PENTAGRAM, Sub-Basement (2012, Svart)
We throw a lot of wisecracks around here at Big Dumb Skulls, but we’re writing a blog about skull album covers in metal — lots of these beauties deserve snarky, sarcastic commentary. It’s a lotta chuckles here a BDS HQ, but every now and then we unearth a cover that is legitimately great art. Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains comes to mind, as does Autopsy’s Macabre Eternal. This one, however, might be the finest of them all. What I would give for a chance to saunter through this surrealistic catacomb for just five minutes, marveling at its magnificence and wondering why more bands with an inkling to exalt the skull couldn’t aspire to this. But then I suppose we all would have missed seeing skulls balancing warheads on their heads or having skateboards broken over their noggins. There’s room for it all, but god, this amazing album cover puts to shame 99% of the Skullection.
Regrettably, this great cover was assigned to a limited vinyl-only reissue of a middling Pentagram album. And a picture disc, at that (not sure how the full cover works into the packaging, as I don’t own the actual article). At least it made it to vinyl-size. This is when Pentagram began its precipitous decline in quality. Sub-Basement, originally released in 2001, is a full step down from its predecessor, Review Your Choices, and finds Bobby Liebling scraping the bottom of his ’70s archive barrel. He was also starting to sound as awful as he looked, although his voice is still decent here, not the total wreck it was by the time the next album rolled around. I’ll always have massive respect for the man and I consider myself a Pentagram fan (albums one through three, and all that ’70s stuff, rank extremely high on my favorites list), but this one is where it all started to feel tired. Yes, the world has finally embraced Liebling’s mad genius, and for that I’m grateful, it’s just too bad their best albums are long in the past. But what about Sub-Basement? “Bloodlust,” the title track and its intro, and “Drive Me to the Grave” are decent, although much of the rest feels pedestrian, as if, for the first time, the guys in the band (Liebling and Joe Hasselvander) were clocking in at the shop rather than entering the studio with a real fire under their collective ass. Still, it has its moments, and Hasselvander handles all instruments with impressive panache. Nah, it’s not even close to a total disaster, it just sometimes feels half-baked, and that’s not acceptable, even in the world of doom metal.
— Friar Wagner