If you are a Pagan Altar fan you can stop reading and buy the album now. This is the album we were all hoping for. Far more coherent than the 2008 LP Mythical and Magical, yet The Room of Shadows holds the same sense of wonder that a NWOBHM fan would get from unearthing a true relic from the early eighties metal explosion.
There is an authenticity and passion in the music that many of their reformed contemporaries can only dream of recapturing in their current musical output.
From the first unsettling keyboard phrase and roaring power chord of the slow burning “Rising of the Dead,” the atmospheric, theatrical delivery that has made Pagan Altar legendary among metal fans is in evidence, immediately capturing the mood of Hammeresque faux gothic horror and classically British metal that hooked me when I first heard Pagan Altar.
Then arrives the strangely intimate, almost conversational, vocal delivery; the late Terry Jones was never a histrionic vocalist yet could put over a powerful gothic tale like no other.
A perfect case in point is “The Portrait of Dorian Grey.” Many bands are happy to raid this kind of supernatural Victoriana; few can make it sound fresh without adding a great deal to the canon, just delivering beautifully articulate hard rocking music.
“Danse Macabre” offers an up tempo yet still haunting and evocative slice of the same. “Dance of the Vampires” gives us a glimpse into a strange and unusually lurid world of a vampiric cult at gruesome play.
Bringing us to the closing triptych of title track “Room of Shadows,” with it’s strangely timeless, folk inflected stylings combined with a highly engaging tale of hauntological childhood recollections, capturing the mood of an unheard MR James tale, set to a soundtrack of haunting guitar melodies, underpinned by the powerful and emotive rhythm section of Diccon Harper and Andy Green.
Then “The Ripper” takes a different angle on the standard metal trope of the blood and guts aspect of Whitechapel’s most storied visitor; a truly gothic tale in the weirdly anachronistic but never trite NWOBHM style that Pagan Altar have made their own.
Full of stunning guitar work from Alan Jones, maybe his best, showing his range from slashing riffs to stunning, darkly melodic harmonies in an epic, cinematic blend, with the vocal telling tales of conspiracy and murder in Victorian London.
Album closer “After Forever” is, of course, a most poignant if brief finale featuring Terry Jones’ musings upon life, death and what lies beyond.
In short, Room of Shadows is the perfect album to complete the Pagan Altar oeuvre, a fitting final curtain to an enchantingly imperfect, always entertaining, occasionally magnificent band out of their time and ours.
To paraphrase a highly intelligent cosmic being: Goodbye, and thanks for all the riffs.
(released August 25, 2017 on Temple Of Mystery Records)