Monday, 29 April 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Pagan Altar, "Judgement of the Dead"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 17/04/2019
Label: Temple of Mystery

Simply put, this is a classic recording and one that shaped the genre and continues to do so all these decades after it was laid down on tape. Masterful.


“Judgement of the Dead” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Pagan Altar
2. In the Wake of Armadeus
3. Judgement of the Dead
4. The Black Mass
5. Night Rider
6. The Dance of the Banshee
7. Reincarnation

The Review:

There is not that much that can be written about Pagan Altar that has not already been written. To summarise, they are regarded as one of the first doom metal bands and one of the most influential- despite being NWOBHM in origin and not releasing an official album until the millennium that followed the NWOBHM boom.

“Judgement of the Dead”, then, is their earliest work in remastered form which first saw the (official) light of day decades after being recorded as a top end demo. Armed with that knowledge, it is up to the listener to decide what they are listening to; charmingly lo-fi lightning in a bottle which planted seeds still growing today or amateurish and crude heavy metal which would be perfected at a much later date.

For me, there is something about “Judgement of the Dead” which lends itself to the former description. There can be no argument that the “Mythical and Magical” and “Room of Shadows” are amongst the best doom albums ever put out, but the murky production here may be too much for some to overlook.

With that debate set out, we can now focus on what is here: an unmistakably English vibe, a father and son at the heart of the band and a very eccentric set of songs. Viewed through the lens of the early 80s, this must have been very unusual indeed; satanic invocations, occult themes, crashing chords and huge riffs of plodding slowness. Terry Jones' plaintive wail is present and correct and the guitar work has been emulated countless times since.

From the opening of the band's titular theme song to the lengths of some of the songs themselves, you can tell this is simply not standard early 80s metal fare. The gulf between this and other metal of the time is huge. If the title track brings the epic feel, then “Night Rider” brings the swinging feel utilised so effectively by Sabbath, Trouble and even Saint Vitus. The acoustic “The Dance of the Banshee” is a welcome interlude before the epic closer “Reincarnation” (recorded much later than the bulk of this release).

That the origins of Pagan Altar are so murky and mysterious only adds to their allure- they were there at the start but only came to prominence after years of their legend building up by word of mouth. Where “Judgement of the Dead” fits in their discography is hard to say. Their latter day material is so imperious that it is hard to compare this nascent effort in any meaningful way- a little like comparing Priest'sRocka Rolla” to “Firepower”.

Pagan Altar are essential to any doom fan, so this is essential too. Don't expect crystal clear sound and mixing par excellence, but do expect to hear a uniqueness and an arcane vibe from which you can draw a direct correlation to all the best doom bands operating today. Simply put, this is a classic recording and one that shaped the genre and continues to do so all these decades after it was laid down on tape. Masterful.

“Judgement of the Dead” is available HERE

Band info: facebook || bandcamp