which freed things up considerably. That Bobby kept plugging away year after year, clawing his way up the slope often only to slip back down again into what he calls the sub-basement suggests to me that he believed in rock’n’roll not because it was the only thing he could do, but because, come the Norse Goddess Hell herself or high water, it was Bobby Liebling’s destiny on leaving this world to pass through the Portals of Paradise as Mr Bobby Motherfucking Liebling Rock’n’roll Star. It is by now a given that, thirty years from now, Bobby will – even among the future equivalents of orthodox rock rags such as Mojo, Spin, Rolling Stone - have long ago taken his place in the rock pantheon. For it’s surely the destiny of the true artists to navigate their way not through but around the temporary trail of slimy shit that celebrity slugs contentedly ooze along on. And – like Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, Mizutani of Les Rallizes Denudes, Joe ‘Thrones’ Preston, Todd ‘Tamanend’ Clark, and precious few more - Bobby Liebling is one of those Primary Navigators we must salute again and again for exhibiting the dogged determination to not Lay-down-and-die-goodbye but to keep the motherfucking pot simmering so we all can have a little taste. Oo ja!

Note 2: For a proper biography of Pentagram (and what a convoluted story it is) please check out: southernlord.com/pentagrambio.html

Note 3: Also check out my review of Pentagram’s FIRST DAZE HERE as Head Heritage’s Album of the Month for March 2004CE



Meet The Creeper

Bobby Liebling now!

You wanna buy a classic rock’n’roll LP, kid? Well then let me introduce you to one of the greatest heavy rock LPs not recorded in the ‘70s. SUB-BASEMENT, me dears. It takes all the elements of Underworld investigation that the likes of Ozzy, Alice and Iggy found themselves making by accident in the post-Altamont anti-Woodstock post-Manson ‘Shit-The-60s-Didn’t-Destroy-The-Greedheads-And/or-Religion-After-All’ malaise, then it digs a little deeper into the cold earth, then a little deeper still down into the crust, until it hits the granite firmament itself, puncturing a main artery deep within the Underworld that jets forth a fountain of Menstrual Earth Mother Blood gushing with such a ferocity that you got Hell On Tap. SUB-BASEMENT breaks none of rock’s boundaries; it just examines those boundaries with the attention to detail and thoroughness of a farmer checking his wire fences fearful of having his bulls rustled. In the cold light of the early 21st century, Pentagram were thus able to redress their situation via the filters of such younger bands as St. Vitus, Sleep and The Obsessed, allowing Uncle Bobby Liebling a free refresher course in what he already knew like the back of his hands (which needed an Oil of Olay update in any case). Pentagram’s members get their SUB-BASEMENT ideas precisely from that re-examination; as Bobby Liebling and Joe Hasselvander round up the Woden’s Wild Hunt from the far corners of their fields, checking the numbers are right (count the horns and divide by two, brother), giving them all a pedicure, removing pebbles from their hooves, practising a kind of hindsight-informed rock’n’roll animal husbandry that pioneers such as Alice and Ozzy never coulda foresaw, then distilling and distilling it all until there’s just a tub-full of pure essence left to smear all over your amphibian self and yooz ready to kiss your surface dweller ass good-bye. Going Down, anyone? Uh-huh!

SUB-BASEMENT is an album you feel you’ve heard before even before your first play through. Indeed, when I first heard the record a coupla years ago, it was so immediately familiar that I virtually dismissed it as being unnecessary. But SUB-BASEMENT’s genius eventually overwhelms even the most hardened rock fan, for it bristles with surprises and novelties yet it courts every hard rock tradition in the most supremely confident manner. It’s an end product of hard rock executed by druid motherfuckers who’ve worked their craft for years upon years. It’s a solidly well-researched ‘I’m Living It’ declaration but it’s much more. SUB-BASEMENT bears the kind of superficially passing resemblance to Black Sabbath that the new Mini or new VW Beetle share with the early post-war originals, that is, whilst the LP admits its own antecedents, they’re actually entirely different beasts built to navigate an entirely different set of problems thrown up by entirely different times. Unlike Bobby Liebling, who’s by now wallowing in the nitric ooze and even Golluming up a little Ur-flame down there in the pale green light, Ozzy and Geezer felt bad about finding themselves in the mire; they were almost like second generation ska band Madness in their determination to ‘bend not break the rules’; the Lord’s watching and he’s disappointed in us. Back in 1970 in ‘Paranoid’, even a total freak like Ozzy was still so post-Christian guilt ridden that he blamed himself for any imperfection: ‘I can’t see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind’. Thirty years on, Bobby Liebling cuts himself some slack, brothers and sisters, because – like Wino Weinrich - he’s done with the martyring and he’s glimpsed the Reaper so many times and lost so many friends in the process, he’s just glad to be alive for however long the Be-scythed One chooses to allow him.

