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Time Lord: A Historic Night of Musical Tribute

Leo Stivala Leads Pagan Altar Homage in Iconic Performance at The Garage, Zebbug

Many might not be aware, but on Saturday night 16th March history was being written at The Garage in Zebbug when a group of iconic musicians and a legend singer came together to perform under the moniker of Time Lord. The musicians were Andy Green on drums, Diccon Harper on bass, Denis Schneider and Alan Jones, both on guitars. Collectively, together with Brendan Radigan on vocals they are the latest reincarnation of Pagan Altar. On the night these fine bunch of gentlemen were fronted by Maltese legend Leo Stivala, the reason being that they could not appear as Pagan Altar due to the fact that it was not possible for Brendan to travel from the US.

But before we go into the ‘history has been made’ bit, let’s get to know the protagonists a little bit better.

Formed in 1978 amidst the vibrant borough of Brockley in London, Pagan Altar stands as a cornerstone of English doom metal, crafted by the hands of Terry Jones and his son Alan. Alongside Witchfinder General, they epitomize the fusion of doom metal within the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement. Their live performances are a tapestry of moody, epic melodies intertwined with heavy rhythms, accentuated by stage effects that delve into their fascination with occult themes.

During the NWOBHM epoch, Pagan Altar unveiled their musical prowess through an independent, self-released demo album, aptly titled "Pagan Altar." Despite facing rampant bootlegging in subsequent years, this seminal work found its rightful place in metal history when it was officially reissued as "Volume 1" by Oracle Records in 1998.

The band's journey saw a resurgence in 2004 when they reunited with a mission to resurrect previously unreleased material from their early days. The result was the acclaimed album "Lords of Hypocrisy," which resonated deeply with fans. This success paved the path for their third full-length album, "Mythical and Magical," released in 2006, further solidifying their place in the annals of doom metal.

Malta Doom Metal Festival 2011 poster

Pagan Altar's impact extended beyond the studio, as evidenced by their co-headlining slot at the esteemed "Metal Brew" Festival in Mill Hill in 2008, alongside Cloven Hoof. Their presence reverberated through metal circles, with notable performances at the "British Steel IV" Festival in 2009 and headlining the "British Steel V" Festival in April 2011, followed by a captivating display at the "Live Evil" Festival later that year.

In 2012, the band embarked on their next musical odyssey, crafting "Never Quite Dead" in a purpose-built recording studio nestled in the back garden of vocalist Terry Jones's home. Despite facing adversity, including the tragic loss of Terry Jones to cancer in 2015, the band pressed on, with Alan Jones later revealing plans for a partial re-recording of their upcoming album, driven by a quest for perfection.

Their discography stands as a testament to their enduring legacy within the metal realm, featuring a plethora of albums, EPs, singles, and demos.

The band played during the fourth edition of the Malta Doom Metal Festival held at Buskett Roadhouse (since then renamed to Chateau Buskett) between the 4th and 5th November 2011. Also, on the bill were Forsaken fronted by the mighty Leo Stivala. This was not the first time both bands shared the same bill (as can be heard during the interview Alan Jones, Leo and Glen Gauci did building up to this event and which can be listened here) and a strong friendship grew between them, in fact it was around this time that Terry affectionately nicknamed Leo ‘The Human Dynamo’.

Leo Stivala 'The Human Dynamo' . photo: Leo Stivala

Locally he is known as a devoted aficionado of classic traditional heavy metal and pure epic heavy doom. He emerged as a prominent figure in the music scene, in the latter half of the 1980s, when fueled by his passion, he embarked on a journey into the realm of music, initially picking up the guitar and founding a short-lived band named North Winds. Despite its brief existence, this endeavor laid the foundation for Leo's musical aspirations.

Subsequently, Leo ventured into bass guitar duties with another band, drawing inspiration from the likes of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, under the provisional name Nightfall. Regrettably, this endeavor too was short-lived, ending prematurely after a few months.

