Monday, January 5, 2009

The Gruesome Twosome Take On The World - The Rebirth and Fall of Pentagram - Part I - Review Your Choices

It was early fall of 1998 and 4 long years had passed since Pentagram's last album release, "Be Forewarned" and also 2 years after my last album and tour with Raven. As a consequence I had buckled down into an unforgiving and unrewarding job putting up commercial fence. My boss was an old friend from school days who time after time welcomed my services in his company only to later despise everything about my living being and showing his displeasure by never giving me a raise. He constantly reminded me that only losers play music and that he had grown out of all that thereby insinuating that I was a child and he was a responsible adult! He used the classic tear them down to build himself up tactic with me and others that he was secretly jealous of. He had major issues with misplaced anger and often took out his frustrations on others as a lot of bosses do! A text book "toxic" personality! The only problem with that was that the work was physically demanding, tedious and grueling. We also worked outdoors through the winter. So the last thing I needed was his crappy attitude aiming at me!

We worked through the summer and then at the end of September he announced that there was no more work in the near future which was most likely a lie. I thought to myself "This is what I get for trying to take the high ground and take any job I could get to support my family!" I have since thrown that stupid idea to the 4 winds as I now play music and work inside the music business full time! I've never looked back and have managed to keep everything going despite recessions and the like!

After finding out that my job was essentially over, I got a phone call from Bobby Liebling. He informed me that an Italian record label called "Black Widow" was offering to sign him to a new record deal and wanted to know if he could resurrect the band with Victor, Marty & I? Of course that was out of the question and I told Bobby that we could still do it as a 2 piece! I would play all the instruments and he would just have to sing the songs! I told him that I had done 4 albums like that before and that it would be a snap! I suggested that we split the song writing and we could make half of the album old classics of Bobby's that had never been properly recorded and the other half could be new compositions written by me giving the fans the best of the old and modern ultra-heavy new ones! I had often toyed with the idea of doing that with Bobby anyway as I had always had a secret vision for the Pentagram sound!

At first Black Widow were skeptical of whether or not I could pull it off but as time went on they agreed and we signed our first contract as a 2 piece and began a very strange journey that I must now take "you" the reader through!

I knew which studio to use right away as I had been doing some recordings there with Avenger's old guitarist Greg Reiter and the sounds were good and it was affordable. Best of all it was 5 miles away from my front door!

We began recording "Review Your Choices" on the last few days of September in 1998. Greg Reiter ended up engineering the project. He meant well but I later found out that he had used all the wrong microphones on the drums which made the album very difficult to mix later on. Greg supplied my guitar cabinets which had once belonged to Richie Blackmore when Deep Purple toured for their come back album with Gillan and Glover in the 1980's. They were white Marshall 4x12's that sounded great with my vintage Marshall head! The majority of the tracks were fully recorded in 3 days. I saved some of Bobby's more intricate compositions for last so that he could be present to guide me through the parts and achieve the feel that he wanted.

When Bobby finally came to the studio he got along great with the owner Mike Houndshell and Greg Reiter. They even played around all day making a mock interview with Bobby concerning his imaginary friend and toy rubber gorilla, "Gilla"! Mike and Greg put together 3 or 4 African tribal sound effects in the background as Bobby explains Gilla's ancestry originating from Hawaii, Africa! The result is one of Bobby's pathetic drug induced delusions which made it on the album at the very end to defuse the doomed out mood so that the listener could go about her or his business on a light hearted note!

2 days later it was time for Bobby to lay down his vocal tracks that would mostly be scratch tracks for reference points as he wanted to make it easier on himself when he laid down the permanent vocals. The scratch tracks themselves were not his best attempt but we did find a line or two that we would keep as they were iconic sounding! When we took a break Bobby headed to the bathroom to relieve himself and when he came out we decided to knock it on the head and start fresh the next day and nail it down!

Later that night I received a phone call from the studio owner, Mike. He was screaming at the top of his lungs about something Bobby had supposedly done in his studio! I couldn't make heads or tales out of what he was saying as he was shouting like a madman on the other end of the line. When I got him calm enough to talk coherently he told me that he ventured into his bathroom shortly after we had left the studio earlier that afternoon and found a strange water mark on his ceiling that looked like it had come from a hypodermic needle! He said that he had once been an intravenous drug user in his youth and knew the tell tale signs and that he was now concerned that Bobby had been using Heroin in his studio bathroom! I told him that I knew nothing about it and asked him if he could be mistaken? He was adamant! He then told me that the scratch tracks that we had done with Bobby would have to stand as the album tracks because he would never allow Bobby into his studio again!

Bobby's "hypo hi jinx" almost cost us an album! This showed me that Pentagram was now in it's death throws as far as Bobby was concerned and that he was beyond rehabilitation! He had finally lost all respect for himself and the band!

