Tuesday 24 November 2015

Live Review: Pentagram / The Order of Israel & Mower @ Sound Control, Manchester, 15/11/2015

By: Phil Weller 

 “Bear in mind that there’s a scene now,” Cathedral vocalist and Rise Above Records founder Lee Dorrian recently mused to me, reflecting on his band’s humble beginnings. “When Cathedral started there was Candlemass – and Trouble if you looked deeper – but there was only a handful of people around the world that actually listened to this type of music. Now it’s a recognised thing and it has a whole scene around it. It’s a genre in its own right with about 40 different sub genres, it’s a lot more recognised than it was.”
Indeed, if it weren’t for Pentagram, the case for argument that doom wouldn’t even be a thing at all is as strong as an ox on steroids. The fact that The Sludgelord itself exists is credence to Dorrian’s comments on the movement’s expansion, on the fact it is now exactly that, a movement. Yet, I’m in two minds whether Pentagram’s headline show in Manchester tonight, in support of their eighth album, ‘Curious Volume’, should have happened.
Put bluntly, Bobby Liebling, a legend though he may be, ain’t no spring chicken anymore. He’s old, haggard, frail and looking more like Golem than an untouchable Rock God. He heavily relies on his microphone stand to keep him upright, his knees always seeming on the verge of buckling. He tries to dance seductively – but a 61 year old’s hairy nipple protruding from a half buttoned up gold shirt is not want I want to see. Ever. Mid-set someone in the audience yells the million dollar question of “how are you still alive?” Everyone laughs, I do too, but I laugh with an air of discomfort. How is he still alive? I spent the set terrified he’d keel over and die at any moment, it was painful.
On the other hand however, you have to admire his balls – but not see them, good god no! At least he didn’t go that far. He could be at home with his feet up having a nice cup of cocoa by the fire and reading Oprah’s book of the week. But no, he’s still at it, making new music with his cohorts and getting out across the world letting people hear it live and in the flesh. As for the dancing and sickening eroticism, my friend strikes upon a point: “That’s what it would have been like seeing them in the 80s.” So yeah, they may not be particularly aging gracefully, but this is authentic Pentagram and it is definitely an honour to witness such a vital band strut their stuff.
Musically they are reasonably strong. It’s nothing mind blowing, but Victor Griffin has some impressive riffs and lead work in his arsenal. Back in the band as part of his continuous yo-yoing in and out of the quartet, he’s the real torchbearer tonight, giving the band some fire and sharpness. The explosions of opener ‘Death Row,’ met with huge cheers, are impressive. But it’s more the weight of their import and gravitas than the performance itself that makes it – you know that once upon a time this was a band capable of giving much, much more.
Elsewhere, described by that same friend as “Misfits with permsSweden’s The Order of Israel, one of two support acts, had helped make the night a little more memorable. Blending NWOBHM jaunts, classic rock sensibilities (so many harmonies) and a doom rock gloom, tying it all up in a bow that is resolutely Scandinavian, there is plenty to get into here. Imagine the lovechild of Ozzy Osbourne and Mikael Akerfeldt fronting a band that manages to bring to mind Danzig, Judas Priest and Pentagram themselves across the same song. Those harmonies are an integral bedrock to their sound and it adds a gracefulness that flirts with the darker, doomier aesthetics of the band. It’s hard to decipher whether what they do has an element of cheese or charm to it, but regardless they produce an enjoyable set with plenty of energy and moments which has the crowd nodding in appreciation.  
Yet, the show is stolen, in one hell of a smash and grab, by the local support. Manchester’s Mower is simply incredible. Still seeing themselves as the “new boys” on the scene – especially in a city already rife with doomy goodness – you could forgive them for being nervous. They’re supporting their idols and, with no recorded music out there yet, are still proving themselves to the masses. Under the dim spotlights of Sound Control however, they don’t just grab the bull by the horns but they kill, gut and eat the fucker too.
A three piece consisting of a guitarist, vocalist and drummer, listening to them, you couldn’t even imagine there being a bassist. The guitar tone manages to perform something of a miracle in creating enough low end to fill the void that a bassist would otherwise – and simultaneously cure any constipation suffers  in the room – while maintaining a pinpoint clarity that bolster’s the presence and intricacies of his riffs.
JJ is a hilarious frontman, slapping his slightly obtuse (beer) belly and acting like a bit of a nutter all round. His growls are gigantean and fierce though, a really prestigious forcefulness to them that swallow you whole. Visually they are just as compelling for it.
The youngest and hungriest band on the bill, they give it everything they have and more. The passion and heart they play with is clear to see. So many of the local scene is here to support them too. Getting John Nicholson of Pist to leave the pub for half 7 is an achievement in itself, but in all it shows the admiration people have for them already.
Pentagram may be fading out with age, but without them there wouldn’t be youthful and devastatingly entertaining bands like Mower in existence. It’s time to pass the torch, but thanks to the Virginian hell bringers, they’re spoilt for choice for whom to pass it to.