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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

LP Review: 'Black Age Blues' by Goatsnake

It’s that glorious time of year again. The sun is out, the birds are singing and Goatsnake has released their 3rd full length (and 15 years after their last!)album. Those of us that have obsessed over Southern Lord head honcho Greg Anderson’s project have been waiting patiently for this day ever since. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the music is how this really isn’t Greg Anderson’s record. This is very much a band where every component is necessary.

Goatsnake has always been a group built from 3 primary pillars. The first is Greg’s unmistakable tone; a sonic haymaker delivered directly into the cerebellum via Les Paul and SUNN model T amps. The second is Pete Stahl’s voice. As heavy as they are, Goatsnake have always been a “singing” band. His voice sometimes rages, sometimes flutters, sometimes howls all over this record. The third, and most overlooked IMHO, has always been the rhythm section. Long time drummer Greg Rogers and new(er) bass player Scott Renner remind me of a quote by producer extraordinaire Chris Goss when talking about working with Ginger Baker;  “I really felt the need to work with a drummer who could swing”. That’s what you get out of this duo…in the most brutal and monolithic sense possible. Each downbeat sounds as if a new fissure has been opened in the earth’s crust as the hairs rise on the back of your neck.

Album opener “Another River to Cross” starts as literally a continuation of the final track from 2000’s Flower of Disease album “The River”.  It slowly fades in with a cacophony of wails and strings only breakdown to a detuned acoustic guitar and foot tap. Have Goatsnake tempered their trademark tsunami of guitars? Are we in for an Opeth-like sedate trip along a soft winding river? It’s just about at this moment that Anderson’s hellfire fueled, Mack-truck of guitars blows open a rift in space-time with a classic Goatsnake riff.

The album rarely lets up from there; varying only slightly in intensity. Some of the highlights include the titular track with its cyclical opening riff setting up the mammoth main melody; John Lee Hooker reborn as a fire-breathing stegosaurus smashing his way through tectonic plates. This music is HUGE. Another killer track is “Graves”. This is Goatsnake’s not-so-subtle head nod to Sabbath’s “Into the Void”. Whereas  Iommi’s staccato main riff comes sputtering out like a machine gun, this one plods through the tar pits on the way to the main chorus. 

This album proves that Goatsnake haven’t lost a step in the intervening years and, if anything, have improved over their previous work. This is a band that understands time and timing. Every breakdown is set up for maximum impact like two .45 rounds center mass. This is NOT an album to be missed.

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