Given how many of the fallen luminaries of the black/death/grind scenes have recently recaptured their former glories with a slew of successful comeback albums it was only logical that a big name from the South was going to get in on the act. With their line-up reading like a who’s who of classic stoner and doom outfits, the mighty Goatsnake have reformed after nearly a decade away with their classic line-up intact and ready to once more blend the rough with the smooth, which they do so with aplomb on third full-length Black Age Blues (Southern Lord).
Firmly rooted in Southern culture and boasting a strong Gospel influence that filters through the songs like light through stained glass windows, the members of Goatsnake may wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they are more interested in getting your hips shaking courtesy of the bulldozing riffs of guitarist Greg Anderson, whose day job is making people feel sick with Sunn 0))). The sonic waves are nowhere near as punishing as those emitted by that fearful outfit, but they certainly pack a punch. Opening track ‘Another River to Cross’ begins with the gentle sound of trickling water before a gigantic riff appears out of nowhere which the rhythm section instantly lock into for a stately march through the heat haze. Next track ‘Elevated Man’ is more upbeat, with elements of classic rock flaring up around the more standard stoner refrains, especially in the instantly hummable chorus.
The good-time vibes continue with ‘Coffee and Whisky’ which stomps along happily, aided by Anderson’s effortlessly shifting fuzzy riffs and another catchy chorus. The basic percussion adds to the frill-free atmosphere and all seems at ease until the power builds to a monstrously heavy level to close the song, indicating that the band are not interested in playing it safe. Things get even better on the pure NOLA-worshipping headbanger of the title track which the members of Eyehategod will surely be kicking themselves upon hearing for not thinking of it first. The sludge gets even thicker on ‘House of the Moon’ which sounds like it was grown in the New Orleans swamp and fed nothing but BBQ and liquor. The backing vocals from Dem Preacher’s Daughters give it a veneer of class, but not by much.
The band turn their attention away from genre lyrical tropes on the nod-along stoner jaunt of ‘Jimi’s Gone’, an ode to Hendrix that even features a brief guitar solo from Anderson. The soaring backing vocals and harmonica perfectly compliment proceedings and act as the perfect upper to the somewhat downbeat feel of ‘Graves’, which follows. The album finishes strongly with the heavy as molasses march of ‘Grandpa Jones’ which comes close to doom metal perfection, aided once more by superb backing gospel vocals before the slithering, sinister ‘A Killing Blues’ plays us out.
Clearly the time away and experience in other bands has done the members of Goatsnake the world of good. All four of them put in a stellar shift throughout Black Age Blues, from the measured percussion of Greg Rogers, the pulsing bass of Guy Pinhas and of course the fuzzy axe of ol’ Greg. However the plaudits must go to vocalist Pete Stahl, who not content with having pioneered hardcore with Scream back in the 80s, has just staked a claim for being one of the finest singers of today. His clear, soulful tones elevate the songs above the rest of their stoner/doom brethren and his vocal lines will lodge in your head for days after.
An excellent comeback album from a band that has been away for far too long. Let’s hope they decide to keep this motor running for a little longer this time around.