In 1989, an opportunity arose when Kevin Azzopardi invited Leo to lend his vocals to his nascent band, Blind Alley. Leo embraced the chance, and as fate would have it, the collaboration proved fruitful. Over time, Blind Alley underwent transformations, culminating in the inclusion of Albert Bell on bass guitar and a change in name to Forsaken. Leo continued to helm vocal duties in Forsaken, also contributing musically and lyrically to the band's repertoire.

As the years unfolded, Forsaken flourished, both in their musical prowess and in Leo's development as a frontman, honing his skills through studio recordings and live performances both locally and internationally.

In 2006, Leo's journey took an intriguing turn when he was recruited by the Greek Epic Metal outfit Reflection to assume vocal responsibilities. Leo's inaugural performance with Reflection, supporting the legendary Solitude Aeturnus, marked a triumphant beginning. His tenure with Reflection saw him grace stages across Greece and beyond, including contributing vocals to Reflection's acclaimed third album, "When Shadows Fall," released by Cruz del Sur Records in 2008.

Though Leo bid farewell to Reflection in 2012, his dedication to music persisted. He continued his vocal endeavors with Forsaken, while also lending his talents to various other projects. Leo's collaborations extended globally, as he contributed vocals to releases by bands such as Lucid Dreaming (Germany), Martyrium (Malta), Arkham Witch (UK), Vestal Claret (USA), Monasterium (Poland), Void Moon (Sweden), Draugul (Sweden) and The Cross (Brazil).

Presently, Leo's sonic odyssey continues with Anchorite, a new Epic Doom venture he co-founded with Void Moon bassist Peter Svensson. The band debuted with their album "Further From Eternity," released on GMR Records in November 2020. As they forge ahead, Leo and Anchorite are already crafting new material for their eagerly anticipated follow-up release, poised to captivate audiences with their distinctive blend of epic doom metal.

Atomic Flame photo: Alexia Baldacchino

The night in focus owed its existence to the unwavering commitment of Iron Horde Promotions, spearheaded by the dynamic duo, husband and wife Glen and Chiara Grima. Both stalwarts emerged from the illustrious production history of the Malta Doom Metal Festival, contributing significantly to its success over the years. With the festival on hiatus since 2019, Glen and Chiara pivoted to establish Iron Horde Promotions, channeling their expertise to orchestrate events that have left an indelible imprint on the metal landscape of the island.

Glen had been contemplating Pagan Altar's return for a while before sharing his vision with Alan Jones. However, with Brendan unavailable, Alan promptly proposed Leo Stivala as the vocalist for the occasion. Interestingly, this wasn't the first instance of Alan considering Leo for the role, but previous commitments had prevented Leo from fulfilling this dream. Leo took approximately 30 seconds to process the request and of course accept.

Although this meant that Leo had to learn at least thirteen songs it did not deter his determination and his commitment was shown on the night with a majestic performance only Leo can give. The band arrived on the island a few days before and thanks to Leo’s other band Speed Pony’s offer for a rehearsal space, the band managed to do two rehearsals, one on Thursday another on Friday, both in the evening although Leo has done a considerable number of rehearsals on his own during the previous weeks.

Both bands completed their sound checks early in the afternoon. When questioned about his thoughts between the sound check and the concert, Leo confessed, "I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Not only am I a dedicated fan of Pagan Altar, but they are also my friends, and I didn't want to disappoint them. My mind was entirely focused on the upcoming performance. Once we hit the stage and played the first note, everything exploded with energy, and we had an incredible time performing."

Atomic Flame photo: Alexia Baldacchino

The doors opened at 8:30 on the night, with the first band taking the stage approximately thirty minutes later. Atomic Flame, a heavy metal ensemble born in 2022 amidst the aftermath of other bands and the upheaval of the CoVid-19 pandemic, comprises four members: Lawrence Baldacchino, Nigel Buttigieg, Charles Buttigieg, and Marco Mule.

