Not many people know this band, so here is some background information for those interested.
With 1997's Anatolia, Pentagram, also known as Mezarkabul, introduced a change in direction, leaving behind their thrash metal days in favour of a doom-laden heavy metal aesthetic informed by a strong Middle Eastern element. The album remains a landmark in the Turkish metal scene, which is in no small part due to the amazing performance of vocalist Murat Ilkan, by far Turkey's greatest metal voice.
After Anatolia, the band released Unspoken in 2001, in some ways their finest work to date. The band continued to refine their style heard on Anatolia, emphasizing more powerful hooks in the choruses while retaining their doomy side that would please fans of bands like Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass as well as Dio-era Sabbath due to the awesome riffing. Unspoken's sister album Bir followed a year later; it contained songs with Turkish lyrics only and was a domestic release.
Then they went on hiatus. Every few years, they played a gig, but unfortunately, they never put out a follow-up to Unspoken which would solidify their international status. To this day, this album is criminally underrated because the few people who've heard it all consider it a masterpiece, and rightly so.
Finally, in 2010, vocalist Murat Ilkan left the band citing health reasons and also a wish to focus on a solo career. It seemed the future of the band was in limbo, until they recruited Gokalp Ergen formerly of The Climb, an underground 90s band with a cult following.
Enough with the history -- much like Anatolia, MMXII marks the beginning of a new phase for Pentagram. There is a stylistic change that anyone who has heard their back catalog will notice. The "oriental" sound of the previous two discs is almost nonexistent save for one track, "Now and Nevermore." This one sounds like an outtake from the band's Unspoken sessions; it features Ilhan Barutcu's unmistakable ney sounds and actually shares a very similar main melody with "This Too Will Pass." Even Ergen's vocal delivery is reminiscent of Ilkan's, except for the unusual deep growl at the final second.
The single "Wasteland" showcases Pentagram's strengths perfectly. It's a riff-based, midtempo piece that introduces Ergen's vocal style, which consists of juxtaposing a raspy delivery with a cleaner, more powerful attack. Some have compared him to the Seattle singers from the early 90s in this sense. Ergen sings with conviction and enunciates perfectly. He is a very different singer from Ilkan, and the stripped down, more direct approach taken in the songwriting suits him very well.
In many ways, this album is a step down from its two predecessors, and while most people like to attribute this to the new singer, the truth is the songs are not as strong as the band's earlier work. To begin with, the album lacks character; the songs are way out there. There is the heavy metal stuff, , and the songs with more modern-sounding arrangements. "Beyond Insanity" is a throwback to their thrashy Trail Blazer period while "Disturbing the Peace" is filled with crunchy riffing in its intro before segueing into classic Pentagram territory. Each song has great ideas, but somehow few of them gel together to form a cohesive whole.
The highlights are the ballad-esque "It's Dawn Again," complete with a killer guitar solo (speaking of which now that the band has dropped their 'ethnic' influences they might consider incorporating more solos into their craft) that has a very gritty tone to it. The erupting chorus is glorious, and the vocals are arguably his best. The other song that needs special mention is "Apokalips." This is Pentagram opting for a more European metal sound, combining apocalyptic acoustic guitars with epic-sized riffage and awesome lyrics. It's a song that starts slowly and keeps building on till the anthemic chorus: this one will make for a killer live track.
There are also three songs sung in Turkish, of which only "Gecmisin Yuku" ("The Burden of the Past") has a lasting effect. It is in these songs where Ergen's involvement in the songwriting is most apparent. The chorus is classic Pentagram, and the riffing is amazing. "Uzakta" ("Far Away") is perhaps an attempt to be a more accessible piece, but it reminds me more of the solo material of Pentagram's former vocalist, Ogun Sanlisoy. Finally, "Dogmadan Once" ("Before Being Born") is a dynamic piece where the focus is on the constantly changing tempos between the verses and choruses.
The production is thick and punchy; the intricately layered vocal harmonies and super-clean guitar sounds have been replaced with more crunch-filled arrangements, due to the direction taken in the writing.
MMXII is an effort worth hearing, but it is not quite the album fans had been anticipating for the last 10 years and certainly not on par with the Ilkan-era albums.
- Now and Nevermore
- Gecmisin Yuku
- Beyond Insanity
- Dogmadan Once
- It's Dawn Again
- Disturbing the Peace
- Apokalips 06:23 Show lyrics