Extreme metal overlords Goatwhore celebrate 20 years of with their most mature outing to date.
Goatwhore, the thrashing metal quartet from New Orleans, have fashioned their style beyond the fuzzed out sludge championed by fellow Cajuns like Eyehategod and Crowbar. With tempos and riffs closer to extreme metal and lyrical themes not far removed from black metal, they represent an amalgamation of aggressive subgenres that pierces as much as it gnaws. Vengeful Ascension, their seventh full-length album, arrives as the band marks their 20th anniversary of down-tuned riffs, double kicks, and devil-inspired imagery. Rather than phone in another record as a means to get back on the road, Goatwhore has produced an album more textured and nuanced than the typical metal record.
Tribal drums foreshadow the buzzsaw guitar on opening track “Forsaken". Louis B. Falgoust’s raspy screams about Lucifer above Zack Simmons’ blast beats solidify their blackened influence while guitarist Sammy Duet’s bleeding arpeggiated chords add momentary new dimensions. Whether overt or subtle, Goatwhore has little regard for keeping the various stands and styles of metal separated by their sound. Consider the Kerry King inspired guitar solo amidst the hardcore vibe in “Under the Flesh, Into the Soul". Likewise, the bluesy fills amidst the doom-laden hex of “Where the Sun is Silent” make the track too moody and complex to be a simple headbanger.
The band has developed a precision that undoubtedly served them well during the recording sessions. Vengeful Ascension was recorded on reel-to-reel tape, an analog method noted for its warmth and authenticity but occasionally cursed for its difficulty and technical demands on the performers. Whereas digital can tighten up any band into a well-oiled machine with a few key clicks, analog requires a group, especially one as manic as Goatwhore, to be completely locked into one another, as takes can be mercilessly limited. This knowledge makes the pinpoint trashing accuracy of “Chaos Arcane” all the more impressive knowing the risks of the medium. Likewise, “Abandon Indoctrination” with its blacked thrashing, is precise when it needs to be and loose when it serves the song best, demonstrating an act at the top of their game.
While not strictly a concept album, the theme of Ascension focuses on Lucifer and the notion of rising above struggles and tribulations. The text is inherently dark and sinister -- it’s about Lucifer, after all. Still, one can abstract messages of redemption from Falgoust’s words, in particular during the narrative progression of “Where the Sun Is Silent". With his raspy vocal delivery Falgoust comes off as a narrator, a refreshing contrast to the (with all due Chris Barnes loving respect) incomprehensible guttural ravages traditionally championed by extreme metal.
The filtered vocals and acoustic guitars on the title track give it the most textured vibe of the record. Duet balances straightforward power chords with etherial single note lines, a decidedly more complex affair than a typical by the books mid-tempo chugathon. His solo is notably melodic and -- dare I say -- catchy, yet it doesn’t betray the band’s staunchly anti-commercial style. It’s revealing that Goatwhore named their album after this tune, the most layered and sonically complex one on the recording. It’s not entirely false to read into this as the group accepting the slightly experimental tendencies of a metal band still evolving 20 years into their career.
“Those Who Denied God’s Will", the album’s closer, begins with a black metal onslaught raining fire down from the sky before moving into more epic and oddly beautiful moments. The track as a whole isn’t too removed from the rest of the album, but it’s sudden moments like the Duet’s tremolo-picked lines doubling the chords or his undeniably melodic solo that reveal a band more concerned with building upon a metal foundation rather than retreading ideas.