It’s hardly a surprise that when you give Goatwhore vocalist Louis Benjamin Falgoust II a call for a phone interview, he’s somewhere on the road, getting ready for a show. The fact is, Goatwhore tours and tours and tours, especially over the course of the last few years since Metal Blade signed the New Orleans band, as the label has taken full advantage of the band’s willingness to play anywhere and everywhere across North America.
You get these ubiquitous supporting bands in the metal circuit, the non-headliners that tour heavily and always end up returning to your city opening for a different band each time. Some instantly have you rolling your eyes at the thought of ever seeing again (coughDevildrivercough), but then there’s a band like Goatwhore, whose likeable, blue collar approach to the classic sound of black metal’s first wave is something you never get sick of, and whose growing fanbase from all the constant touring sees them poised to have a very big 2009.
“We get enjoyment out of playing the smaller markets, way smaller than the secondary or tri-area market,” says the friendly, outgoing Falgoust, on the horn from Monroe, Louisiana, where Goatwhore is doing a series of local weekend shows as a warm-up to the major touring cycle that’s about to kick off this summer. “It’s still fun. Those people don’t get things usually, they have to travel somewhere. People in Shreveport would have to travel to Dallas, Texas, and that’s like three hours for them to see a major tour that’s coming through the US.
So it’s cool to go play smaller markets because you expand your fanbase a little bit more because you’re actually going out of your way to go to these smaller markets that you usually wouldn’t go to. There’s just something about it, because the people are so hungry for it because they never get it. People are just genuine, too, in that kind of situation.”
Trust these guys to always remember to honor their Southern roots: founding guitarist Sammy Duet played a prominent role with ‘90s Louisiana sludge legends Acid Bath and did some time with NOLA’s beloved Crowbar, while Falgoust, in addition to his work with Goatwhore, has been the lead vocalist for mainstays Soilent Green since 1993. However, instead of mining the kudzu-thick, sludgy doom riffs and lugubrious tempos that have been plied by everyone from Eyehategod to Down, Goatwhore has focused on European black metal from the band’s inception, specifically the genre’s early progenitors in Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Venom.
It wasn’t until their third album, 2006’s metal Blade debut A Haunting Curse, though, that people started to take notice, Duet making significant advancements in the songwriting department, new members Nathan Bergeron (bass) and young drumming phenom Zack Simmons adding some much needed stability, and producer Erik Rutan adding his usual expertise.
The band’s newest, though, is a major step forward. The summer of 2009 is set to be a huge time for noteworthy metal releases, but for all the hype and expectations other bands will be on the receiving end of, you will not find a record as immediately satisfying as the deliciously blasphemous Carving Out the Eyes of God. Classicist to the core, Falgoust and his mates don’t set out to reinvent the wheel whatsoever; in fact, this album’s Celtic Frost influences could not be more obvious (right down to Falgoust’s punctuations of, “Ooh!”, a la Tom Fischer).
But one listen to Duet’s masterful riffing on such bruising tracks as “Apocalyptic Havoc” and “The All-Destroying” is enough to send the most fussy metal aficionado into paroxysms of headbanging ecstasy. In a way, it’s 2009’s version of last year’s Twilight of the Thunder God by Amon Amarth: a joyous, rampaging example of the classic metal aesthetic at its absolute purest. In other words, if you like metal, there’s absolutely no way you’re going dislike this.
“We wanted to bring more of the black ‘n’ roll, kind of add that in a little more,” Falgoust says. “More like where ‘Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult’ came from, more punk tempo-oriented things. That was a big thing. During the writing structure of that record, me and Sammy and the other members of the band went and saw the Metal Masters tour with Judas Priest, Motörhead and all that, we’re big Motörhead fans and big Priest fans. So with this record, Sammy said once, ‘It’s light on the black, heavy on the metal,’ so we’re kind of going back to the old-school roots even more so with things, and not being more modern with everything.
