Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"The Gruesome Twosome Take On The World" The Rebirth And Demise Of Pentagram PT.2 "Sub-Basement"

After the initial release and public support of "Review Your Choices" died down in 1999, I was asked to record a new Raven Album "One For All" at Michael Wagner's studio in Nashville. Tenn.! Mike's production style had always impressed me and this was the first time in my career that I would be working with such a great producer! He had produced all the Dokken records along with groups such as Accept, Malice, Skid Row, Ozzy Osbourne and Janet Jackson! The session went great and I learned a lot from watching him. He taught me the importance of microphones and microphone placement! I also realized that he and I both had giant collections of sound effect records on file for use on albums! He was very easy to work with and truly loves what he does which ignited a whole new passion in me for my work as an independent producer! Mike's work on "One For All" made Raven's new release very successful and got us a tour with U.D.O. in Germany and in America in 2000!

Raven's "One For All" produced by metal master, Michael Wagner.

Later that year Pentagram was asked to record a new album for Black Widow Records. This was perfect timing as I had just gotten off the road with Raven and had learned so much about production from Michael Wagner! We were also asked to record 3 songs for 2 different tribute albums! One was to be for "Thousand Days Of Yesterdays" A Tribute To Captain Beyond and 2 for "Blue Explosion" A Tribute To Blue Cheer.

Pentagram's old friend and sound man Chris Koslowski invited us to record at his home studio in the beautiful Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland. The studio was an old farm house complex built in 1812. Chris ran a cable out of his top floor studio into an an old schoolhouse on the property that was the drum room and sometimes guitar & vocal booth! The well house was also used for guitars as were other parts of the farm house. The old wood in these structures made it highly conducive for great ambient sounds!

Chris Kozlowski's studio in Western Maryland was a perfect highland retreat to record "Sub-Basement" without outside distractions! The old wood and stone of the structure was ideal for getting a natural ambient sound!

We cut the tribute record tracks in an afternoon which proved to us that Chris's studio would cut the mustard for our upcoming album "Sub-Basement".

3 months later we were back in to record "Sub-Basement". We laid down "Buzzsaw", "Bloodlust", "Sub-Basement" and "Sub-Basement Intro" in March of 2001 and then took a small break as the Easter holiday was approaching and a special surprise phone call was coming my way!

The next week I received a phone call from an old flame from my New York days. "Gloria" and I had been inseparable in the early 1980's and were the most flamboyant poser couple in the New York metal scene in those times. She had become a millionaire seemingly overnight and was now living in Westchester, N.Y. next door to brain surgeons, stock brokers and other well payed citizens. I ended up moving there with my son to be nearer to her and to try carving out a better life. Gloria's house was in an exclusive part of New York so I was able to have enough privacy to continue writing the other songs that would be needed for "Sub-Basement".

Gloria had me sell my old car and bought me a used Buick Park Avenue to travel around in. She also gave me several cell phones so that she could always keep tabs on me! This later became a problem as I was now a kept man. My trips down to Maryland to record were now becoming little escapes from her domineering big bucks attitude. I still had to check in by phone every ten minutes or catch hell from her! Can anyone say "High Maintenance?"

Soon "Tidal Wave", "Going In Circles" and "Target" were in the bag as well as others. The album was becoming a masterpiece of metal setting the bar higher for all aficionados of doom!

On my third and final trip down to Chris's studio before the mix, I got a strange phone call as I was laying down the final lead track for the album. It was my new love, Gloria freaking out about something but I couldn't understand what until I got her calmed down! She told me that my son was in a closet crying and scared to death about something! Anyone who has ever known my son knows that he is very rational, polite and not given to panic. Something was wrong and I had a feeling it had to do with "Gloria" and not my son!

