Thrash ‘Til Death #39: Pentagram (Chile) 1985-1991

THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


Formed in Santiago, Chile in 1985 as a couple of teenagers obsessed with the emergence of Venom, Slayer, and Possessed in the early 80’s it wouldn’t be long before Pentagram‘s enthusiasm would translate into primitive death metal songs that’d translate as one of the earlier South American analogues to Slaughter, Insanity, Poison, and Messiah the world over. I’ve seen a fair amount of speculation as to why this band never hit it big like Sepultura had, despite Max Cavalera hosting band members in Brazil and supposedly getting a (fruitless) record deal from it. It appears writ in history that simply no label in Chile or otherwise wanted to sign the band and this is not far-fetched considering Atomic Aggressor, Death Yell, Sadism and Apostasy would resort to self-released demos, albums, tapes etc. Even if there was no place for Pentagram‘s forward thinking brutal death/thrash style back in late 80’s Chile history has been kind enough to remember and respect this band for their contributions in terms of influence upon extreme metal as  a whole, invigoration generations of South American death metal and serving as the primitive archetype for countless ‘old school’ minded thrashers since. I will also touch upon the early years of Criminal, arguably the continuation of the spirit of Pentagram into the 90’s that’d evolve with the times. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me (grizzlybutts@hotmail.com) or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!


Artist Pentagram
Title [Type/Year] Death Live + Rehearsal [Demo/1986]
Rating [2.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

I’ve combined two separate tapes into one point of discussion here because they are redundant and particularly poor in quality. The December 26, 1985 rehearsal tape from Pentagram is included in the link, with the extra song from a compilation demo tape from 1986 that featured a live recording from a ‘Death  Metal Holocaust’ show in 1985. I feel like Slaughter‘s demos were pretty rough but they translated well with some of the murk, feedback, and fuzz but this rehearsal is brutally unlistenable for my own capabilities and unless you really need early variations on their classic first stretch of songwriting these recordings are non-essential.


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Artist Pentagram
Title [Type/Year] Demo #1 [Demo/1987]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

The first professional demo tape from Pentagram, ‘Demo #1’  was recorded in early January 1987 and would feature songs that’d go on to be some of the bands most remembered due to the only official release from the band featuring two of them on a 7″ from a Swiss label that same year. Most notable here, if you’d been a zine or label back in 1986, was that this new version of “Demoniac Possession” was reworked into something special and the Hellhammer-esque track really showcases the convergence of many Venom influenced extreme metal bands in the minds of those early thinkers. The riffs on this song surely echo those of Insanity‘s “Fire Death Fate” but with a Discharge styled refrain after each frantic verse that pushes well beyond the heavy thrash of ’86 towards the brutality of true death metal. For many this was a fine example of the threshold finally being crossed and the difference between say, ‘Abominations of Desolation’ and ‘Altars of Madness’ for example. These three songs are legendary today but the options were limited at the time. The band would gain recognition across the global underground but only Chainsaw Murder Records would option this material, mastering two of the songs for a 7″ single that same year.


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Artist Pentagram
Title [Type/Year] Fatal Prediction / Demoniac Possession [7″ EP/1987]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

An intensely sought after collectors item in the decades since, this 7″ single from Pentagram featured two songs from their first demo mastered for vinyl and released on Chainsaw Murder Records. The Swiss label was short lived in the hands of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost roadie “Dinosaur” but he would release important 80’s death metal records from Excruciation, Messiah, and freak thrashers Calhoun Conquer alongside bringing Pentagram to the masses with this 7″. Bootleg tapes would circulate like mad and these two songs would influence everyone from Mortem (Peru) to Napalm Death at the time. These were (mostly) two year old songs and extreme music was changing fast so, the next step was to up the ante.


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Artist Pentagram
Title [Type/Year] Demo #2 [Demo/1987]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Arguably the finest material Pentagram would write until their reformation in 2009, ‘Demo #2’ features a reasonable boost in Celtic Frost influence as well as an even more aggressive death metal style. “Profaner” is such a huge song for 1987 with tempo changes that were brilliant. Likewise the intro to “Temple of Perdition” is just brutal beyond most anything else you’d hear that year beyond maybe ‘Strappado’ and certain parts of ‘Schizophrenia’. These songs had a much bigger impact upon Chilean/South American death metal and the Santiago scene of legend but you don’t get the personal anecdotes out of European bands as much because Pentagram wouldn’t last much longer in any official capacity. The band would dissolve by the start of 1988 and members would join Necrosis and Dorso afterwards while guitarist/vocalist Anton Reisenegger would form pure thrash metal band Fallout in the meantime.


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Artist Fallout
Title [Type/Year] Demo 1: Factory Tapes [Demo/1989]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Well, the way forward for Reisenegger was somehow Bay Area influenced thrash metal that resembled ‘And Justice For All’ era Metallica and Heathen‘s nearby second album overall. This is one of my favorite demos from Chile’s diverse thrash metal scene of the 80’s simply because I appreciate the riffs, the rhythm guitar work is fantastic throughout this and their second demo. This was an ambitious group from formation with members of Necrosis, Explicit Hate, and Massakre unifying for this somewhat ‘commercial’ sound that was admittedly just too close to the fourth Metallica record. Unoriginal but still an awesome novelty to have. The first of many reformations of Pentagram would follow the second Fallout demo.


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Artist Pentagram
Title [Type/Year] White Hell [Demo/1991]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

A fast and ripping brutal thrash song from a short reformation of Pentagram by Anton Reisenegger who provides vocals, guitars and bass alongside a former Necrosis drummer. A strong Kreator-like touch to the guitars makes for a frantic thrasher of a song that could have fit in on Epidemic‘s ‘Decameron’ nearby. We’d never hear until 2008 with the ‘Under the Spell of the Pentagram’ demo and it is a shame that this track was never re-recorded or used on ‘The Malefice’ (2013) but I suppose it was too simple in composition compared to their newer material. It was time to move on by 1992 and Reisenegger would decide to start over with an entirely new project that was a natural continuation of this track’s style.


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Artist Criminal
Title [Type/Year] Demo No. 1 [Demo/1992]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

If you’d ever pined and agonized over the lack of greater success of Pentagram it might be because you’d had a blind spot for Criminal or you weren’t a big fan of their shift towards groove metal in the mid-to-late 90’s (understandably so). The first two demos from the band were more or less pure death/thrash or ‘brutal’ thrash metal almost entirely focused on the high-speed hammering riff and each demo features largely tuneless music highlighted by rhythm guitar gymnastics that were pretty timely for ’92. The two songs included on ‘Demo No. 1’ aren’t anything special and they both are more or less exactly the same save for a few verse riffs. Most anything by Criminal from ’92-’00 is pretty decent if you don’t mind some groove in with your death/thrash.

Nostalgia for Pentagram would crop up thanks to Napalm Death‘s ‘Leaders Not Followers’ cover records and demo compilations that would release around 2000, 2008, and reunions in some form would persist here and there until the last decade would see the band reform with two original members and the drummer from Sadism on hand. Most every track I’ve mentioned here from Pentagram would be fully recorded as an extra CD (or LP) on special editions of their debut full-length ‘The Malefice’ (2013). I figure just sampling those first two demos isn’t enough context to understand the impact the bands early years had on South American extreme metal and the introduction to North America and Europe beyond, in that sense Pentagram is as vital a proponent for death metal as a band like Sarcofago was for black metal. The 2CD or double LP version of ‘The Malefice’ with re-recordings of (most of) the classic era of the band is the ideal way to introduce yourself to the band but recent demo compilations offer complete archival quality as an alternative.


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