Review Summary: A glorious closing chapter for one of the most underappreciated storytellers.
Pagan Altar has always been more than just catchy riffs, tasty leads and inspired songwriting; their brand of metal is special because of the vivid images it conjures. Their music feels like a walk in the English countryside or among the stones at Stonehenge. Each stone represents an influence of theirs, ranging from Black Sabbath to Rainbow and Rush, among others. Therefore, it is not surprising that their blend of NWOBHM and doom had a great sense of melody, adventure, and variety. In addition, no one should be shocked by the similarity between one specific riff on “Danse Macabre” and Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” because Pagan Altar is simply not your average doom metal band. Actually, doom metal sounds too restrictive in the case of this underrated British act.
Pagan Altar’s latest effort The Room of Shadows
, is once more a highly interesting and infectious mix of NWOBHM, doom metal, folk and progressive rock which bears the seal of this unique band. What is more, the music has a distinct nature-like feeling combined with a Victorian essence. Just by looking at the brilliant cover art, and listening to opener “Rising of the Dead”, one can feel part of that room, sitting opposite to the female character (vocalist Terry Jones’ granddaughter, Ellie) reading the album’s stories. In fact, without dissecting the LP into different parts, this is The Room of Shadows’
biggest triumph; the fact that it feels like a set of intertwined stories. Everything has a cinematic quality, like an anthology or a Hammer Horror film with different chapters about witches, vampires, forbidden halls and Victorian-era murders in a gothic setting.
Of course, nothing of the above would be feasible without guitarist Alan Jones’ majestic playing. Too often, we come across doom metal which revolves around a riff that is played to eternity and ends up being stagnant, repetitive and downright boring. The case here is the exact opposite, as Alan Jones has fused his contagious riffing with amazing melodic leads and solos which complement each story/song perfectly and provide a needed variety. It is apparent that Jones’ playing has its roots on ‘70s legends such as Ritchie Blackmore, Alex Lifeson or even Andy Powell/Ted Turner (Wishbone Ash) but everything has been filtered and performed with a style of his own. In fact, it is the guitar playing which makes the offering less grim for a doom metal LP and provides some magick dust.
Nevertheless, even though the guitar work is impressive, the focus is on songwriting which has a certain epic vibe. Songs like “Rising of the Dead” or “The Ripper” (which would benefit greatly from a better production) clock at almost 9 and 10 minutes respectively but feel like they are shorter because of their adventurous and rather progressive nature which includes twists and turns that provide the aforementioned variety that many doom records lack. Take “Rising of the Dead” for example; even though the main riff remains the same, the soloing breaks the monotony. In addition, songs like the melodic “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”, the prog influenced “Danse Macabre” and the atmospheric title track with the acoustic guitar playing provide a fresh breath of air.
Even though The Room of Shadows
was recorded in 2014, it followed a similar path to some of its predecessors which were released during a later period. The reason, according to Alan Jones, was that he wasn’t completely happy with the rhythm section’s performance. Judging by the outcome, this seems like a wise decision and the fact that he doesn’t wish to continue Pagan Altar without his father at the mic makes The Room of Shadows
a very worthy last album and by extension “After Forever” a heart wrenching yet fitting closing chapter to Pagan Altar’s grand book of stories.