I promptly unplugged everything and dropped the session like a hot potato and rocketed my car the whole 250 miles back to Westchester to help my son! When I arrived Gloria was running out the front door with her arms outstretched for me like in a romantic comedy which was the total opposite of her high maintenance man hating behavior. She had done something to my son and I knew it! After speaking with Joe Jr. my worst fears were confirmed! She had chased my son into the closet hitting him and abusing him all the way for something incredibly petty and insignificant! I didn't let on that I knew what had happened as Joe had relayed the whole story to me several times and it didn't change. I agreed with Joe to keep our little secret and act like nothing had happened. We both agreed that we would bide our time until we found the perfect window of opportunity to get out of there! I had realized after a month with her that it might be difficult breaking things off with her as she revealed herself to be more of a hostage taker than a lover!

The next day Gloria and her 4 year old daughter went to a local diner with some friends and Joe and I packed the Park Avenue full of our belongings and bolted out of there before she returned! She had never intended to give me the title to the car which I later had to load on a transport truck back to her! What a nightmare! I later found out that Bobby was going through a similar situation with his girlfriend except he had the added pleasure of his becoming a personal drug parasite!

With my debacle out of the way, I was able to finish the record. Bobby slept through most of the recording and production of that album and can hardly be credited for producing! He twiddled one knob on one part of a song. He also nodded out repeatedly between his vocal lines all the while hanging on to the microphone stand. That's the way it was done for years. I ended up actually producing those records not Bobby although he takes much if not all of the credit. I felt sorry for him back then and covered up the truth to make him and ultimately myself, look better. In short, it was a miracle that we were able to finish the album. If it weren't for my work ethic and Chris Kozlowski's consistency in the studio the album's release would have been delayed by months!

In times past Bobby had been a fireball in the studio and was involved in every aspect of recording! By the time the late 1990's rolled around he was a shell of his former self and very difficult to work with!

Soon after finishing Sub-Basement and sending it off to Italy for pressing, I was talked in to headlining a doom festival by Bobby and a promoter named Doug Romer. Bobby assured me that he would work his ass off to make up for things and seriously wanted me to be his guitarist and main man out there!

I had 2 weeks to put together a band for this show which was hardly enough time. I hired Dale Russell who had been my drummer in Electric Warrior and had also played with Paul Chapman of U.F.O.. I also recruited Walter White from "Black Manta" on the bass. We only managed to get 3 rehearsals in and primadonna Bobby Liebling only made it to one of those! It ws hillarious as he showed up in old man corderoy slippers and his white socks were glowing in the black light that was lit in the rehearsal space. He looked much like E.G. Marshall in his role as a man with "roach phobia" in the movie, "Creepshow"!

Photos taken of the only rehearsal with the full band before the doom festival in Towsen, Md. 2001

Time came for the show in Towson Maryland at the Recher Theater. There was a good sized crowd waiting for us as we rolled our gear in. Our showing was much anticipated. As more and more bands finished their sets the later Bobby became. We kept calling him and managed to get a garbled message that he was on his way. 5 hours later it was time for us to get ready to go on! Bobby was still nowhere in sight. I figured that he would make it just in the nick of time but that wasn't to be! This time Bobby had truly blown it in the name of drugs! I had to make a quick decision whether to play the gig instrumental or cancel! I opted for canceling as this would be my debut as the guitarist for Pentagram and the debut of a band that just a week before had no inkling that they would be in Pentagram until this moment. The whole thing had been a gamble at best and I thought it would be better to cut and run and to return another day in a better situation! That wasn't to be either! The club owner and the promoter came backstage and told me that I had to play the gig no matter what the problem was as the fans started getting rowdy and throwing things! The owner said to me, "Their going to tear this place apart if you guys don't play!" "You have to do it, please!"

The Recher Theater in Towson, Maryland - This was the site of Bobby's fall from grace with a classic no-show that has set the tone for all of his live shows to this day!

Against my better judgment, I went out there on stage in front of a slightly drunk and annoyed audience screaming for Bobby! I told them that Bobby didn't think it important enough to show up for them. The place went bonkers! I thought fast and threw a microphone out into the audience! I said, "You guys know the words, you sing it!" "This is Pentagram Karaoke!" That proved to be the smartest move of my career as it calmed their doom metal souls!

