Review Summary: Excellent mixture of old school doom and NWoBHM, with incredible guitar playing.
Pagan Altar first formed in 1978 and after one independently released album, later named Volume 1
, in 1982 they split-up and fell into obscurity. The story does not end there however; in 2004 they reformed and surprised everyone by succeeding in the rare feat of making a brilliant comeback album that arguably is even better than the debut. The quality didn’t stop there though as their third album, Mythical & Magical
was released 2 years later in 2006 and is their best effort to date.
Because of their early beginnings this album has a ‘retro’ late 70’s/early 80’s sound to it, but with a much clearer modern production. A lot of the material on Mythical & Magical
actually predates their 1982 debut. One of the first doom metal bands along with Witchfinder General
, Pagan Altar took the slow riffs and atmosphere of Black Sabbath
but also added a lot of influences from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal peers like Iron Maiden
into their music, so for doom metal it is very light and accessable even for non-doom fans. As such, there shouldn’t be a lot that makes them sound at all original, but they perform their music with their own unique style and flair, making what they play sound completely unique.
A lot of this unique sound is due to their guitarist, Alan Jones, who truly is one of the most underrated guitarists in metal. You will hear no mindless shredding in this album, but well thought out and brilliantly composed solos with not only very technically impressive but also very emotional guitar playing. The riffs are all excellent, with plenty of memorable sections and catchy riffs. Unlike a lot of doom they never come off as being Black Sabbath
clones. While many of the riffs may be similar to those of early Sabbath, they’re often played faster and aren’t tuned as low, creating a totally different atmosphere, no doubt because of their NWOBHM influences. It may be difficult to stand out amongst hordes of other metal guitarists, but Alan Jones certainly manages to.
The other musicians are hardly poor either. Diccon Harper, who once played for Dragonforce
plays some fantastic bass-lines and gallops while the drums play an impressive variety of styles. The singing by Terry Jones could put some people off, as the vocals are often in a slightly high-pitched and sometimes very nasally style best comparable to Ozzy Osbourne
’s. It’s not a huge problem though as they’re more unique than bad, fitting the atmosphere of the music, and are definitely bearable at least. Terry Jones is often backed up by several male and female backup singers on certain songs. His lyrics, about pagan myths and legends are all well-written though slightly cheesy at times.
There is also a slightly folky feel throughout some of the album, giving it a strangely ‘pagan’ feel fitting with the band name, album title and lyrics. The folk flourishes work perfectly, subtly adding to the atmosphere without ever becoming too overbearing on the overall sound. At no moment could this ever be labelled ‘folk metal’ or anything close.
Despite the 1 hour running time, the album never gets close to being at all boring because of the excellent musicianship, songwriting and variation. The only real problem is that it does sound so old, which could definitely put some people off. Overall though, it’s an amazing album recommended to all fans of metal and hard rock and not just doom fans, as it barely qualifies as doom metal anyway.