Goatsnake – Black Age Blues

For those of you who aren’t already familiar with Goatsnake, perhaps a bit of background information is necessary. Yes, Goatsnake is kind of a cringeworthy moniker for a metal band. But you’ve got to take into consideration that the band started in 1996, a time when irony/self-parody had yet to emerge as the master trope for generations of post-everything rockers. Sure, the name Goatsnake may have been a bit tongue in cheek. But in the mid-90s, metal was pretty much considered a louche genre, the domain of losers and has-beens. And furthermore, the players in the band already had so much gravitas in the metal and hardcore communities that they capably owned the name. And, well, shit. Goatsnake is kind of an awesome name if you don’t think about it too much. Go ahead. Say it now. “Goatsnake.”

Goatsnake’s core triumvirate consists of vocalist Peter Stahl (formerly of groundbreaking DC hardcore band, Scream), drummer Greg Rogers (formerly of The Obsessed) and guitarist Greg Anderson, who had played in the underappreciated Thor’s Hammer and would later find a degree of success as founder of the great metal/hardcore label Southern Lord and the mysterious, hooded drone/sludge unit knows as SunnO))). (SunnO)))’s fog and feedback drenched live performances are unbelievably brutal, astounding affairs – but the band’s recordings have never done a damned thing for me, BTW.) Stahl is a great singer who actually sings, and his pipes work well in metal. Rogers dominates the drums with a tribal style comparable to that of Sabbath’s Bill Ward and Melvins’ Dale Crover. And Anderson, well, dude really knows the absolute power of the mighty riff. So, the first incarnation of Goatsnake delivered a couple of excellent albums that didn’t really cause too much of a stir popularity-wise, and summarily went the way of the dinosaurs.

OK, I bet you already know where this is going. In the 15 years that Goatsnake has been inactive, the band’s legend has grown exponentially. So it’s about time these guys reconvened to reap their due, right? Well, uh, sorta.

Interestingly, Goatsnake’s new album doesn’t pick up exactly where the band left off in 2000. The Goatsnake of Black Age Blues is still churning out monster riffs in the Sabbath/Saint Vitus tradition that lurch and pound as expected. But the band’s sound is streamlined and evolved, not always for the better. The band is unafraid to take some chances with the new material – but not all of these risks pay off exactly.

Again, you probably know where I’m going next: the tried and true, debits and credits analysis.

On the plus side, Goatsnake incorporates female backup singers into their sound – a bold move which doesn’t seem that good of an idea on paper. But in practice, it works. The gospelesque backup vocals work as in contrast with the lead vocals to add color and nuance to the songs without overshadowing Stahl. And then there’s the mix. Uber producer Nick Raskulinecz gives Black Age Blues an amazing coat of shine ’n’ sheen. The production is pristine. Everything is as loud as it should be.

And then there’s the lyrical content, which is Stahl’s (and thus Goatsnake’s) Achilles heel. First there’s the matter of “Elevated Man,” a grating little ditty whose title is repeated ad nauseam in the chorus. Then there’s “Coffee and Whisky,” another irritating opus with the chorus, “Coffee and whiskey, baby don’t you miss me? – till the cows come home.” Sorry, but that’s just bad. Maybe Stahl is indulging in a bit of ironic self-parody here? Gross. Whatever.

Thankfully, by the fourth song the band jettisons the cheesy lyrics and modifies the verse/chorus/verse structure to stretch out into longer songs for the remainder of the album. With stoner/doom metal, repetition, more repetition, and then more repetition is what works. Here is where Greg Anderson unleashes the aforementioned monster riffs. And each of the aforementioned monster riffs sounds even more crushing with each iteration. Here Goatsnake finds its groove.

So, the album isn’t necessarily the take-no-prisoners, “kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out,” slam-dunk homerun I’d hoped for. But comeback stories rarely if ever work out so neatly in real life, do they? Still Black Age Blues delivers more than enough monster riffage to justify its existence, and then some.

Black Age Blues
[Southern Lord]