Is it just me, or has black metal gotten really melodic and even somewhat commercial in recent years? Brutal bands like Mayhem, Immortal, and Gorgoroth were the only black metal bands around in the early 1990s. But then, Norway and England started taking interest in the genre, and pretty soon thereafter, melodic and symphonic black metal bands took the genre over. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, say, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, and Old Man’s Child — they’re all great! — but most purists would tell you they’re no where near as heavy, raw, or offensive as the bands that came before them. And when some of today’s bands site the likes of Pink Floyd and Yes as major influences, one has to begin to wonder if the definition of “black metal” has been stretched a bit too far.
But here in America, we do things differently. Goatwhore are 110%, pure, homegrown Americans (they’re straight out of the Bayou — Thibodaux, Louisiana), and their music is the exact opposite of symphonic black metal. Thus, it is devoid of any experimentation or sweet, uplifting melodies, like keyboards, acoustic guitars, and clean singing.
The most prevalent sound on Goatwhore’s third full-length release, 2006’s “A Haunting Curse,” is old school-inspired blackened death and thrash metal, but strong sludge, doom, grind, punk, and hardcore influences are also present throughout. (Or, in other words, think Venom meets Slayer meets Mayhem meets Soilent Green, and you’ll get the idea what this album sounds like.) The result is eleven very intense, unrestrained tracks of rip-roaring destruction. They ooze with caffeine-abetted energy, blinding speed, primal urgency, crushing heaviness, abrasive rawness, harsh dissonance, great visceral impact, and uncompromising brute force.
Insanely fast riffs, smoke-inducing leads, murderous blast beats, and frontman Ben Falgoust’s Hellish, retching screams are the name of the game here. The only time the pummel ever lets up is when the band toss in an odd tempo change, thus sending the song into a slow, doomy dirge. “A Haunting Curse” isn’t the kind of album that you’ll walk away from humming a melody or catchy chorus, and since the guitar work is so ridiculously fast, there aren’t really any “hooks” or individually memorable riffs, either. A few catchy parts pop up here and there, such as the abrasive, mid-tempo groove and churning, rusty-sounding guitar lead that backs “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult”; the booming, Slayer-esque power chords and vocal hook that begin “In the Narrow Confines of Defilement”; and the Deicide-esque vocal patterns on “Silence Marked By the Breaking of Bone.” And there are other standout tracks, too, like the steamrolling “Wear These Scars Of Testimony”, the walloping, machine gun blasts on “Bloodletting Upon The Cloven Hoof”, and the jackhammer insistence of “My Eyes Are The Spears Of Chaos.” But overall, this is the kind of record that you put on from beginning to end and just let consume you, without worrying about discerning one song from another.
“A Haunting Curse” doesn’t break any new ground for black or death metal, but that fact is easily overlooked because it’s just so refreshing to hear an album this unrepentantly mean, nasty, caustic, and brutal in this day and age. It’s a very satisfying listen, and an essential purchase for listeners who want to remember brutal black metal’s glory days.