Pagan Altar
Volume I

A testament to the musical wealth of the NWOBHM era is the amazing number of bands from that era that were 'lost' and only recently rediscovered and reissued (either with or without help of certain whores...oops, I mean bands covering their songs). London's Pagan Altar are one of the newest rediscoveries, and their first album, Volume I, originally from 1982, is yet another slab of metal that was crimially buried and forgotten. But fortunately no more...

If I were to just say they are Sabbathy heavy metal I might give the impression that they are just another proto-stoner band like Witchfinder General, but that's not quite right at all. Imagine a band heavily influenced by the riff-stylings, songwriting/arrangement, and magical/occult imagery of Sabbath, but completely without all of the psychedelic and drug influence. They don't tune down, so the doomy rumbling sound isn't there, and the songs don't go for heaviness so much as...'otherworld-liness', maybe? From what I gathered from the band's website this album is thematic and is focused on occult themes, and the music manages to grab that atmosphere of unreality and the terror a person feels when faced with something forbidden (I guess I'm thinking of Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown" where the good puritan guy goes into the woods and finds his whole town in an occult orgy...).

The music on this album seems timeless, in a way. The music is very faithful to the OLD style of heavy metal like early Sabbath and Priest, both in the riffs/arrangements and the way the bass and drums play off the guitar work. The vocals also seem very 'vintage' - frontman Terry Jones is definitely NOT a 'metal' singer, with his very high, thin vocals that actually call to mind OLD occult/rock acts like Black Widow or early Pentagram - he sounds much more 'rock' than metal in his timbre, but the vocal melodies he weaves into the songs just fit perfectly. The production helps reinforce that 'timeless' sound (though I doubt it was deliberate - this was 1982, after all...) - it's a bit brittle, like slightly overdriven analog recording equipment, with gritty but slightly thin guitars, a big, fat bass sound, and clean-but-dry drums like on the first couple of Priest albums. You could have told me this came out in 1972 and I'd believe it.

Bottom line, though, is that this album is amazing. Highly recommended for NWOBHM fans or people into old original heavy metal like early Sabbath and Priest. Word is that Oracle Records is currently working on remastering and releasing Pagan Altar's other four albums on CD as well, so keep your eyes peeled...

2001 lord vic