Pagan Altar – The Room of Shadows (2017) REVIEW

Alan and Terry Jones’ Pagan Altar had something special in their hands from their inception in 1977. Pagan Altar should have been there representing the heart of true underground doom metal, but after a few demos failed to launch in the early 80’s they disappeared. The father and son duo, responsible for vocals and guitars respectively had written an impressive body of work for their first album and beyond but nothing this band wrote saw professional release until 2004. In fact of the five albums worth of material Pagan Altar wrote and recorded, they’d re-record every single one. Even the amazing ‘Mythical & Magical’ wouldn’t get any real distribution until it had been out for several years. Pagan Altar’s story isn’t as depraved as Bobby Liebling’s tragic Pentagram history, but there are some parallels to be drawn here both in musical style and prolific 70’s-80’s songwriting that didn’t pan out until much later. Terry Jones was over 40 years old when the band started, and the band would reappear in the 2004 with a white haired wizard on vocals whose warm, nasal croon was distinctly vintage yet entirely appropriate for the resurgence in retro doom metal among the metal underground of the day. I was on board from the start, but I didn’t really flip my shit for Pagan Altar until I’d heard ‘Mythical & Magical’ in 2013. I was already crazy about Hour of 13, and I’m still that band’s biggest fan, but I’ll be damned if Pagan Altar wasn’t one of the biggest inspiration for that groups sound as well. The ability to marry ye olde Sabbath, British folk influences, and whip out Tolkien inspired tales of wizardry is solely that of the Jones.

“Cascading leaves of golden russet brown

Like my life’s descending spiral, floatin’ down”

Terry Jones in Studio, Photo by Pagan Altar

Speaking of re-recording, tragedy and such… Pagan Altar’s swan song comes after being originally recorded as ‘Never Quite Dead‘ in 2013. They were not happy with the performances, set the album aside and as Terry’s health failed it was left alone. His passing in 2015 inspired Alan to re-record the rhythm section and put the album out as ‘The Room of Shadows’ here in 2017. Are they such perfectionists? Or was everything they ever recorded not good enough as a first draft? Regardless of why and how things happened, we’ve got the final album from Pagan Altar and it could very well be their finest record. Pagan Altar was always a band of fantasy, heartfelt melody, and classic heavy metal/rock songwriting. Jones’ slightly nasal doom metal crooning is still soul piercing and his now post-humous lyrics of reflection are devastating. The early Sabbath feel of the guitars, minus all frustration and angst, gently lumbers from ear to ear as the younger Jones re-interprets classic the proto-doom rock feeling they had ‘Magical & Mystical’ into something more sombre and reserved. The jaunty 70’s feeling of the previous album has given way to a style closer to mid-80’s NWOBHM as the movement began to mature in two directions: Some bands went pop-metal and leaned into radio rock while others caught up with the speed/thrash metal scene. The production is the best of any record Pagan Altar has put out to date, and the simpler dual guitar approach makes for an intimate, thoughtful metal album. Though Jones’ passing is depressing, I think the band has done him right with this re-recording. His descriptive, poetic lyrics draw up visions of horrors, sum up legendary parables, and give the proud feeling of an accomplished wizard inspiring further generations with his tales.

This is an impressive send-off for Pagan Altar. The material is the best possible goodbye for a band that deserves to be revered much more as a cult classic in traditional doom metal circles. So, if you’re not familiar with these guys and you like stuff like Hour of 13, Pentagram, and Magic Circle this one is a decidedly good listening choice you could make.


Artist Pagan Altar
Type Album
Released August 24, 2017
BUY/LISTEN on their BANDCAMP Follow Pagan Altar on Facebook
Pagan Altar on Metal-Archives Check out the previous LP ‘Mythical & Magical’
Genres  Heavy MetalTraditional Doom Metal

Doom classic. 4.5/5.0