New Orleans is already famous in metal circles for the legendary Pantera, as well as for birthing the murky, crusty music that is sludge, a fusion of the crawling, monolithic heaviness of doom with the attitude of hardcore and crust punk, filtering it through a swampy atmosphere so thick you could cut it. Goatwhore hail from NOLA but unlike countrymen Eyehategod or Crowbar (or local supergroup Down) their brand of metal is an altogether more blackened, thrashing beast, taking cues from both the burgeoning black and death metal scenes and fusing it with elements of thrash and sludge.
Seventh album Vengeful Ascension sees Goatwhore continue to expound their own brand of black/death metal, infusing it with a stomping, thrashing and, dare I say, just plain fun atmosphere. The gallop and guitar solos interspersing ‘Under The Flesh, Into The Soul’ swaggers along amidst the speeding freight train that is the rest of the song. The title track experiments with some whispered, almost spoken-word passages before erupting again, with vocalist Ben Falgoust rasping and growling with wild abandon over the groove supplied by found guitarist Sammy Duet. The rhythm section certainly are no slouches either; Zack Simmons pounds the skins like a man possessed and the basslines supplied by James Harvey lends gravity to Goatwhore’s take-no-prisoners approach.
Things slow down for ‘Where the Sun Is Silent’ but the menace is palpable; it’s a slow, suffocating evil, reminiscent of the kind of horror found in murky forests with the sense that something is clearly out there; it creeps steadily but surely through forlorn verses and a despairing atmosphere to a more palpable, direct terror before closing out. This is certainly a theme across the album; opener ‘Forsaken’ takes a moment to build tension, giving the impression that there’s something coming for the listener, certainly a break from the more usual approach the band have taken in the past of immediately going for the jugular and never letting go. Seventh track ‘Abandon Indoctrination’ does this again, with a moody intro before launching into a breakneck black metal assault, again interspersed with slower, sludgier passages to really bludgeon the point home. We then move into altogether blacker territory and the album culminates with ‘Those Who Denied God’s Will’, an all-out assault of tremolo riffs and growl-infused black metal.
But for all its consistency and unswerving, genre-blending extremity, Vengeful Ascension suffers from the perhaps strange-sounding curse of being a Goatwhore album; they released the much-acclaimed knockout of A Haunting Curse (’06) and Carving Out The Eyes of God (’09) and it almost seems as if the band have been retracing their steps since then. Things also feel a little unfocused; where parts of the album, especially the title track, are a rollicking, beer-swilling good time, other areas miss this sense and feel, while not perhaps totally serious, far more straight-faced than perhaps might be expected from the band. It’s undoubtedly an improvement over previous effort Constricting the Rage of the Merciless and is certainly an album worthy of the Goatwhore name but it remains to be seen if it will stand the test of time in quite the same way. But when it’s all said and done, Goatwhore are here to kick ass, take names, knock back beers and just have a blast and quite frankly, Vengeful Ascension ticks all those boxes gleefully.
Highlights: Vengeful Ascension, Those Who Denied God’s Will