“A Haunting Curse was more focused on the speed, it had more speed-oriented blastbeats and stuff,” he adds. “We’ve always been a band that’s been based off of Celtic Frost. It’s one of the hugest influences for this band. If you go back to all the earlier stuff, you can always pick out some kind of Celtic Frost style riff or something like that. But I think with this record, too, we opened up a little more to our roots. We’re a little older, I won’t say our ages or anything [laughs], but we kind of went back to our early days, of Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, even the crust punk stuff like Doom and Discharge, bands like that. Even to the edge of thrash metal.”
A Refreshing Eloquence Unlike the Usual anti-Christian Rhetoric
Photo (partial) by ©Justina Villanueva found on FlickR.com
A Refreshing Eloquence Unlike the Usual anti-Christian Rhetoric
Upon hearing the undeniable crust influences on “Shadow of a Rising Knife” and “Reckoning of the Soul Made Godless”, it’s not very hard to sense a connection to the current incarnation of Norwegian black metal greats Darkthrone, whose last three albums have defiantly eschewed what many perceive to be black metal in favor of a much more punk-oriented sound, the likes of which was ironically a major influence on the genre, something that some purists today are unwilling to admit.
|Essential Extreme Drudkh: Microcosmos (Season of Mist) Rating: 8 The prolific Ukrainian black metal band has followed up 2007’s rather middling Estrangement with a seventh album that feels a lot more ambitious. While the Slavic folk elements have returned, a new twist is the band’s compelling preoccupation with progressive rock, as songs like “Distant Cries of Cranes” and “Everything Unsaid Before” elicit comparisons to Enslaved. It might not top 2006’s atmospheric masterpiece Blood in Our Wells, but Microcosmos is definitely a stirring return to form. Ex Deo: Romulus (Nuclear Blast) Rating: 8 It might technically be a solo project by Kataklysm growler Maurizio Iacono, but because his bandmates were involved in the recording, Ex Deo feels more like a daring reinvention of Kataklysm’s sound, the pagan metal melodies and gladiatorial bombast fitting perfectly with the already punishing death metal arrangements. Still, Iacono’s work cannot be underestimated, his explorations of ancient Roman history coupled with his finest vocal performance to date making for a rousing, bracing record. One of the biggest surprises of 2009 so far, this is far too good an album to be simply a one-off. Heirs: Alchera (Denovali) Rating: 7 Drawing heavily from the harsh, punishing tones of Neurosis, early Swans and Godflesh, this debut album’s sheer physicality is at times beautifully offset by a more contemplative side reminiscent of Red Sparowes. Having the venerable James Plotkin handling the mix lends it instant credibility, but with such tracks as the soaring “Cabal”, the brutal “Plague Asphyx”, and the wickedly good “Mandril”, it’s clear that this Australian foursome doesn’t need any help whatsoever.|
“I think that sometimes within a genre it gets too much on a social level where they think it’s got to be this way, and when the roots were clearly all variant things, they kind of neglect it in a sense,” Falgoust ruminates. “Celtic Frost and Venom, they were an early form of black metal, but they still had rudiments and elements of punk and things like that…You see the situation with Darkthrone, even if you look at some of their newer records, they’re more embraced in being dirty and the punk attitude to it and everything.
I think that’s where everything starts separating, when people’s attitudes shift instead of just holding onto all of those styles and just run with it like that, and not letting it break up because of a social standing or attitude because you’ve got to think it’s got to be this way. Like the idea with A Haunting Curse, we were focused on speed, and sometimes bands get so involved in that, where they’re so focused one element in a style that they lose focus of all the other elements surrounding it.”
Of course, when discussing how the entire band sounds so taut and ferocious on Carving Out the Eyes of God, it inevitably leads back to Goatwhore’s insane recent touring schedule, which has hardened the foursome to the point where the average listener can easily hear the difference on the new album. “For any band to tour like that, if it didn’t benefit, then I think there would be some kind of problem going on right there,” says Falgoust.
