Goatsnake - Black Age Blues
Imagine a being so huge, so powerful, it could reach into the depths of the ocean, pull out a blue whale and slap you square in the kisser as easily as your mum could slap you for being late in as a child. Well, this is doom baby! This is Goatsnake.
Coming together in 1996 after the disbanding of The Obsessed, Goatsnake from The City of Angels, California unleashed 1999’s Vol. 1 on Lee Dorian’s (Cathedral) Rise Above label. Since then they've only released one other LP, 2000’s Flower of Disease and an EP (Trampled Under Hoof in 2004), making new June 2 release Black Age Blues their first full length in 15 years. Not particularly prolific then.
The good news is Black Age Blues is one heavy sonovabitch. Tuned one-lower than King Kong’s ball-bag and presumably packing the same power to knock down small trees, this release harks back to the original Black Sabbath’s ability to include an almost jazzy, swing to their doomy heaviness. Roots-y and bluesy in one with an impossible to resist juggernaut groove along, this LP manages to pack a whole lotta catchiness into it’s 47.3 minute run time.
Pete Stahl’s (Wool, Earthlings?) vocals bring to mind a less wolf-child obsessed Ian Astbury tone to proceedings. His soulful and accessible tones ride over the impossibly bowel worrying riffs brought to us courtesy of Sunn O’s Greg Anderson. Gregg Rogers is back behind the kit for this release and Scott Renner supplies the low-end rumblings.
There’s a real gospel feel to this session of worship at the altar of doom. Opener Another River to Cross puts you in mind of the Jimmy Cliff hit Many Rivers to Cross, not just by it’s title, but with it’s faded piano, gospel vocal intro. This launches into a swampy acoustic passage that in turn blooms into one of the mightiest riffs ever penned. Play this at an interpretive dance class and you’ll be stomping about like dinosaurs. You’ll also look a right melon.
Elevated Man bounces along as it reaches the infectious chorus but it’s the harmonica infused mid-point jam that steals the limelight here. Swampier than Down jamming on a shrimp boat it’s a definite big hitter.
House of the Moon is as uplifting as it is dark thanks to a clever use of harmonious female backing vocals on the main chorus. Again, no heaviness is sacrificed as melody meets bludgeon with effortless joy.
Jimi’s Gone, a possible tribute to Mr Hendrix esquire, sees the return of the gospel vocals that give this album an almost religious quality, elevating it into the heavens rather than tying it to the earth and Graves sees this lot at it’s gloomiest, with an earth shattering monster riff. However, there are Stahl’s ever-present tasty vocals that sweeten the trip.
Ending this collection of infectious heavy grooves with the sound of rainfall is the seven and a half minute jam of A Killing Blues, which showcases an almost Alice in Chains sense of harmony. “Lightning, thunder, wash my soul to the ground”, cries Stahl over a crashing guitar that’s planet heavy.
For a doom album, with all the trademark heaviness and sometimes trudging pace, this is a surprisingly life affirming effort. Goatsnake: Black Age Blues is big, it’s heavy and it’s certainly clever.
Words: Paul Cooke