Pentagram - Biography
Pentagram, formed in Arlington, Virginia in 1971, is probably the United States’ first doom metal group. It has been a hard road: it took Pentagram fourteen years to get its first album out, and the band’s career has been marked by numerous breakups, personnel changes, record label switches and hiatuses. However, the band has been highly influential in the metal scene, particularly in the doom and stoner rock subgenres, where Pentagram vinyl is a prized commodity and the band itself is legendary.
Shades of Darkness singer Bobby Liebling joined a Maryland/Virginia/Washington, DC-area band called Space Meat (also known, briefly, as Stone Bunny) in 1970. Space Meat only lasted several months, and the following year, Liebling and Space Meat drummer Geof O’Keefe formed Pentagram with O’Keefe on guitar, Vincent McAllister on bass and Steve Martin drumming. Space Meat guitarist John Jennings joined Pentagram briefly, prompting O’Keefe to return to the drums. Jennings quit after a few practices, so McAllister moved to guitar and Space Meat bassist Greg Mayne joined the band.
According to Pentagram’s Relapse Records bio, this lineup “rehearsed as often as possible for three to four hours a night at a bulk mailing warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia where O’Keefe’s dad was an executive.” The band used the name Macabre on its first single, “Be Forewarned” b/w “Lazy Lady” (1972 Intermedia Productions), though the label on the first pressing misspelled the name (“Macbre”). Two years after forming, Pentagram played its first show at Montgomery Junior College in Takoma Park, Maryland on December 8, 1973.
Local radio DJ Skip Groff, host of the Heavy Metal Thunder program, recorded and released Pentagram’s second single “Hurricane” b/w “Earth Flight” (1973 Boffo Socko). Second guitarist Randy Palmer—in whose band, Bedemon, O’Keefe and Liebling had played—joined in 1974. Palmer appears on Pentagram’s third single, “Under My Thumb” (the Jagger/Richards song) b/w “When The Screams Come” (1974 Gemini), also recorded and released by Groff. Palmer left before the band traveled to New York in 1975 to record demos for CBS Records; CBS passed on Pentagram.
Pentagram broke up briefly in 1976, then reunited with new second guitarist Marty Iverson before breaking up again in 1977. In 1978, Liebling joined Washington, DC drummer Joe Hasselvander’s band, which became the new Pentagram and recorded the band’s fourth single, “Livin’ In A Ram’s Head” b/w “When The Screams Come” (1979 High Voltage). This lineup broke up in 1979. Two years later, Liebling joined Death Row, Hasselvander’s band with guitarist Victor Griffin and bassist Marty Swaney of the ’78-’79 Pentagram lineup. Death Row changed its name to Pentagram in 1984. Finally, fourteen years in, Pentagram released its debut album Pentagram (1985 Pentagram); Hasselvander drummed on the album but quit before its release. Stuart Rose took Hasselvander’s place on Pentagram’s second album, Day of Reckoning (1987 Napalm), while Hasselvander joined the British metal band Raven. Pentagram again broke up in 1988. Liebling put together another short-lived lineup in 1989, with alumni Randy Palmer and Greg Mayne joining new guitarist Teddy Feldman and drummer Jon Cook.
UK label Peaceville reissued the first two Pentagram albums in 1993; Pentagram was resequenced and titled Relentless. Victor Griffin, Marty Swaney and Joe Hasselvander returned to form the early-90s lineup of Pentagram, which recorded the third LP Be Forewarned (1994 Fierce Recordings). This band split up about a year after the album’s release, and Liebling led another new lineup of Pentagram through 1996. Liebling and Hasselvander reunited in 1999 and recorded two new albums with Hasselvander playing all the instruments: Review Your Choices (1999 Black Widow) and Sub-Basement (2001 Black Widow). Pentagram was booked to play a 2001 doom metal festival in Towson, Maryland with a hired bassist and drummer, but according to Hasselvander’s account of the show on his blog, Liebling failed to appear at the venue until midnight, when Pentagram was playing the last song of its set. The event marked the end of Liebling and Hasselvander’s collaboration as Pentagram, though Liebling has made guest appearances with his former partner’s new band, the Hounds of Hasselvander.
The compilations First Daze Here (2002 Relapse) and First Daze Here Too (2006 Relapse) collect Pentagram’s early singles and unreleased demos. Liebling assembled a new Pentagram with members of Internal Void and recorded Show ‘em How (2004 Black Widow). Two early members of the band died during the decade: guitarist Randy Palmer died in a car accident August 8, 2002, and bassist and guitarist Vince McAllister died of cancer May 26, 2006. After a hiatus of several years, Liebling returned in 2008 with a new lineup that continues to tour.
Liebling is the subject of the documentary Last Rites: The Fall and Rise of Bobby Liebling, which has not been released as of this writing.