“You’re playing the stuff every single night, sometimes you go out on tour for seven weeks and you have one day off, and you’re playing that stuff every single night over and over again, so definitely there’s going to be great improvements with that. It’s almost like a constant practice in a sense. It’s getting you prepared for different climates too, you’re going on a winter tour and you’re paying venues, it’s hot in the venue and fuckin’ frozen outside, or touring in the summer where it’s hot outside and it’s extremely fuckin’ hot inside, so you’re building a crazed endurance because of that. It’s like as if someone was to start going to work out at a gym and they did it for four months, they’d have an improvement within themselves.
“A Haunting Curse was the introduction of Zack and Nathan into the band, so they grew with it, and I think too with the new record you can see the growth of them within the band as well, and how they fit more into the pocket and being more comfortable with the whole writing structure and how everything goes within the band. Every time you get a new member you have to kind of finagle, work through things, get them sorted out, and everybody falls into place. Even when we went into the studio with Rutan, he even said himself, ‘Wow, Zack and Nathan have improved greatly since we recorded A Haunting Curse.’
Even for a producer to say that, it’s awesome, it shows that a musician is growing. When they went in to do A Haunting Curse with Rutan, it was their first time doing a record on that scale. So he said there was a little timidness going on, but they opened up so much on the new record, they improved greatly.”
For a band with such a provocative name, not to mention some of the more vivid song titles you’ll ever come across, Falgoust’s lyrics can come off as surprisingly thoughtful at times, a good example being A Haunting Curse, which was filled with references to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And while Carving Out the Eyes of God tackles a subject that’s been done to death in both black metal and the metal genre as a whole, his perspective and eloquence is actually refreshing compared to the usual anti-Christian rhetoric.
“The whole idea of ‘Carving the Eyes of God’ comes from [when] I read about when God created the Earth and the heavens and everything, and on the seventh day they were saying that he didn’t rest, that out of his delusion and tiredness from creating for six days, he created everything that was evil and vile and sinister in the world,” he says. “The overall thing within a lot of the lyrics, though, is there’s a very despised attitude towards organized structure of religions. With knowledge and reading and seeing how things are, it’s just amazing that people still go and they cling on to some kind of structure like that. It seems that it’s just been man made and put there to either instill fear in people and to keep order, or to give people something to hold onto because they’re scared of death.”
He continues, “It’s funny because people ask me, ‘Did you grow up in a really Catholic or Christian household that was strict?’ And I wasn’t, I grew up as a Protestant when I was younger, and then my parents just said basically, ‘You’re free to do whatever you want, you can think whatever you want, you don’t have to follow any kind of set guideline.’ They were always really open, and I appreciate the hell out of that with them, that they were so much like that. But they were never strict and bound by any of that by any means…I don’t like [religion] being forced, none of that should be forced on anybody. If you have what you believe in, that’s cool, and you shouldn’t judge people just because they believe in something different.”
If there’s one guy who truly loves his lot in life, it’s Falgoust, who immerses himself in his roles as frontman for two popular bands and seems to never tire of the lifestyle, whether it’s the shows, the recording, the songwriting, the constant traveling, or even the day job he inexplicably holds down when he actually has some down time. Even if it involves traveling to France to do a one-off show with Soilent Green this month, then fly back home and immediately hit the road on a massive North American tour with Abigail Williams? No prob whatsoever, he says, just as long as you keep everything in perspective, and most importantly, live life fully in the present.
“The funniest thing is, the answer’s right in front of your face,” he muses. “You don’t even have to go that far. You really don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen after death, you need to worry about what’s going to go on right now when you’re living, because that’s the important thing you need to take care of. In the present, you need to sort it out now, with your family, your friends, the people around you. I know it sounds a little weird because it’s positive, and people always think black metal’s this negative, overbearing, dark seed. I think it’s more than that sometimes.”