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Top Five Bands at Power Of The Riff: Skip The Smoke Break!

Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling
Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling
Nathaniel Shannon

(Check out our review of the Power of the Riff festival here.)

Last year, The Power Of The Riff packed hundreds of metal kids, hardcore kids, and old geezers that remember the tape-trading days of the 1980s into the Echo and Echoplex, partly due to the ability to offer free admission thanks to a sponsorship from Converse. This year's festival (taking place this Saturday) does not have any corporate sponsors, so you do have to plunk down some cash to attend. Luckily, organizers Southern Lord Records have put together a 19-band lineup that is more than worthy of your hard-earned heavy metal dollar. All of the bands on the bill demand your attention, with the worst band still being "pretty good." ThePowerOfTheRiff.com has put together a digital sampler for you to check out every band, and City Of Devils has been posting killer live clips on their site all week as a primer for this weekend.

We do understand that at an all-day festival, it is impossible to see every minute of every band. Scheduling conflicts between the Echo and Echoplex stages, smoke breaks, bathroom stops, beer refills, and the lure of a burger from the Grill 'Em All Truck (winner of Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race") are all obstacles that will inevitably force you to miss a few songs here and there. If you absolutely must do any of the above, schedule your day so you don't have to do it while these Five Bands Worthy Of Skipping The Smoke Break at The Power Of The Riff are on stage:

5. Trap Them

Trap Them's newest release Darker Handcraft has been out since March, but five months later it is still the top contender for the best hardcore album of 2011. Trap Them's newest work is as dirty and fierce as their previous output, but this time around there is a strong sense of musicianship grounding the proceedings. If you value the beer in your hand, you will stay out of the pit that will surely ensue when they hit the stage.

4. Early Graves

When Early Graves takes the stage on Saturday, it will likely be the most emotional performance of the day. Set to perform at last year's festival in support of their then-new album Goner , the incendiary S.F. hardcore group was involved in a tragic van accident last August while on tour, killing vocalist Makh Daniels. As mentioned earlier on West Coast Sound , this Saturday will be their first live show since, with vocal duties being filled by John Strachan of L.A. blackened-death band The Funeral Pyre. Strachan himself has an intense live presence, but as evidenced above, he has very big shoes to fill.

3. Winter

Because Winter broke up in 1994, a large percentage of the audience on Saturday will be seeing them for the first time. When we posted our piece on the Five Slowest Bands In Metal , we took some heat from commenters for not including them, and perhaps we deserved it. While the subgenre of death-doom is associated with Europe thanks to bands such as Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, this New York trio beat their contemporaries from across the pond to the punch with the 1990 release of their one-and-only full-length album, Into Darkness (recently reissued by Southern Lord).

2. Black Breath

There is nothing original about the Entombed-worship death n' roll swagger that Seattle's Black Breath brings to the stage. But they do it really fucking well. Every year there is a group of new bands that throwback to the early '90s Swedish death sound. When you hear their album, you think to yourself "That was good, but that just made me remember how awesome Entombed and Dismember were," and then you never listen to it again because when you're in the mood for that stuff, you break out the old albums. Black Breath's 2010 album, Heavy Breathing , is awesome enough to enter the rotation and hold its own against the classics that pioneered that sound. Their rambunctious stage presence will leave a sweaty pit of bodies in its wake.

1. Pentagram

Two things are certain. Pentagram should have been one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s, and leader/vocalist Bobby Liebling should not be alive to tell his tale. Widely described as America's answer to Black Sabbath, rehearsal sessions in 1975 with Sandy Pearlman (manager/producer of Blue Oyster Cult) and Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS should have led to big things. Instead, Pentagram ended up toiling in obscurity for the next 25+ years, mostly due to Bobby Liebling's drug abuse and erratic behavior. A few good albums came out in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but Liebling's pattern of drug abuse (crack, heroine, you name it, he did it), arrests, and unreliability would alienate everyone who interacted with him. In a recent interview with Decibel Magazine , he shared that he was so deep into the darkness of drug abuse that when he was too high to successfully shoot up heroine via his veins, he would inject directly into his bones.

Over the last decade Pentagram has seen an increased profile in heavy metal and hard rock circles. In 2001, Relapse Records unearthed demo tapes from the 1970s and released them under the title of First Daze Here (The Vintage Collection). The band started getting name-dropped by heavy metal luminaries such as Phil Anselmo (Pantera/Down). The Dead Weather covered "Forever My Queen" (the original version is above) on a 2009 7" release. Every couple of years, a comeback attempt would be sabotaged by Liebling slipping back into old habits.

Bobby Liebling is currently defeating his demons. He is five years removed from the last time he smoked crack, and three years removed from the last time he shot up. He also now has the support base of a beautiful wife and newborn son, and is making up for the years lost to the haze. Earlier this year, Metal Blade Records released Last Rites, a new collection of re-recorded versions of '70s demos and 3 brand-new compositions. Touring in support of the new release, Pentagram is at the top of its game by all accounts. The fact that Bobby Liebling is alive to perform on Saturday is a miracle.


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