I remember Maryland Deathfest in 2013. I was excited to see Pagan Altar and brought a notebook to write down stories that came to me during their set. Though it was sunny and mildly warm in the blocked off street corners, there were few things that could sway the atmosphere of a band that dedicated themselves to classic, hypnotic doom. This was not an afternoon in downtown Baltimore, rather high Autumn among the lush rolling hills of antiquity. I remember the crowd cheering when the band took the stage, followed closely by Terry Jones dressed in an outfit that would not look out of place in the streets of Victorian London. It looked odd at first, but with the first opening chords, the world melted away and we were a part of antiquity once again.
Pagan Altar is not a part of the present, rather a relic and traveler from the past. Though all of the band’s material was written in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Pagan Altar’s music was never fully released until the late 90’s. While some saw reissues and others were re-recorded entirely, Pagan Altars existence as a doom act is preserved in 4 full lengths, one demo, a handful of splits, and one EP. It was never known whether or not the band intended to write new material rather than slowly release old songs, but this fact was sort of muted by the enormity of their past catalog.
Personally, I feel that all Pagan Altar records are decent, but perhaps my most favored is either their “debut” Volume 1 or the band’s last record, Mythical and Magical. Volume 1 is fantastic for its very raw approach to traditional doom and thematic escape into the world of fantasy. Songs like Judgment of the Dead exemplify how vocals can be unorthodox but still be absolutely fitting to the song. Mythical and Magical, by contrast, has some of the band’s most adventurous structures, with songs that would not be out of place in 1971. Songs like “The Erl King” drip with Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and Uriah Heep influences and move into thoughts and feelings that border on the sublime.
Terry Jones, longtime vocalist and one of the founders of Pagan Altar, passed this month after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his son, Alan Jones, lead guitarist for Pagan Altar, as well as a legion of fans who have used the band’s music to escape hot parking lots during the end of May to visit cool fields where castles dot the horizon. As of 2014, the band was in the completion phase of their newest album, which would be the first time Pagan Altar made music a part of the present. The possibility of hearing Terry Jones one more time is a fitting tribute to a man who was never really part of this current timeline. Rest in peace among the fields of antiquity.