More than a few words must be said about the brilliance of SUB-BASEMENT’s sonic execution, especially as its musical arrangements and performance thereof were all down to a single person, namely long-term drummer Joe Hasselvander. Joe joined Pentagram in 1977 as drummer, when the original long suffering line-up had finally fled the Liebling madness for good. But by the late ‘90s, Hasselvander was usefully integrated as guitarist/bassist as well, which means that every dip, every sway, every magnification and inflection is amplified by the same assured hand. And we ain’t talking some dude clanking along to a drum machine, motherfuckers. These recordings ooze with organic symmetry of the highest rapport. Furthermore, this Hasselvander guy keeps such an arsenal of rock moves in his school locker that he’s in danger of being rapped on the knuckles by the rock teacher for not sharing with the other kiddies. Like Iommi did every God forsaken day, and like Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, Dave Chandler of St. Vitus, and Sleep’s Al Cisneros and Matt Pyke at their peak, Pentagram’s Joe Hasselvander electrifies SUB-BASEMENT with a seemingly effortless series of ever-increasing riffage, ducking and swerving around whatever Uncle Bobby chooses to sing. And as Bobby Liebling is an excellent songwriter on his own, the combination is an extremely vicious union of the minds, something akin to Odin and Thor walking abroad on a long haul mission.

SUB-BASEMENT opens with the short’n’snappy classic catchy-bastard barrage of ‘Bloodlust’, two minutes of hit song faster than Sabbath ever played, more in the tradition of MC5’s ‘Call Me Animal’ through The Obsessed’s ‘Indestroy’ filter. ‘I was the finder and the keeper’, sings Bobby. ‘I never thought that I would need to be the creeper, but my keeper turned out to be the reaper’. When such brilliant opening lyrics put the stunners on us, the scene is more than just set, it’s coagulating before our eyes. The Liebling ‘old man’ voice soon kicks in, you know that one that sounds like Eugene Chadbourne singing The Race Marbles’ ‘Like A Dribbling Fram’. It’s gotta be one of my favourite rock devices ever, and SUB-BASEMENT is riddled with that aged withered yawp. Indeed, the voice is there again on the second song ‘Buzzsaw’, which could be (may be?) a real old Pentagram song. In a flurry of stick clicks and paradiddles, ‘Drive Me To The Grave’ blasts out of the crypt as, over an ‘Ace of Spades’ beat, Uncle Bobby remains in his ‘old man’ character voice to tell the tale of how ‘baby’s never coming back’ so can the Chauffeur Of Doom please drive right up to the freshly-dug hole in the ground. Bobby goes on about having ‘five bad points’ (on his license I’d imagine if he’s got such a cavalier attitude to driving around graveyards) as the slamming rhythm and Iommi howl urges the Hounds Of Hasselvander onwards. The whole album then shifts down and down into first gear with the electronically eerie almost ambient doom beauty of the ‘Sub-Intro’ instrumental, kind of like Joy Division playing the themes from Reverend Bizarre’s ‘Strange Horizon’ on the ocean floor. Finally, the title track bursts through the wall and we’re into one of Pentagram’s best ever burnt offerings. Total unashamed Sabbath at their peak, replete with Bill Ward chucking-bibles-at-the-sofa drum fills. Side One concludes with ‘Enter The Last’, a trudge that coulda stepped straight out of The Obsessed songbook, in which the ultra world-weary Liebling’s so shit out of luck that he’s struggling across the open fields with snakes in his boots, and the Christian mob on his heels. Moreover, there’s a Cromwellian darkness covering the land and the medieval churchbells are tolling out his number: ‘Come in number 13, your time is up.’1

