Yesterday, Pagan Altar singer Terry Jones died age 69 after a long battle against cancer. I'd like to make a post talking about my feelings for his work as sort of a personal memorial service. It's sad to see the man go at what is really still a young age, considering what he has given to the world. My condolensces go to his family, friends and bandmates. It's never easy to deal with the death of a loved one, but what's important is to keep the memory alive, and Terry Jones certainly is a man who will never be forgotten. Not for his personality, of which I have heard account from many people who have met him in person, and certainly not for his creative work.
Pagan Altar is actually a band I don't really listen to anymore. My tastes have shifted a lot in recent years. Those who have known me for a while that what I reviewed in my series of best metal albums is not something I would have rated so highly two, five or ten years ago. Pagan Altar kind of drifted out of my field of interest as I moved into much darker territories. But it is a band that I was once so passionate about that I still almost remember every note of their albums. I have nothing but infinite respect for the band's output, and no matter how much my tastes shifted, they still have a special place in my heart just for how unique and emotionally intense their sound is.
Playing doom metal correctly is something almost every band in existence gets wrong, and only a handful of bands get it right. Pagan Altar get it right. It is a genre that needs perfection in its songwriting and performance, and if it fails to miss the mark, it becomes awful. Hard-hitting riffs, the perfect sound, meticulously accentuated percussion, solos that send shivers down your spine, and finally a vocal performance that is out of this world - that's how Pagan Altar avoid the omnipresent trap of getting doom metal wrong, and instead tower above the genre like titans. Their sound is one crafted to perfection through passion, hard work and a cunning sense of what works and what doesn't. They are not the kind of band you would show someone new to the genre as an introduction - their sound is too unique and different from what you'd expect of a classic doom metal band, but they are a band anyone familiar with a genre should know and cherish.
What makes them so unique is that they take the classic doom metal backbone and expand it with elements you'd be more likely to find in old progressive rock bands. I've heard them compared to Jethro Tull (minus the flute, thankfully), and it isn't far off the mark. There's more of course, some elements remind you of other bands from around the early 70s. It gives Pagan Altar a very adventurous ride, like they're taking you on a ride through a mysterious land they create through their music, like they're telling you a story about the happenings of this enigmatic world that exists in the band's unique sound. A lot of times acoustic interludes would build up little arcs of tension and suspense, released in monolithic doom metal climaxes. They don't go a straight line, they are taking you through unexpected twists and turns, occasionally employing small releases to give the build-up a new dimension, taking you through a faceted storyline that keeps you interested at any given point.
And finally, the vocals. Holy fuck, what a voice. Anyone who has ever tried taking up singing knows that pouring all your
emotions into your singing and communicating them to the audience is as
hard as playing Yngwie Malmsteen solos on guitar. Terry Jones does it like it's the most natural thing in the world. I used the word "passion" a few times to describe the music - the vocals are brimming with it. It is a one-of-a-kind voice, one you'll never have heard in any other band, and one you'll never hear in any other band, and it's so perfect. I don't think I can properly describe the style, it's just not something you'd expect in a metal band - more of a style you'd think of in an obscure 70s progressive rock band that is too serene in temperament to ever make it big. He delivers it with such deep and honest emotion, however, so that you can't help but hang on every word, every syllable. It commands attention like few vocalists can, and it is one of the truly defining elements of Pagan Altar's sound. This man will forever be a legend.
Like I said earlier, I am not really into this type of music anymore, it rarely ever gets a spin. But I have nothing but respect for this band's unique and amazing creative output. The three albums recorded - with a fourth in the works, the vocals thankfully completed before Terry Jones' tragic passing - will forever stand as classics not only in the doom metal genre, but in metal as a whole. Essential listening for anyone interested in some of the unique works of art created by the passionate and dedicated dwellers of the underground. Give this band the recognition it deserves and Terry Jones a legacy that won't be forgotten.