Then, at the stroke of midnight Bobby showed up and slithered onto the stage like a snake in the middle of the last song of the set! I immediately kicked him in the leg as hard as possible! I thought to my self "How dare he try to share the stage with me now!" I kept ducking in to the dressing room and behind the P.A. stack or any where I could go to avoid having to share the stage with his sorry ass, all the while playing my SG at full volume! This was straight out of an episode of The Jerry Springer Show and the audiences loved it as they also felt ripped off by Bobby! Fortunately this was all caught on camera by a very intelligent fan named Mike Pritchard! That was truly the end of Bobby and I as a working partnership! We have shared the stage since in friendly guest appearances but never again under the name Pentagram and my life has been better for it!

Joe Hasselvander sweats it out but doesn't back down from the difficult position that Bobby left the band in! The show must go on!

Dale Russell pounds the drums in his debut show as Pentagram's drummer! Dale saved the day as Bobby's no-show made it a very difficult performance for us without vocal cues!

Walter White of Black Manta hammers out the bass lines for Pentagram despite Bobby's no-show!

The band as a three piece still laid down the doom and I am very proud of Walter and Dale for being troopers and taking on an impossible situation against all odds! This event ultimately showed me that I can play my doom metal without Mr. Liebling's help which I have continued to this day!

After all the emotional avalanches and seismic disturbances associated with the recording and fiasco of the no-show gig, we got an album release date! The much anticipated Pentagram album, "Sub-Basement" would be coming out 9-11-01 !!! Little did we know that the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon outside of Washington , D.C. would take direct hits from three hijacked commercial jet airliners!

One of the blackest days in American history, 9-11 was slated to be the release date for '"Sub-Basement"!

Notice what appears to be the devil's face in the smoke and debris cloud coming from the burning WTC!

Thank God Black Widow Records had the decency, wisdom and respect for the fallen to postpone the release for a few days later. 2001 for me was the worst year on record as nothing seemed to go right for anyone! It was almost as if God himself was trying to tell us not to be too confident in our daily routines and to be vigilant of an upcoming crisis!

Sub-Basement was released on September 17, 2001 and emerged as Pentagram's heaviest album to date! When a lot of the shock of 9-11 subsided , reviews started coming in hailing this album as the classiest and most definitive work of the band ever! In this , I was proud. I even forgave Bobby's weaknesses for a short time and decided to at least be his friend although working with him in the future would never again be an option.

Sub-Basement was originally slated for release on 9-11 but was thankfully held back a few days. The cover art was drawn on a napkin by Joe Hasselvander and later airbrushed !

In October of the same year, Bobby Liebling acted out his most self destructive act by releasing his 1970's demos with the original Pentagram of long ago called "First Days Here" on Relapse Records which is a much more visible label than Black Widow in the States and had bigger world wide distribution. By doing this in tandem with our new album, he effectively eclipsed the great success "Sub-Basement" was starting to enjoy and it suddenly dropped off the radar at the starting gate as the new and current release! Bobby's old inferior recordings were now overshadowing the most important Pentagram album ever recorded, "Sub-Basement". He did this out of desperation for quick cash and suddenly didn't care about all the time and talent invested in our follow up for Black Widow Records! His timing was so bad that "Sub-Basement" went underground for years! Except for the die hard serious fans, "Sub-Basement" was virtually unknown and has just now started to receive it's proper accolades! This also resulted in me not receiving any profits from the album until years later when it was re-issued on another label.

Bobby went on to a new set of musicians who were willing to babysit. I actually recommended them to him. It was the band Internal Void with Kelly Carmichael on guitar. They had everything that Bobby would need to get a record and a show together and maybe he would try harder in a band that had all the bugs worked out as it had now become a "make or break" situation!

They were successful in rehearsing and recording the "Show 'em How" album which wasn't half bad for their first go around. I was actually happy for them and even showed up for their debut gig at the Black Cat in Washington D.C..

I was amazed at how much advertising and promotion was put into the show in very intelligent yet simple ways. This made it all glorious and effective hype! There were posters of Bobby everywhere in the venue making it "Pentagram Night"! Kelly is clever with things like that!
It was really very cool! I even got sucked into it and was now anticipating the show!