Side Two opens with the massive ‘Go In Circles’. Man, this is the dopium - the kind of song that’s so good, it sounds like a legendary bootleg of some radio edit of about five excerpts of other songs over which some husky-voice announces totally dispassionately: ‘This Sunday at Irving Plaza: heavy rock with Pentagram. Tickets available from Greaser Dave’s, Record Barn and Hawthorns’. Sperm your worm? I should koko! ‘Mag Dog’ follows, an old Pentagram song I only know from their live LP A KEG FULL OF DYNAMITE, and they stick to that 1978 arrangement for this version. It’s a classic two minutes braying twin guitar assault like Zeppelin playing something off Side Two of Sir Lord Baltimore’s KINGDOM COME. Opening line’s a classic, get this: ‘Help me out, I need some re-arranging’, no shit, Sherlock. ‘Tidal Wave’ comes across all Obsessed playing garage rock, with Bobby howling about how he’s been ‘stuck in the no win cave’. Whoa, in Liebling’s Cock On The Block worldview, there’s caves for both winners and losers? It sounds like he’s trawled up weird memories of some long lost Ancient Greek fight-to-the-death. ‘Out Of Luck’ is the mutt’s nuts, a wonderful archetypal Pentagram lament which could be from any period of their existence. Bobby Liebling here sounds like the second Dust LP until, suddenly, Joe Hasselvander’s over-reaching and shimmering guitar makes gallows apples of the whole track, yanking it into a kind of ‘7 And 7 Is’ ascending chord sequence, truly a transcendentally beautiful moment. The album’s closer is the raging genius of ‘Target’, five minutes of Highway Robbery-inspired mayhem that spills out into an ever accelerating ‘I’m A Man’/’Psychotic Reaction’ flipout the way the Robbery did on the second half of ‘I Ain’t Gonna Take No More’ or their acceleraterthon ‘Lazy Woman’. A magnificent end to this marvellous album indeed, and even more so when you recognise that it’s all the work of one single musician.


Other Faces of Pentagram

A KEG FULL OF DYNAMITE

It’s difficult to offer an overview of recent Pentagram albums without regretting the re-recording of so many early songs. Of course, Bobby’s decades in the wilderness mean he’s now got the chance to reach out to a new audience, but the presence of old material does tend to de-fang the new LPs, as though it was felt they needed shoring up in some way. And one thing’s certain about Bobby Liebling: he’s often better now than he ever was. However, for those on a real Pentagram trawl, the first stop should be made at Italy’s Black Widow Records website2, for therein lies the key to All Things Liebling.

