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Review: Pagan Altar - Mythical & Magical
Pagan Altar
Mythical & Magical

Label: Oracle
Year released: 2006
Duration: 65:11
Tracks: 12
Genre: Doom Metal


Review online: December 6, 2007
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Readers' Rating
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Rated 4.65/5 (93.1%) (84 Votes)

Holy fucking wow. I knew Pagan Altar were a good band, as I had heard several of their songs before I got this, their newest album to date, but I never expected anything like this. For those of you who don't know the story, Pagan Altar formed way back in the late 70s and recorded one debut album (the superlative Volume 1) in 1982 before vanishing without a trace for over 20 years. But, lo and behold, they eventually resurfaced from their hiding place in the shadows and released a second album, which was actually even better than the debut - Lords of Hypocrisy was its name, and after that, the name of Pagan Altar became a sacred one, like holy water on the cracked, dry lips of a dying desert traveler. In 2006, they unleashed their genius upon the world again with this album, and it is by far one of the very best metal albums of the new millenium, and probably in the top 15 or 20 metal albums ever created.

Mythical & Magical literally has me at a loss for words, being both a rocking, vintage time-traveling journey back to the 70s and a beautiful, enigmatic masterpiece all at once. The band has always played a very Sabbathine, retro style of Doom Metal that just puts 90% of doom today to shame. Mythical & Magical is not quite as heavy as Lords of Hypocrisy, but it is every bit as cool, and it's even more beautiful and stirring than that already great album was. The riffs are huge and bloated, a feast for the old school metal glutton, and the solos are pure bliss every single time they grace your ears - which is quite a lot on this album. Alan Jones is one of the best guitarists you'll ever hear; soulful, melodic, and just flat out jaw-dropping awesome all the way through. He gives a 120% performance of his life here, and I'd call this his swansong, but Pagan Altar are nowhere near done yet, and I'd go as far as to say they've still got another handful of great albums like this in them. If you're a guitarist, no matter how serious about the craft, then you must hear this album, or else your life will never be fulfilled.

Not to say that Jones is the only reason to get this album, though, as the whole band meshes together into a tight, functioning unit, playing each and every song flawlessly and without a note out of place, a vocal line left lacking or a riff left imperfect. Terry Jones' voice is rather reedy and nasal, a bit like an odd combination between Manilla Road's Mark Shelton and Ozzy Osbourne, but really he has his own unique voice. I know plenty of people who wouldn't much like the vocals on this album, or on any of Pagan Altar's work, but nobody else would work right for this band, period. Nobody else could even dream of carrying the band's powerful music as well as Terry does, as he is just as retro and cool as the music is. Mark Elliot is behind the drum kit, and he backs up Mythical & Magical with a powerful, jumpy bounce that brings the songs to life, invigorating them with such fire and passion that you'd think they'd get up and start walking around. This is the sound of a powerful, unified band that does not and will not ever follow any trends or modernize their sound.

Another thing Pagan Altar did here was add much more of a folksky flourish to their old school doom sound. "Samhein" is a riveting, atmospheric stomp that will take you back to times long past, a deliciously epic opener that just seems to get better each time I hear it. Very "middle age folk," if that's the right term, and very, very cool all the way through the entire 6 minutes of its duration. There are faster cuts here, like the ripping "Cry of the Banshee," the retro fun romp "The Witches Pathway," and the titanic doomy stomp of "Daemoni Na Noiche," but even those tend to meander into the gloriously cool folk weirdness at times, blossoming with ornate, colorful leads that will sear your soul. But while every song here rules in their own respects, the real gems here are the two 8 minute epics, "The Sorceror" and "The Erl King." Invoking the spirit of Jethro Tull, Pagan Altar showcases a softer, much more mellow sound here, without any real riffs or heaviness at all - two long, soulful folk tunes that will tug at your heartstrings. They're absolutely enthralling, and while they might take a few listens to sink in (they did for me), eventually you will want to stop whatever it is you're doing and just listen to these beautiful, beautiful pieces of music. "The Rising of the Dark Lord" closes off the album, and it's one of the best songs they've ever done, a dark, Satanic thrill ride that will have you grinning and headbanging in no time. An excellent end to an excellent album.

I'm wholly impressed with this. Pagan Altar are an absolutely world class band, and definitely better than at least 95% of the "metal" floating around these days, and this album alone is better than most other albums in '06 combined. If you like metal, you will like this. End of story. Get it now.

More about Pagan Altar...
Review: Lords of Hypocrisy (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Mythical & Magical (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: The Room of Shadows (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: The Time Lord (reviewed by MetalMike)
Interview with Terry Jones (vocals) and Alan Jones (guitar) on February 26, 2006 (Interviewed by Cluedo)
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