Pagan Altar - Mythical And Magical [Temple Of Mystery Records - 2019]Mythical and Magical is the latest reissue from English Doom Metal pioneers Pagan Altar, originally formed in Brockley in 1978 by father and son team Terry and Alan Jones.
The band are particularly notable for their interest in the Occult, much like their contemporaries Witchfinder General who sprung up around the same time. After releasing Volume 1, their one and only album from their first incarnation the band split, eventually reforming in 2004, and releasing three more albums of excellent music. Sadly, vocalist Terry Jones passed away in 2015, just as the band was in the final stages of mastering what would become the posthumously released Room of Shadows. Mythical and Magical is the bandís third album, originally released in 2006, and often cited as the bandís masterpiece. This reisssue on double blood red vinyl operates as a timely reminder of the brilliance of original vocalist Terry Jones, and the guitar talents of his son Alan.
The album opener "Samhein", leaves you in no doubt about the bandís interests and influence with its choice of opening, as the (Sabbath like) tolling of church bells eventually make way to eastern flavoured NWOBHM style guitar riffs. Obviously written during the early days of their career, Samhein hearkens back to one of my favourite periods in British metal history when bands like Iron Maiden, Witchfinder General and Angel Witch were just starting to take flight. Named after the classic horror film of the same name "The Cry of the Banshee" is up next, a classic metal stomper that deserves to stand alongside the very best metal has to offer. Reminiscent to my ears of classic Angel Witch, it features a chug along riff that is not unlike Iron Maiden at their best. "The Crowman" is up next and features an acoustic folk inspired opening, appropriately Terry Jones vocals here remind me of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, and in fact there is a definite Tull vibe to the whole track. "Daemoni Na Noiche" takes a lot of the Jethro Tull style of the previous track and sets it firmly in a heavy metal setting. "The Sorcerer" takes things down to a whole new level, tender, pretty and proggy and featuring guitar work that The Moody Blues would kill for, in fact Terry Jones vocal performance on this track is every bit as good as Justin Haywardís on those classic Moody Blues albums of the late 1960s.
"Flight of the Witch Queen" is the albumís midpoint and sees the band bring the tempo back up. Once again, I am reminded of a heavier Jethro Tull, but there is also something of Neil Young about it that I just canít lay my finger on. "Dance of the Druids" heads briefly back into folkier territory, but it doesnít last long before we get some classic metal riffage when the song takes a turn for the rockier. "The Erl King" takes us once again down the folkier rabbit hole, and at over 8 minutes long it is the albumís centre piece and an absolute masterpiece to boot. "The Witches" Pathway is more akin to typical Pagan Altar, a strong bounce along metal anthem that does exactly what you want it to do. "Sharnie" is a short folky interlude, that operates as an intro to the album closer "The Rising of the Dark Lord", a near nine-minute masterclass in how to write a heavy metal epic, that turns back towards the proggier material in the second half.
Mythical and Magical is not a typical doom metal record, in fact for the most part itís barely a metal record. It goes way beyond those narrow descriptions taking in both folk and progressive rock influences, simply put the record transcends simple description. Terryís voice is absolutely perfect for this record sounding somewhere between a bona fide rock god and a Celtic bard, whilst son Alan can shred with the best of them, however his outstanding guitar work never feels overdone and always fits perfectly within the songís context. Mythical and Magical is an album out of time, if it was released in the early 1970s it would have been acclaimed a masterpiece by all and sundry, however released in 2006, and with the band having a reputation for performing Doom Metal it passed under the radar of many people. I, thankfully, heard it then and still listen to it today, it remains a personal favourite and whilst I would love to hear an all singing and dancing remastered edition, the power of the music remains and still blows my mind today.Darren Charles