Album Review: GOATWHORE Vengeful Ascension
Goatwhore have always distinguished themselves from their fellow New Orleans metal artists by largely eschewing that city's favored sludge template in favor of a unique blend of first wave black metal, hook-laden death metal and, sure, a dash of low-end, Southern-inflected sludge thrown in for added seasoning. Essentially they have a coherent vision that successfully straddles the venn diagram which overlaps most major facets of "extreme" metal. Where they haven't always distinguished themselves is in the songwriting department. They've always had an enduring sound going for them that make them an engaging listen even when they aren't swinging for the fences, from Ben Falgoust's raspy-yet-discernible crowing to Sammy Duet's encyclopedic grasp of catchy riff writing to the airtight interplay between bassist James Harvey and drummer Zach Simmons. But that talent hasn't always translated completely into collections of songs that differentiate themselves between one another.
The relative brevity of each Goatwhore album – average length is around 40 minutes – does point to a measure of deliberate quality control, yet since 2006's band-defining A Haunting Curse album the quartet have spun their wheels a bit, never dipping below a certain standard of excellence but often struggling to really take their music to the next level. Vengeful Ascension is more of modest progression than a bar-setting effort, but for a band that was already operating at an impressive level of hyper-competency to begin with, gains of any magnitude are welcome.
Vengeful Ascension is a refinement rather than a retooling of the Goatwhore sound… there's nothing here we haven't heard out of these guys before, but the album shows a lot more versatility than the characterless, pedal-to-the-floor blur that has characterized large chunks of their last several albums. It's a like a mosh pit that opens at the beginning of a set and never closes: exhilarating at first but merely exhausting by the time it all wraps up. A little variety in tempo proves to be just what the doc ordered here. "Forsaken" fades in gradually on a tribal drum pattern before exploding into the high tempo onslaught we've come to expect out of this band, but by the time the title song kicks in at track three the tempo drops what you might call a brisk doom pace, with shards of ringing minor key chords that vaguely recall old 90's industrial.
"Where the Sun Is Silent" expands the band's repertoire with a blackened doom showcase that offers a moody respite at the dead center of an often ferocious 41 minutes. Many of the best of those ferocious moments come surprisingly late in the album, beginning near the halfway mark with the brilliantly catchy "Chaos Arcane", leapfrogging the aforementioned "Where the Sun Is Silent" to return with Sammy Duet's Bathory-reminiscent riffing on "Drowned in Grim Rebirth" before landing on arguably the album's best song, the old school death metal banger "Mankind Will Have No Mercy". Throughout, Duet's sorcery-like conjuration of perfect riffs is the album's not-so-secret weapon, but with this track he really outdoes himself. Ostensibly a tribute to Bolt Thrower (per the press release), the tune is not only an admirable tribute to the UK legends, but also looks back successfully to the crunchy, mid-tempo 80's thrash bands that influenced Bolt Thrower as well.
Vengeful Ascension is the high water mark that Goatwhore have set for themselves thus far, although that may not be readily apparent upon the first or second listen. With repeated familiarity, though, the album's assets are gradually revealed, a newly expansive tool set that should greatly assist in avoiding any wheel spinning come the next album… or maybe several.