How many bands can keep chugging away for decades and still bring out a tremendous album each and every time? The list is certainly short, and shorter still every year you go back in time. Dutch death metal heroes Pentacle formed all the way back at the tail end of the ‘80s, and though they’ve always moved slowly, they’re finally back for their third album, Spectre of the Eight Ropes. If you only clicked this article to see if Pentacle still has it, you can skip the rest of it and just buy the album, because once again, Pentacle have brought their ancient feeling to a new and crushing record.
The foundation of Pentacle’s sound has always been rooted in the same place, so hitting one of their albums gives a good idea of what the others sound like. Raging Dutch death metal as it was in 1991 is and always will be the heart of Pentacle, and no amount of time can dilute that. Rather than third-generation aped riffs, the Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Slaughter and other classic early and pre-death metal influences come through with each blazing riff change.
Though Pentacle’s sound has always remained in the same vein, the actual composition continues to grow as do the members. The songs are each a winding journey through thrash, death, and doom, and there appears to be more care than ever on the way that everything comes together. A key aspect of previous releases was rapid-fire tempo changes between grinding doom, mid-paced and chunky Frostian sections, and more aggressive blasphemous death; with Spectre of the Eight Ropes there is more room to breathe, and the band dwells on each of the elements that their legacy is built upon more than ever. “Blessed By Fire” sees some of the longest uninterrupted mid-paced sections in Pentacle’s history, and in fact would be their longest song ever recorded (as far as I can tell) if not for the even longer album closer.
As always, the strong vocal performance of founding bassist and frontman Wannes Gubbels helps elevate the album past where it might have been without him. As with several other of the early Dutch death metal bands, Gubbels eschews the deeper growls that many associate with the genre to focus on his mid and higher range, and this perfectly suits the music. In the past Gubbels has been compared primarily to Martin Van Drunen for the obvious reason of playing somewhat similar music and for having been Van Drunen’s replacement in Asphyx for several years (and great years at that), but Gubbels definitely has his own range and tone that’s uniquely his and fits the music far better than a mere Van Drunen imitator would have.
Despite the extra length of some of the songs and the album being Pentacle’s longest yet (if only by a minute), a careful mind towards the track order, drum beat choices, and flow keeps the album from growing stagnant. Each of the extra long tracks closes one of the sides of the 12”, which is a distinction that might be missed by fans who only buy the album on CD or download it somewhere but that shows where Pentacle’s priorities are; this is an album for the people who still buy music on wax, and who love the same long-gone era of death metal that the band does.
Much as with the actual style of the music, Pentacle’s stability has manifested itself in other ways. The production is warm, organic, and sounds as old as the music does. The band’s lineup has been unchanged for nearly twenty years now, and the stability can be heard in how tightly the songs lock together. Even the cover art was done by the same guy, Manual Tinnemans, who drew each of the previous Pentacle album covers, and most of their non-album releases. Some years ago Gubbels stated in an interview that he did not know if Pentacle could ever release another full length, but here they are, as are we; Pentacle are here to bring us back to the past, which they never left, and it’d be foolish to deny the journey.