REVIEW YOUR CHOICES

There’s a pretty good live LP entitled A KEG FULL OF DYNAMITE, which was recorded in 1978 by the second incarnation. Great versions of ‘When The Screams Come’, ’20 Buck Spin’, ‘Mad Dog’, and you also get the studio version of ‘Livin’ In A Ram’s Head’ tacked on to the end. Nice. In the habitual Pentagram manner, this ain’t no mobile studio recording, but it surely shits logs on the various bootlegs that have been around the past years. Also available on Black Widow, REVIEW YOUR CHOICES is the excellent name of a truly brutal LP made by the Hasselvander/Liebling duo two years before SUB-BASEMENT. The opening tracks ‘Burning Rays’ and ‘Change Of Heart’ sound the closest that Pentagram have ever got to the sound of their beloved Blue Cheer, albeit once more through something of a MASTER OF REALITY-informed St. Vitus/Obsessed filter. Indeed, it’s a shame they felt the need to re-record their classics ‘Living In A Ram’s Head’ and ‘Review Your Choices’, for the former’s presence so early on in the running order considerably undermines what the first two tracks have achieved, whilst concluding Side One with a considerably inferior ‘Snowblind’-ized version of the latter leaves the listener with the feeling of a compilation, as the amazingly heavy ‘Yen Sleep’-like scream dirge of Gorgon’s Slave’ and the equally holocaustic and almost alienatingly chromatic ‘Mow You Down’ tend to get lost in the shuffle. Happily, Side Two returns us to mung worship and the general sound is of a heavy juggernaut struggling through impassable roads. Tunes – where there are any – creep in and out of the ether, as Thor hammers crescent moon-sized horseshoes from his smithy at the roadside, and The Liebling comes across like a solitary wandering unfunky James Brown grunting and huffing’n’puffing to himself as he struggles through life’s unfertile pastures. Again, Side Two is disrupted by an unnecessary reworking of their early ‘70s classic ‘Forever My Queen’, herein robbed of its original finesse as original guitarist Vincent McAllister’s finely honed and polished marble licks are humourlessly concreted over and re-lined with Hasselvander’s sonic breeze blocks in order to re-align the song with the album’s overall Slug-It-Out metaphor. Still, the rest of the record is gloriously slimy, as the brutal 6/8 waltz of ‘Downhill Slope’ casts the listener down and down into the shrill ‘Into The Void’ seal clubbing of ‘Megalania’ then down another notch into the truly Roky Eriksonesque madness of ‘Gilla’, a kind of mutant radio interview with The Liebling you just don’t wanna hear, let alone act as the LP’s terminus. Overall though, despite the re-recorded ‘filler’, REVIEW YOUR CHOICES contains some of the best Pentagram moments ever. For a number of reasons, I shouldn’t yet comment on Pentagram’s latest LP, 2004CE’s SHOW ‘EM HOW, featuring an all new line-up. I’ve had the CD version of the record indoors for a while and was initially so put off by the re-recordings that I couldn’t address more than a coupla perfunctory plays. Personally, ‘Last Days Here’ was always so moving to me because it was sung by a young man who genuinely thought he was quitting the planet. Sung thirty years later by the same dude, you tend to feel ‘so what?’ That said, I’ve learned enough about The Liebling to know never to casually judge him, so I shall hang fire. I scored a sumptuous vinyl copy recently and know, after I initially dismissed SUB-BASEMENT, that I should give the record a real chance.

SHOW 'EM HOW

A final mention should be made of the Black Widow Records album CHILD OF DARKNESS by Pentagram offshoot Bedemon. Although patchy and sonically erratic (having been culled from various rehearsal room recordings), Bedemon’s one release contains some excellent insights into the methodology of the early Pentagram scene, revealing just what out-and-out rock fans they were. Based around the loose aggregation of original guitarist Randy Palmer and drummer Geof O’Keefe with constant input from Bobby Liebling, the album contains alternative versions of ‘Drive Me To The Grave’ – with entirely different music/melody and a brilliant RAW POWER-inspired burn up entitled ‘Time Bomb’. While Bobby Liebling lets loose the latter song just like the Ig, he also sings a poignant Dust-type ballad ‘Last Call’ like some beautiful early ‘70s heavy chanteuse. The record is flawed and messy the way Stooges boots such as RUBBER LEGS and SHE CREATURES OF THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS are flawed and messy, but they’re sure as hell listenable.

Uncle Bobby second from left


In Conclusion

In conclusion, motherfuckers? There ain’t no conclusion. Unlike many rock deadbeats who signed their five-album major deal then snuffed out (artistically or just plain dead) after the difficult second statement, the jury will be unable to make a judgement on the oeuvre of Uncle Bobby until his cold clammy body is laid in the earth. Even if he were, in 20 years time, coughing up blood in the incontinence ward at the geriatric sanatorium, this Sir Lord Janitor of Lunacy could still come up with his best rock move yet. As I’m want to say probably too often: ‘Rock’n’roll ain’t necessarily a young man’s game’. But with regard to The Liebling, it’s possible that he’ll continue to inform our lives with rock’n’roll from Beyond the Grave.



FOOTNOTES
  1. I live right next to Yatesbury church, a 16th-century building surrounded by a graveyard with a 6th-century Saxon settlement buried on the opposite side of the road. When I walk the three miles home from Avebury on a Monday evening, I can hear the bells tolling across the wide-open landscape, and the twilight mists along Barrow Way can really creep me out. When I wrote ‘My Wall’ for Sunn0)))’s WHITE ONE album, I just took mushrooms and wandered around the landscape for about six hours to get inspiration. But when I returned in total darkness, our local witch was standing motionless in the middle of the empty lane. She is seventy-two with white hair and yet, for one moment, I was convinced that she was a beautiful alluring babe… not the first time neither.
  2. Black Widow is at www.blackwidow.it