Goatwhore might be the most metal band name in existence. I have a hard time imagining anyone hearing that name spoken in conversation and reacting in any other fashion outside of “oh, that must be a metal band. I’m leaving this conversation. What a bunch of nerds.” Sucks to be them, because they’re obviously missing out on some premium content. Straddling the worlds of death, black, and occult-oriented metal, Goatwhore are as difficult to categorize in this subgenre-obsessed musical circle as they are to stop listening to. With musical output that is in equal measure intimidating, playful, heavy, and (dare I say it) fun, Goatwhore have carved for themselves a unique and immensely enjoyable niche in the world of metal. Vengeful Ascension does little to dispel this notion, as the band have here released another excellent album to add to an already solid discography.
Let’s go back to the “fun” aspect for just a tic, because it’s pertinent to both the band’s discography as well as to what’s happening on this record. Very unfortunately, “fun” is often a dirty word in the context of metal. As if thoroughly enjoying a record because it includes catchy hooks and great riffs and doesn’t make your ears bleed is somehow a net negative and an affirmation of un-kvltitude. Well, a pox on that nonsense. This is an accomplished album from start to finish, while also being several layers of fun, and may stand as the band’s most ambitious and accomplished record to date.
A particularly admirable aspect of Goatwhore’s approach to metal is their fearless and encyclopedic pillaging of sounds and concepts throughout metal’s history. Death and black metal, hard rock, thrash-inspired solos. It’s all here, and it all sounds fantastic. This isn’t bare plagiarism, however. Everything Goatwhore does sounds like Goatwhore, which is a feat in and of itself. There are few bands that can so thoroughly meld metal’s historical sounds into something that feels both deeply reverential and distinctly individual. It’s a real skill, and Goatwhore tend to create soundscapes that are uniquely familiar while remaining fresh and current. Vengeful Ascension has little issue declaring these trends evident nor its intent to blast the listener into metalhead oblivion with opening track “Forsaken”. Riffs and tribal-turned-devilish drums pummel the listener immediately as the tune rumbles and blasts through demonically-inspired riff passages that remind me of a death metal and hard rock-tinged, Mastodon-inspired sea shanty, roared from a boat of bones traversing the River Styx during a blood storm. It is fast, intense, and crazy enjoyable to listen to. But if you think that was a trip, just wait until “Under the Flesh Into the Soul” enters the fray. This is some straight-up Motörhead worship if I’ve ever heard it, with a repeating riff passage (a brilliant type of re-interpretation of “Ace of Spades”) that is so head-bang ready that you’ll be lucky if your head isn’t dislodged from your neck entirely by the time it concludes. Two songs, two absolute bangers. So far so good.
What if I told you that the album doesn’t relent in its awesomeness? Insert Morpheus meme, obvi While the obvious influences to 1980s motorcycle gang metal may not continue with such brazen aplomb as the record proceeds, Goatwhore instead veer into heavier, more methodical territory over the next few tracks. The album’s title cut is a mid-paced, spacy metal jam that beats and bludgeons its way through galloping drum and guitar work that gives off a war-like vibe. It is also features one of the album’s first of many epic solos, which tops off the surrounding riff-fest incredibly well. Subsequent track “Chaos Arcane” ramps up the old school death metal elements of the band’s sound with its blistering speed and propulsive guitar work. Following bruiser “Where the Sun is Silent” slows down the proceedings considerably, bringing forth a churning slow death of heavy riffs and methodical drum work that feels appropriately restrained and deliberate. This may appear on the surface to be a sound salad. However, the band does a fantastic job of pacing and placing their songs in an interesting way that keeps the listener engaged throughout the multiple shifts in tone and tempo. Hat’s off to the production team on this record, whom have created a deep and heavy sound while letting the guitars stand distinct and free within the mix. The record sounds fantastic.
Vengeful Ascension‘s latter half includes some of the record’s decidedly darker content, at least on a sonic level. Black metal majesty shines its face upon us during “Abandon Indoctrination”, as tremolo picking and blast beats couple with hardcore-style drum work to create a murky amalgam of textures that intertwine seamlessly throughout. The music within “Mankind Will Have No Mercy” sounds about as destructive as its title, and adds a distinguishable thrash element to the proceedings that makes the song as diverse and enjoyable as the rest of the album. The albums final two tracks, “Decayed Omen Reborn” and “Those Who Denied God’s Will”, share a bleak sonic DNA that is at its most sinister and depraved during the album’s epic finale, raging in triumphant blackened glory as society crumbles and burns itself into a blackened crust. In short, it’s glorious.
Goatwhore have eclipsed their previous work by creating an expansive and involving album that is as heavy as it is musically diverse and unusually catchy. While Goatwhore do not peddle the most original sound on the block, there are few faults to find with their approach to the subgenres they incorporate into their music. Also, ultimately, who cares if this isn’t the next Zeal and Ardor in terms of manic creativity? Quality music is not subject to arbitrary originality requirements. Vengeful Ascension is a very good record, in addition to being an engagingly performed and well written one, and stands on its own merit as a valuable and entertaining work of death/black/occult metal goodness. One of the most flat-out enjoyable metal records I have heard this year.
Vengeful Ascension is available 6/23 via Metal Blade records and can be pre-ordered here.