Sub basement

Sub basement.

Increasingly the objectives and processes of the established world mean that journalism, politics, and most vitally, media, no longer address the interests or concerns of ordinary people, favouring spectacle and distraction; and is functionally impotent at summoning the cure for what ails us. Still through every faceless asphalt car park the greenery of weeds eternally springs, and so it is with music, art, film, books and everything else. In Search of Space has served its purpose, and now here's a new feature also named after the first work we cover on it: Sub Basement.
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It seems bizarre to say that Saint Vitus, Sleep and Kyuss allowed Sub Basement to happen when Pentagram and their generation of bands sowed the wind of the the nineties hard rock revival whirlwind but in a curious mandala, reflexive snake eating it's tail, infinite returns fashion, without those more modern pretenders, Bobby Leibling would never have been able to successfully reinvent Pentagram, and then release the original seventies recordings. I recall speaking to some bummed-out old rocker at the back of a gig, and he described to me feeling left behind by younger people, who knew more about the seventies rock and roll scene than he ever did, he'd meet people half his age who could spout forth about Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath b-sides, all because the internet had enabled us all to get fully up to date with our heritage. Pentagram may be the ur-text of this concept, largely unheard of unless you frequented late-night rock radio or dingy basement shows in Washington D.C. in the narrow period between 1971 and 1979. The only constant presence in Pentagram is a desire to push the boundaries of Sabbath's eponymous opening track as far as they will stretch without regard for traditional song structure or time signatures, and Bobby Leibling, the man-cum-soul of the group who is aged sixty but resembles a wizened bog mummy snapping it's eyes open in the middle of a twisted Sunn O))) show. Time has not been kind to the Pentagram frontman, but history definitely should.



It could never be claimed that Pentagram inspired anyone else, except Bobby himself; their deemed-classic seventies recordings were only released in 2001 and 2006 and merely revealed how far ahead of the curve the band was. First Daze, and First Daze Here Too ultimately don't coalesce as records but provide hours of individual slabs of raw energy, moving in a totally different direction to artists of a similar period; much like Rocket From the Tombs, the proto-punk noisemakers out of the Ohio scene who prefigured everything the Ramones and the Dead Kennedy's ever tried. Unlike with those bands though, Pentagram had a fulsome and energetic afterlife. Despite a revolving door of managers, guitarists, bassists and drummers, the band was reincarnated in the eighties and spent the time between then and now honing the same self-critical offbeat style and applying it to the harder-edged doom metal scene they had been denied the right to pioneer.

Sub Basement is their most complete statement on this front. It's so utterly within it's genre at the head of the Mongol horde in which The Obsessed, Sleep, latterday Trouble are commanders. Sub Basement also comes galloping with a potent chaser of nostalgia, still ploughing the furrow from Black Sabbath's debut LP, which had at this point been relegated to b-side while most bands charged head-on in pursuit of bettering Sleep's masterful take on Master of Reality: Dopesmoker.

The record consists of slabs of pure weaponized groovy proto-metal. Despite complete line-up and direction changes, there is a consistency that runs through Pentagram's music like a main circuit cable, and Sub Basement plays like a whistle-stop tour of early b- and c-grade rock and roll run through a jet engine; with Blue Oyster Cult cuts, and Blue Cheer approximations and clear Black Sabbath nods all slashed like a painting with a warm, rounded buzzsaw guitar and staccato sofa-cushion drum hits. Sinking into a deep and powerful swamp of evil, with the kind of grimness Witchfinder General only glimpsed. Every cut from the album is a jaundiced shadow of another song, played by the possessed demons of another band, midway though the first listen even non-hard rock aficionados would be forgiven for thinking they'd heard it before on a late-night radio station, while blasting down country roads drinking blood and eating steroids.

Bobby Leibling himself, indivisible from Pentagram itself, continues on in extremely poor health. The Last Days Here documentary portrays a tragic figure who has been close to death almost his entire adult life, aged well beyond his sixty years. He retains the ability to surprise in his new work, or to open another crypt a-la the Pentagram tapes, or the Bedemon stuff and redefine our entire understanding of the pantheon of heavy rocknroll. Given Pentagram's resurrection, even if Bobby passes away, I wouldn't be surprised if on a stormy night he leaps right out of his grave, into the studio and tracks down another album.

Written under duress by Steven.
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