In 2021, Lawrence Baldacchino, a seasoned drummer, and Campos Gellel, a skilled guitarist, convened with the aim of forming a heavy metal band, drawing from their previous experiences in groups like Fire and 12th Ode for Lawrence, and Angelcrypt and Blind Saviour for Campos.

The disbandment of Noogie's Crew in October 2021 provided an opportunity for Lawrence to approach Nigel "Noogie" Buttigieg, who accepted the invitation. However, with the lineup still incomplete, the quest for a bassist began, leading to Charles Buttigieg joining the band in December 2021. Charles brought along his lyrical prowess, complementing the band's musical concepts, and shaping them into cohesive songs.

In July 2022, Campos Gellel departed from the band, prompting a renaming to Atomic Flame. The vacancy was swiftly filled by Marco Mule, hailing from Sicily, and boasting experience with bands such as Ricercados.

On January 21st, 2023, Atomic Flame made their debut at The Garage in Zebbug, unveiling their debut single 'Innocence Becomes Prey' in May, followed by 'Hunter' in December of the same year.

The performance of "Time Lord" served as a heartfelt homage to the brilliance of Terry Jones, both in his lyrical mastery and musical compositions. Delving into the setlist, one readily recognizes this tribute, yet it's imperative not to overlook Alan's significant contribution to the creation of these songs, making it equally a tribute to his musical talent. The band delivered a stellar performance, with Andy Green's energetic drumming, complemented by Diccon and Denis maintaining the rhythm to accentuate Alan Jones's splendid guitar work, all in support of the charismatic 'Human Dynamo'. For those unacquainted with Leo, he embodies one of those rare vocalists who transcend the ordinary to become a mythical figure onstage, captivating audiences with both his voice and performance.

Time Lord photo Alexia Baldacchino

The sole drawback of the show was its inevitable conclusion, supposedly marked by the band's rendition of the epic 'The Black Mass' as the final song on the setlist. However, the crowd's enthusiasm persisted, prompting the band to oblige with an additional performance of 'Pagan Altar', the song they opened the night with. Despite the music coming to a halt, the night remained vibrant as the band took the time to interact and converse with music enthusiasts who had gathered for this memorable occasion, including some who had traveled from abroad, a fact that was acknowledged during the performance.

Time Lord photo Alexia Baldacchino

Returning to the significance of this event, it stands out as a historic moment. Rarely do bands with an established lead vocalist make a one-time appearance with another singer. Such occurrences are few and far between, with one notable example being Black Sabbath, fronted by Judas Priest's Rob Halford, stepping in for Ronnie James Dio for two nights in November 1992, when Dio declined to open a show for Ozzy Osbourne.

Following the event, reflections from those involved began to surface. Alan Jones shared his thoughts, expressing, "Malta, for me, this was quite an experience, more than just another show. Although my dad is always with us on stage for all our shows, the Time Lord performances are about remembering him and keeping his memory alive." He continued, praising Leo's performance, stating, "Leo did a fantastic job remembering the lyrics to the songs and delivered them excellently, as I knew he would. It's like learning three or four sets of lyrics for one song, and I truly commend all the effort that went into that."

Leo expressed, "I've been preparing for this moment for months, and I'm still overwhelmed by the outcome. What an incredible weekend it was. A heartfelt thank you to the audience for their unwavering support throughout our performance. I'm at a loss for words seeing people travel from abroad to attend the event. I'm grateful to both the Maltese attendees and those from abroad for recognizing the true greatness of Pagan Altar."

In a poignant conclusion, Leo addressed Terry Jones, saying, "Terry Jones, my dear friend, I'm certain you would have enjoyed last Saturday's show. Every note I sang was in your honor. Though deeply missed, your memory lives on through this magical and mythical band. The Human Dynamo salutes you!"

A week later, the excitement about that remarkable evening persisted among many, and as Leo mentioned, the event was impeccably organized from every angle. Even the band members themselves affirmed this. Perhaps a larger audience would have been appreciated, given Pagan Altar's merit. Nevertheless, it was a superb performance, and he cherished every moment on stage.

Time Lord photo Alexia Baldacchino

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