Sunn O))) guitarist Greg Anderson has revived his old band, and it's a balm to anyone who fears that all the good power chord progressions have already been written.
Greg Anderson must know a thing or two about meditation. As one-half of the pioneering drone metal outfit Sunn O))), the guitarist certainly has an understanding of how patience and discipline can take us higher. That band’s long, trance-inducing epics lull us with painterly calm before cleansing us with noise.
Now Anderson has revived his pre-Sunn O))) group, the stoner doom riff monster that is Goatsnake. While the thundering, lurching boogie of the band's comeback effort, Black Age Blues, is basically the opposite of a good, long drone, it has undoubtedly benefitted from its leader spending almost two decades reaching for metal nirvana. Every riff here is a paean to the blessings of simplicity, a balm to anyone who fears that all the good power chord progressions have already been written. Instead of sitting on a hilltop and chanting “ommmm”, Anderson sounds like he spent this session in the middle of a pentagram chanting “Iommmmmmi”.
Another less romantic explanation of the preponderance of pure Sabbath candy here: there was probably a backlog of it. Black Age Blues is the first Goatsnake LP since 2000, and the first chance Anderson has had to scratch his classic doom itch since The Osbournes was on the air. Who knows how long he was sitting on “Elevated Man”, but it’s a flypaper-sticky pentatonic whirlwind, a meeting place of pop and sludge, and the unsurprising choice for the first single -- hell, this could’ve been a single on Badmotorfinger.
“Elevated Man” is also a showcase for vocalist Pete Stahl (Scream, Wool), who clearly hasn’t sold his soul because he sings with so much of it. Stahl can sound a little out of his element when he goes for the typical rock singer “ooh yeahs”, but he can belt like Paul Rodgers and incant like Layne Staley, and his sense of melody is what these riffs deserve. When he lays out the descending notes of the chorus, and then picks up his harmonica, this single’s potential as a Sabbath-via-Seattle groove kraken is fully unleashed.
Black Age Blues covers much of the ground you’d expect from a band called Goatsnake, on a label called Southern Lord, on an album with “blues” in the title. “Coffee & Whiskey” is probably the lamest example of this brand synergy, with its last-four-bars-of-a-Skynyrd-song riff and a chorus about drinking those titular beverages “until the cows come home.” Fortunately, Stahl’s dissonant melody and haunting tone on the chorus almost makes up for all that. Everywhere else, the clichés get swallowed up by billowing clouds of riffs before they ever have a chance to land. It completely does not matter that “Another River to Cross” relies on a fairly boring metaphor for death, because that metaphor is delivered with Anderson’s massive guitar crunch and some chilling backup vocals from Wendy Moten, Gale Mayes, and Andrea Merritt (a.k.a. Dem Preacher's Daughters, whose sublime talents are a highlight throughout).
To properly meditate, one needs to shut out all distractions. While Sunn O))) is more specifically suited for that kind of thing, you could do worse than pressing play on Black Age Blues, and focusing on how Greg Anderson plays guitar.
Black Age Blues makes you think about how the simplest things are often the hardest to express. Most importantly, though, it kicks ass.