Five-Sided History

After nearly 40 years, Pentagram remains a fascinating force in the Metal scene

At 56, after four decades of touring and recording, there aren’t many firsts that Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling can notch for himself. But on the day of our interview, Liebling’s 24-year-old wife had an ultrasound that determined their unborn child’s sex.

“We’re going to have a boy,” a shell-shocked Liebling says. “It’s my first on-paper, legal marriage and my first child ever. It’s pretty much a trip of a day. The world will have another me in it. My God, they’re not ready for that yet.”

There’s a case to be made that the world wasn’t ready for the first Liebling who made his mark. Back in the early 1970s, when he was still just a teenager, Bobby Liebling, inspired by the work of UFO, Uriah Heep and Blue Cheer, founded the first iteration of Pentagram. The Metal community and the world in general have felt the ripples ever since. And while the band’s doom-laden riffage and thunderous rhythms set the stage for subsequent generations of Metal translators, Liebling and Pentagram are largely excised from the influence dialogue.

“I don’t know, you tell me,” Liebling says, laughing at the question of why he isn’t recognized for his contributions. “I think the drug thing got in the way and I got blackballed, so to speak, by a lot of the venues we could have played and arenas we could have delved into. But it’s all good. The guy upstairs takes real good care of me. I should have been dead 25 years ago and I’m still doing it. I’m just thankful to wake up.”

Even a truncated genealogy of Pentagram would require a series of lengthy articles. The band formed in 1971 when Liebling and guitarist Geof O’Keefe exited their bands to start a new group together, changing names several times before settling on Pentagram (a name that Liebling insists represents no satanic symbolism within the band’s philosophical context).

There have been periods when the entire membership of the band — with the exception of Liebling, the band’s sole constant — has turned over completely in a matter of months. And even though Liebling was in perpetual writing mode, Pentagram’s debut album didn’t appear for over a decade after their formation.

“Between late 1970 and 1974 I wrote 450 songs and I didn’t have a recording contract until 1985,” Liebling says. “Even the first album was a demo that was recorded in 1982, when we were going under the name Death Row. The album was called All Your Sins, and that’s the album that became Relentless by Pentagram after a bunch of remixing.”

Pentagram’s spotty label, touring and recording history and regular shifts in membership (there have been over two dozen members of Pentagram and some have done more than one stint) are clear evidence of an incredibly volatile band atmosphere. With no hesitation, Liebling accepts responsibility for the role that drugs and ego played in the band’s tumultuous existence, at least to a point.

“In reflecting on it, I was an asshole and a prima donna a lot of the time,” he says honestly. “But there were also a lot of people around me who didn’t have the commitment and conviction to Pentagram, with such tunnel vision. I was never into the thing where you play in three or four bands at the same time. I’m not for that at all.”

Pentagram’s past is an enormous part of the current tour as the band’s 1995-97 lineup — guitarist Victor Griffin, bassist Greg Turley and drummer Gary Isom — is this month’s road model. Liebling couldn’t have been more thrilled to secure this group of players for Pentagram’s latest circuit.

“I’d love to work with Victor for the rest of my career,” he says. “I know he’s got my back. Being an only child, that’s the closest thing to a brother I could have had. I think this tour is going to have a predominance of sell-outs because of Victor and I being back together again. I think it’s going to strike up a lot of interest and people are going to come out of the woodwork even more than they have in the last year and a half, which has floored me.”

Also on the horizon for Pentagram is the hope of completing Last Rites, a new album that’s been on the drawing board for several years. Like every other Pentagram album, the set list will consist of newly written or co-written songs combined with new versions of songs that Liebling wrote in the band’s first five years when they were playing live extensively but recording only demos.

Last Rites is supposed to be recorded in September (or) October, God willing and health holds out,” Liebling says. “I’ve already picked concretely eight from those old songs, so it’ll be predominantly like the other albums. I rarely get a new thought musically. Lyrically, it’s a breeze.”

While it’s true that Pentagram’s presence in the Metal community has been slightly sporadic, there’s no denying that the band has been around in one form or another for nearly four decades. When it comes to the respect and adoration that the community exhibits for Pentagram, no one is more surprised and humbled than Liebling.

“I never knew that people knew of my existence like they do now,” he says. “I’ve been to 12 countries and 35 states in a year. I was nowhere for 35 years. It’s totally surreal, but I love the fact that I’m not retro, I’m not Stoner Rock. I’m one of the dinosaurs that made it all the way through the Ice Age, and there aren’t too many of us left. I’m still here.”

PENTAGRAM plays the Southgate House Saturday with Black Tusk. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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