Treblinka – Shrine of the Pentagram

by Brett Stevens
November 6, 2013 –

treblinka_(tiamat)-shrine_of_the_pentagramBack in the hazy days of the 1990s, when society was so innocent it thought it could overcome its problems with better television, Tiamat showed up on the radar screens in a big way.

Basically staying away from bands of its nature, which struck me as more of older styles of metal than death metal, I never fully investigated the band until Clouds. My response was to withdraw in horror. Not only did Tiamat exude older metal, it also exuded rock, specifically the sensitive man alternative college radio kind!

However, I was alone in this opinion. Others praised Tiamat and said it was the future of death metal; this opinion seemed to be very popular at the time. People told me I just didn’t get its evil aura, and were incensed that I found the band laughable. This was the true Swedish metal, I was told, not the washed-out stuff like Entombed.

I was a false, in other words, and I should not have entried.

That copy of Clouds I ditched in the radio station office and left it to the ravages of time. It may still be there. Tiamat dropped off the radar a half-decade later. I never understood why I didn’t like this band until now, having heard Shine of the Pentagram.

I’ll get the blasphemies out of the way: this band is in many ways a prototype for Opeth. Where most Swedish death metal got its strength from hardcore roots, or deep metal roots, Opeth and Tiamat (originally called Treblinka, an innocent usage that was later changed to respect the victims of that place) derived their worldview from rock music. Specifically, indie-rock sensitive-man music, which emphasizes dark and self-pitying moods that have a spirit of uplift in them. Sort of like someone trying to rationalize himself out of depression at the fact that his society and species are failing. Even more, the furthest both bands get into death metal is heavy metal, and the more they try to make it deathy, the worse it fails.

On the plus side, Shrine of the Pentagram shows Tiamat/Treblinka in their earliest state, when they were still producing music that was essentially NWOBHM with an indie-rock vibe as played by Grotesque or a band like them. These riffs and fills are straight out of the glory days of NWOBHM, and the chorus-emphatic songs reflect the stadium rock aspects of that genre. Even though Treblinka have doubled the strumming speed and kicked the drums into battle, this just isn’t death metal. The riffs are old school heavy metal and radio rock; the song pacing, more like a college station. And the moods? Sort of playful, sort of dark, but mostly, self-absorbed, which is the one thing death metal was not.

In other words, this is probably the best material from Treblinka (Tiamat) that you’re likely to ever hear. And it’s done well. The songs here are poppy and high-energy, and if a bit ego-focused at least do so in the inexpert way of teenagers. The musicianship is good, even if the band insists on breaking up songs with out of place percussion drops, blues parts, and melodic interludes that seem to lose momentum.

Production is excellent, all things considered. These originals must have been of horrible sound, and they’re cleared up expertly, such that you don’t notice how bad the originals must have been until there’s one sound like a simultaneous backstage shout and snare hit that shows how much chaos was cleared away. The demos and live material complement each other, showing the growth of the band. Packaging also promises to be really excellent.

Especially if you get the 5-LP version, as opposed to the 3-CD “abridged” version, it’s imperative that you like the dozen songs represented here. Because you’re going to hear them a lot. There are five LPs, and a dozen (or so) songs, which means near constant repetition. Even more, you will hear them in a half-dozen flavors of demo, live, studio instrumental and other visions of the same material.

I had hoped to rediscover a lost treasure here, and I’m sad to say I haven’t. Tiamat has three problems: (1) it’s rock music, not metal (2) while it’s fun, it isn’t particularly repeat-listenable and (3) it misses out on the metal mood and goes to a bad place instead. However, I can’t fault this set for getting to the core of the situation and producing a high quality product for those who love this band. And maybe, I’m just a false and should not entry.

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4 comments

  • Serious Questioner

    I don’t know anything anymore then! I don’t particularly like this band but to say it is not metal but rock music comes to me as shocking! Not that I disagree but, how can you tell? How do you know? After listening to this song I would’ve classified the band as a speed-death band, similar to Germany’s Poison and Protector but I would´ve never in a million years considered this music as NOT metal. My world’s upside down now…

    1. fallot

      If its any consolation, I would call it nwobhm, it just comes at a time when metal and rock music had become completely distinct, so to bring back essential elements of rock music is to turn the music into rock music. The litmus test for any metal is; does it proceed by phrasal riffs?

  • stormwinds

    Starts off like an REM song, then sounds like surf rock meets Morbid Angel. Reminded me of those “black surf” youtube videos. This is pretty bad, they’ve done better. They could write decent, catchy music, but it never amounted to much, due to too much repetition, cyclic/verse-chorus songwriting etc. The amount of bluesy solos, even in their early albums, should tell us something.

  • Anthony

    Clouds is kind of subversive in the way it sucks. The aesthetic is pretty cool (apart from the awful vocals) with all of the consonant melodies, acoustic guitars, and ’70s keyboards, and it seems complex at first, but then you release that it’s a verse/chorus. I don’t mean sort of verse/chorus but sort of also narrative in the way that ’80s Metallica and Overkill. I mean you can literally sketch out each song’s structure the exact same way.

    The first Tiamat album is pretty decent semi-Samael-esque first wave black metal. It’s got a good atmosphere, even with the weird bluesy parts. The second one is decent too. It’s pretty much Mercyful Fate with death metal aesthetics. After that, they pretty much went insane and decided to make music so pedestrian that it’s even boring to listen to if you’re on hash.