DB HOF NO. 64
The making of Pentagram’s “Relentless”
released: 1985; reissued: 1993
original label: Pentagram; reissue label: Peaceville
As convoluted back-stories go, it doesn’t get much more tangled than the one behind Pentagram’s Relentless. Founder/vocalist Bobby Liebling, drummer Joe Hasselvander and bassist Martin Swaney had all been in Pentagram together in the late ’70s, delivering their righteous Sabbathian thunder to audiences in and around our nation’s capital. Shortly after the band went tits up, Hasselvander joined forces with a 19-year-old guitarist from Tennessee named Victor Griffin, who was already writing songs under the name Death Row. In ’81, the duo hooked up with Swaney and Liebling (a notorious lifelong junkie in the style of William S. Burroughs), and Death Row became a sub-woofing, riff-ruling reality. Liebling and Griffin split the songwriting duties while the band terrorized the Beltway in proto-corpsepaint style, sawing off beefy chunks of catchy, ripping doom that typically outpaced anything by Saint Vitus or Trouble.
Recorded in two sessions (side A in ’81, side B in ’82) and originally released on cassette as Death Row’s All Your Sins demo in ’82, the album that would later become Relentless was issued on wax as Pentagram’s Pentagram by a Dutch East imprint (coincidentally called Pentagram Records) in ’85, shortly after Death Row had disbanded. It wasn’t until Peaceville picked it up in ’93 that the album was given the Relentless title. Thus, Pentagram’s full-length debut came out under a different title four years after the first songs were recorded under a completely different moniker, and nearly 15 years after Liebling formed the band—and then again under another different title eight years after that. Totally easy to keep straight, right?
But the logistics are beside the point. With everyone from Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan to Witchcraft and Jack White totally sweating Pentagram’s vast back catalogue, the band’s influence is undeniable. And Relentless just might be the linchpin to the whole sordid—and ongoing—saga. Bridging the gap between the dark ’70s boogie of the First Daze Here demo material and the later Liebling/Hasselvander outings (1999’s Review Your Choices and 2001’s Sub-Basement), it is nothing less than a total fucking monster. —J. Bennett
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