Pagan Altar
The Room of Shadows

Recent years have seen an insurgence of bands harkening back to the days of classic metal. The mid-paced, stomping riffs and soaring vocals of bands long gone are becoming the subject of a new wave in underground music. Many of the bands responsible for the original rise of heavy metal have called it quits or have fallen into obscurity. While the eager young groups of the genre tear and claw their way to the top of the pack, Pagan Altar has quietly (and to moderate critical acclaim) released some of the best albums in the genre over the past twenty years. After the tragic death of founder and vocalist Terry Jones in 2015, the remaining members decided to end the band’s career on the highest note possible. Recording instruments over Jones’s vocals meant for an album written over a decade ago, one of the greater bands in heavy metal history has finally released a stunning final album emblazoned with the name The Room of Shadows. Pagan Altar has succeeded in almost every respect, creating an album befitting a long, fruitful career.

The style displayed throughout the album is not one of endless innovation or rampant experimentation. Every member knows exactly how they want to sound and they present that sound exceedingly well. The group captures the immense vibe of classic heavy metal and old-school doom while throwing in a healthy measure of hard rock swagger. Each song exhibits a plethora of exciting, head-banging riffs that just beg to be poorly emulated on the listener’s air guitar. Especially engrossing are many of the guitar solos which add more than a hint of breathtaking technicality to the proceedings. That’s not to say that The Room of Shadows is a brutal bruiser all the way through. There are plenty of somber yet tranquil breaks where the instruments calm down and provide a sense of fluidity through various exercises in progressive rock. Both the hard-hitting moments and the atmospheric pieces are made infinitely more powerful by the elegant performance of the late Terry Jones. He croons and belts beautifully through lyrics depicting death and the occult with a unique timbre that combines unrivaled power with a very real sense of vulnerability. Every instrument sounds crisp, clear, and authentic courtesy of a phenomenal mixing and mastering effort. The album is certainly a mesmerizing reminder that metal is not just for junkies addicted roaring vocals and breakneck guitars.

Although The Room of Shadows is an obvious highlight of 2017, it is not without its faults. With the exception of the the short closing track, every song could easily be shortened by a minute or more without losing any of its power. The group pushes every riff to the limit, sometimes going a bit overboard. This is largely compensated for by the lead guitar which almost always finds the perfect spot to throw in a feverish solo or intricate, uplifting melody. Some moments suffer from a lack of intensity or anything truly gripping, causing the mind to wander until something more absorbing jerks the listener back to the present. These small flaws are quite easily forgiven and forgotten considering the insane quality of the music as a whole.

While it may be a slightly inconsistent listen, Pagan Altar’s final opus is ultimately a stunning display of everything that has made heavy metal such an enduring style through the years. While it won’t sway younger fans of bands infused with chugs, technical wizardry and blast-beats, The Room of Shadows is an emotional powerhouse that closes the book of a criminally overlooked band with heartbreaking sincerity as well as an almost overwhelming amount of grace and class.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Benjamin Cedotal
September 28th, 2017

Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    yo this is awesome. The vocalist was almost ten years older than my dad, which i think rules.


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