By Sean Palmerston
One of the most surprising comebacks of 2011 was the unbelievable return to form of legendary Maryland doom unit Pentagram. After having an up-and-down twelve months the year previous, which included having members of the band quit mid-tour in the early part of that year, they really figured things out starting in the late spring of 2010 and, by the end of that year, had recorded Last Rites, their best studio album ever and one of this writer’s top ten albums of the year. The pairing (again) of Bobby Liebling and guitarist Victor Griffin made it their best since the eighties and really solidified the faith of many in the Pentagram name once more.
The real turning point in this writer’s feelings about the current version of Pentagram happened on May 30th when the band played their set at Maryland Deathfest VIII. Although I had been a fan since the early nineties, this was my first time seeing the sometimes questionable band in concert. To say I had trepidation about what could happen was an understatement. Having been well aware of the band’s problems earlier on in the year, I had no idea what to expect. It ended up being one of the best sets of that day, if not the entire four day festival. Jeez, even the often-skeptical Mr. Kevin Stewart-Panko leaned over to me midway through the set and muttered “this is pretty fucking good”. And that it was.
Now our viewpoint at the time was actually sitting on the trunk of a car in the parking lot. We found that it had an awesome view towards the festival’s second outdoor stage straight ahead of us, with an almost perfect audible mix of the band’s live sound. But now that the band’s entire MDF set has been officially released by Metal Blade under the name of When The Screams Come, the ability to relive said show in a completely different fashion from the comfort of one’s own home makes for an even more intriguing experience.
The Pentagram set at MDF was one of the ones captured in its entirety by the Handshake Inc. film company. David Hall and his crew are the ones responsible for the making of the Maryland Deathfest movies, so they had unlimited access to filming the bands from both in front of, besides and behind the stage. Using a series of high quality handheld digital cameras, the crew did their best to film the performances on the fly and, in the case of the Pentagram set, did an exceptional job in doing just that.
Having a real character up front like Bobby Liebling makes for great viewing. Dressed in gold lamé pants and an absolutely obscene psychedelic blouse that he apparently knicked off his mother, Liebling owns the front of the stage in this show. His facial gestures are classic. He totally has down the most wicked, half-dead looks you have ever seen and knows how to play them up. You’d think he has probably spent hours upon hours practicing some of those grimaces into a mirror pretending he was a rock star. He has them down to a science.
As mentioned before, this was not a choreographed set, and the Handshake Inc peeps didn’t know what exactly was going to happen, so kudos to them for having a camera in just the perfect place during “Petrified” when old Uncle Bobby falls to the ground in shambolic shame. It’s probably the most dramatic thing that happened all weekend at the festival performance-wise and it was captured exactly in all of its chilling glory.
Oh yeah, what about the music you ask? Well, during this twelve song set the quartet is on fire and rips through a number of Pentagram classics. The set is like a greatest hits that never was, with the band firing off classic after classic including “Forever My Queen”, ‘20 Buck Spin”, “All Your Choices” and the song for which this live DVD was named for. Both Victor Griffin and his nephew bassist Greg Turley do a great job here, as does then-drummer Gary Isom. The former Spirit Caravan timekeeper ended up leaving the band shortly after this, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t pull his weight. His drumming is spot on and heavy during this 45 minute set, with the only problems coming from the mix on the DVD (some of the tom hits are reverberating way too much in the stage’s PA).
When The Screams Come is a great visual document of the band that will be as entertaining to longtime fans of the band as it will be to newcomers. It’s not the flashiest, it’s certainly a warts-and-all type performance, but it captures a historically important band in their background getting the kind of adulation they deserve. Make sure to also watch the interview with Liebling that’s included as bonus material. It is both hilarious and harrowing at the same time. Let’s hope he can keep his shit together like the for the rest of his time on earth.