I went directly over to the studio the next morning to see this for myself and on the bathroom ceiling was a sprayed substance that could have come from the clearing of water from a needle and it was fresh! I was at a complete disadvantage and was now fighting for the life of our album that might possibly be canceled! We were almost finished and the money was almost entirely used up!

I managed to get Mike calmed down and told him that he had nothing to worry about with me and that I would take the rest of this album to a speedy conclusion. He finally agreed and I assured him that I wasn't using drugs and that he could depend on me to do the right thing.

The day came to mix the album and that's when Mike realized that Greg had not used the right microphones for the overheads and snare! It became very difficult to EQ or manipulate the drum tracks to the desired sound! So we had to compromise a little and settle for a less than perfect drum sound! I had heard similar sounds on the early Budgie albums and decided that things weren't as tragic as they seemed.

The lead guitars were made up of 6 different takes per song and we had the option of compiling bits from each solo to make one or simply choose our favorite take. I played a desk mix for Bobby over the phone and he suggested leaving all of them in as he loved them all! So we figured out a way to include all of them by controlling the levels up or down throughout the solo sections. This turned out very similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet which actually worked and gave this new doom album a definitive signature unlike any other!

"Review Your Choices" proved to be mg biggest challenge on my 2nd instrument, the guitar. My guitar playing on this album would set the stage for the metal masterpiece "Sub-Basement" and later my solo project, "The Hounds of Hasselvander"

By far the hardest thing to deal with was the vocals as they were dodgy at best! I managed to use several different effects on the voice and also match certain notes with guitar fills that took some of the attention away from the vocals just long enough to appear to be passable! Now years later, I enjoy listening to them and it gives a much direr feel to Bobby's doom metal rantings!

The Mix was finally done and now it was time to listen on the big system in Mike's home to double check it! What we heard at full volume was indescribable and we had never heard anything that thundering up until that time! Mike's attitude toward the album instantly changed from "I can't wait to get these guys out of my hair" to "Wait a second , this album is the best thing that has ever come out of my studio!"

He got this real worried look on his face and then a kind of repentant attitude which sent up red flags to me for reasons that I couldn't explain until the next day!

The very next day I rushed over to the studio to get the masters from him and without warning he informed me that he wanted more money or he wasn't going to give me the tapes! He realized that this album might go big and all of a sudden he was holding "Review Your Choices" hostage and for ransom! He threatened to call the cops about Bobby's supposed drug offence and if I didn't back off and give him more cash! I told him that he was breaking our agreement and that he would not be receiving another penny from me or the record company as he had already been paid in full! He then said he also wanted full production credit for this album! I had produced this recording from top to bottom under much stress and hard work and wasn't about to let him hijack me! I finally agreed to make the credits as follows; Produced by Pentagram with Mike Houndshell. People's egos can really get out of control when you make something good in their presence or at their facility. This guy was clearly panic stricken and could have easily destroyed the tapes and that's why I agreed in writing to give him any credit whatsoever! He then gave me the tapes and that was that! In my world this is just another day at the office!

A week later I mailed the tapes and CD's off to Genova, Italy for Black Widow's approval and when they got it they were blown away on an emotional level and were very satisfied with the product!

The cover artwork was my next chore as it was up to us to provide it. I found a velvet painting probably from Central or South America depicting the devil and all his alluring temptations circling about in his cloak and the earth at the bottom! I found this painting sitting in an old friend’s house along with other paintings that were similar and went with a set of 6. These were perfect for the album's title "Review Your Choices"! We immediately cleaned them up and made professional photos of them. Black Widow also added special horror style graphics to the mix and all of it together created a great package for such a heavy album!

Original Artwork for "Review Your Choices". I found this picture hanging in the basement of an old friend covered in cobweb's and dust. After a good vacuuming and professional photo-session, this became the cover.

"Review Your Choices" surprised us all by getting almost all positive reviews world wide and jump starting an ailing Doom Metal scene by influencing a whole new wave and generation of doom metal and stoner rock groups to follow in our footsteps!

Front and back cover of the finished product.

Pentagram receive world-wide press coverage of this album, and gave a shot in the arm to the dying doom metal genre.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Gruesome Twosome Take on the World - The Rebirth and Fall of Pentagram - Part II - Sub Basement


Woody said...

Awesome story. Can't wait for part 2. Are the re-issues going to have distribution in the US?

Josh said...

Joe-I love that you are chronicling your time in Pentagram. This is fascinating, important stuff!

El rock chingón said...

I always has been a pentagram fan, my favorite pentagram´s son: Vampire love. Hope to see you in mexico city some day.

Kristian said...

I really appreciate you taking the time to write these fascinating pieces of metal history down. Thanks for a great read, and I hope to see more. What do you think of the new line-up of Pentagram and have you been involved in 914 Films new documentary?