I was suddenly approached by the band members girlfriends telling me that they were having a problem with Bobby and could I somehow go backstage and help? I went back their and found a wiped out narcoleptic Bobby Liebling who could barely stand up and he was talking gibberish! I had never seen him this bad out in public! I told Kelly that Bobby shouldn't be out of his house.
He finally sat down and past into a sort of coma! Bobby was now out for the count. I finally convinced them to call the rescue squad as he was breathing in shallow breaths and had stopped perspiring and was not responding to anyone's voice or to being shaken!

The paramedics suddenly came running down the stairs to the dressing room and gave him something that was basically charcoal that absorbed any substance that might be in his system. Bobby suddenly jumped up and and said let's do the gig and ran up the stairs like nothing had happened.

The band hit the stage and the lights went down and so did Bobby with a resounding thud ! He tested the mike and then fell backwards into Kelly's amps! They got him off the stage and strapped him into a straight jacket as he was going into full blown heroin withdrawal and was lashing about in a sort of beach chair with straps on it as well!

My last vision of Bobby that night was the six paramedics standing at attention in the amber lit freight elevator with expressionless faces very much like crew members on Star Trek awaiting the transporter beam to send them down to a strange planet! Only, here was Bobby seated in front of them thrashing about like he was possessed by the devil! Then suddenly to my surprise the elevator doors started closing! Not side to side but top to bottom like some sort of diabolical set of metal jaws belonging to a giant robot! I heard a big clang and down they went as the amber light showed through the cracks of the safety door descending to the awaiting ambulance in the street below.

After witnessing that, I was in shock and I will never forget it as long as I live! Pentagram's bassist , Adam asked me if I would get up and sing a Pentagram song with a few others in the hall who knew specific songs to save the packed out show? I was hesitant at first as I hadn't sang in 3 years! I also didn't know but a few words to" Twenty Buck Spin"! Sherman from Earth Ride told me he would be on the side of the stage with a mike filling in any parts that I might have problems remembering. So with that in mind, I got up and did the song with a good alcohol buzz on for extra courage as I was not prepared for this. I managed to wreck the microphone stand and just let it all hang out! My much less than perfect performance ended up on YouTube a month later and is still up and running today!

Bobby never seemed to get it back as even years later he still only makes cameo appearances with other bands including The Hounds Of Hasselvander.

Bobby Liebling guest appearances on 3 shows with The Hounds OF Hasselvander! Top - Krug's Frederick, Md. New Year's Eve 2007, Middle - The Kyber Philadelphia, Pa. 2-8-08 , Bottom - Velvet Lounge 4-31-08

In no way do I regret the brilliant music that Pentagram has created over the years in any of it's incarnations. I could have however, done without all the rip offs and empty promises from Bobby that showed no basic respect for me or others whatsoever! He has used all of us in connection to this band as doormats! What is important to him is that the work should be done by others so that he can fool the public into thinking that he deserves all the credit as he owns the name Pentagram which in my book is a curse not a blessing!

Update: I have just re-released "Review Your Choices" and "Sub-Basement" through French label Season Of Mist! Both albums include alternate rough takes worthy of a listen and jewels to a collector of Pentagram music! Finally the two albums are seeing the light of day and hopefully will be enjoyed by a whole new generation of fans! Both of these albums can be purchased on this website via the Paypal button on the top right corner or they can be purchased directly from Season Of Mist Records!

Doom On!

Joe Hasselvander


Anonymous said...


El rock chingón said...

Another great story Joe. As a fan of pentagram this is gold. You must write a book.

Woody said...


earthdog said...

One of the most enjoyable reads i have had in a long time.It really needs to be in print.The Pentagram would be a killer movie but who would play the parts?

ODDD said...

Scarlet masters. Best doom album ever...yet

Teemu said...

Joe, reading this reminds me of my musical dark past. Its very hard babysitting an adult who only thinks of his on interest and looks for the next quick fix. Both thumbs up for resilience and good nerves ! I have enjoyed Pentagram records, a lot, "Sub Basement" is greatly executed and I keep coming back to that record time after time ! Thanks to Your efforts and sacrifices we have that *gem* to enjoy !