Review by MacabreEternal for Pagan Altar - The Lords of Hypocrisy (2004)
The file marked "grating vocals but simply fantastic metal music" is perhaps one of my most frequently visited in recent years. A couple of pints of Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol and I am anybody's really, you can take me home and have your wicked way with me leave before I wake and never call me again, I will still be content. Pagan Altar fit nicely into the same bracket of metal as the aforementioned two other legendary groups. The late Terry Jones' vocals manage to appeal to me in the same nerdy way that Tim Baker and Mark Shelton's style also work for me. Aside from them taking a while to get used to (my experience of Tim and Mark definitely making them more manageable in terms of me coming to Pagan Altar), the other similarity that can be drawn is the excellent musicianship on display also. Full of thick 70's "rawk" riffs and bluesy undertones to the melodies deployed the sound of Pagan Altar draws paralells on more than one front with their fellow metallers.
Lords of Hypocrisy was the second offering from the UK based band coming a full 26 years after they formed (their debut was recorded in 1982 but only came out in 1998). It is full of slow to mid-paced plodding doom and stunted NWOBHM riffs that take you back to crumby pubs were bands like Pagan Altar got to play in their day, yet these same sounds would work just as well on a bigger stage. Notorious for their early performances being of equal epic proportions as their songs I imagine the band would have been quite an experience in their day. Tracks like the eleven minute Armageddon would have been a real treat live (as it was on the record too).
There's clever use of atmosphere throughout the album and the album feels like it fills a lot of space as a result. From the more energetic and upbeat moments through to the near ambient momnets, Pagan Altar cover a lot of ground in just over 50 minutes. Along the way they weave a tapestry of nuclear annihilation, telling stories of man's demise, religion and all manner of unpleasant times. The darkness to the lyrical content gives a wonderfully morbid sense to some of the slower, more doomy tracks. Songs like The Aftermath track a harrowing and melancholic tone that hammer home the despondency of the lyrics perfectly.
Paul Jone’s guitar work is nothing short of phenomenal throughout the album, full of emotion and depth, the notes fill the air around you as you listen. I even sit in admiration at the banjo work on the instrumental piece The Devil Came Down To Brockley, which despite being a curved ball to some degree still works brilliantly. A shout out also needs to go to Valerie Watson for ethereal and eerie backing vocals thorughout the record. They are just as important as Terry's are in buildig the atmosphere mentioned. The keyboards and chruch organ (on the title track) are also tegral at various points in the album to make this a fulfilling experience.