Goatwhore needs no introduction. For 20 years, they have stood at the helm of the American extreme metal scene and put forth album after album of marvelously blistering blackness. Their latest release, Vengeful Ascension, is the band at its most adventurous, divisive and focused. We talked to vocalist Ben Falgoust about evolution, religion and the progress of the underground metal scene.
Congrats on the new album–I just saw that it’s doing really well on all of the charts!
Ben Falgoust: Awesome! Thank you.
Did you guys try to do anything specifically different this time around?
Ben: Just the recording process and where we recorded at. That’s the main thing that we’ve done differently. Music-wise, we’re kind of doing the same thing. Not necessarily the same thing we’ve always done, because I feel like there’s an evolution process and individually, each member has evolved and gotten better at what they do. Also, involved in that, as a whole, as a band, that would create the ability to write better together. I think everything evolves and moves in that fashion. Basically, we decided on this record to go with a different producer/engineer and different studio and take a different approach. Some of the guys wanted to do different things. Zack wanted to do some different things with his drums and take a different path. So, instead of trying to split it up and go to all of these different studios, especially with budgets involved and not being able to fully do that, we just decided to take a whole different path altogether. That was the biggest thing. I think, in a way, that assists in some ways, as well. It’s a new environment. Puts us out of our comfort zone. Puts us in a different kind of zone to focus on the music a little different. A different person in there as the engineer/producer having a different opinion and approach to our music than before when we were dealing with Erik Rutan.
Shakes things up, huh?
Ben: Yeah, I think sometimes you need it. I mean, there was nothing wrong with the last 4 times we went to Rutan. I just think it was time for us to take a different step and go down a different path in general. Every time you need some difference there. Sometimes the change can be good and sometimes the change can be bad. I think it kind of benefitted us in certain ways.
Yeah, I’d definitely say so! Personally, what are you most proud of regarding this new record?
Ben: I’m proud of every element of it, you know? I like looking back at all of the records because I definitely don’t shun any record. I see it as an evolution process and I understand, from the first record to now, how we’ve all evolved as musicians and as a band. To see the changes. If you look at Sammy and Zack and you look from A Haunting Curse ‘til now, because that’s when Zack got in the band, you can see how they’ve evolved as musicians and how they’ve worked together and molded things together in the writing concepts. I’m really stoked about things like that. Actually seeing an evolution process and a growth within the band. Seeing how people work together and how they evolve together and how they bounce off of each other with their influences and everything. How it all flows out like that. I think that’s one of the biggest elements that I like taking notice of.
Consistently releasing records for almost 20 years now, how do you keep things from stagnating?
Ben: You know what? I’m not really sure about that. You just kind of go with the flow. You got four different personalities. You got four different individuals in the band. You’re going to have some moments of tension and stuff like that. It’s just a given–especially being on the road in a van. There’s six people in the van and you’re out there for six to eight months in a year. It can kind of wear on you. I think when we come home we take a break from everything for a couple of weeks and suddenly you have that fire back in there. Zack is a little younger than me and Sammy–and James as well. I think having that distance in age benefits and keeps the flame alive. We all share the same things that we’re all into, but you have everybody’s different opinion and influence on everything that they listen to. We all listen to Judas Priest, but how we all take it in is an individual perspective. I think there’s a little bit of competitive edge being in a band. The fact that there are so many bands out there. You’re doing stuff and sometimes when you are writing, maybe in the subconscious, you’re like, “You know, some of us are getting older. We have to keep up with the younger men!” We have to be able to match what they do. I don’t think it’s something that we focus on, but I do think it’s more of a subconscious thing that sits in the back of your head as you get a little older and newer bands come up and you see some of the abilities these younger people have. It’s pretty incredible. I really can’t say anything bad about a lot of new bands. There are so many new bands that are doing impressive things. The only thing I hope is that they keep going on and keep that metal flag alive and moving forward. I think that’s what doesn’t make it stagnant. When we were younger and would listen to things and how they influenced us and how we perceived it to now, being a little older, and going back–actually full-circle going back to things we were influenced by–you can see different elements as an evolved musician. You see different things. Instead of being younger and being like, “This is fuckin’ awesome! It’s heavy!” and drinking beer and having a good time and doing crazy shit, you get a little older and notice elements in it a little more and you’re like, “Wow, I didn’t really notice that.” You’re full-circle with it and you take those elements in and it becomes an influence, as well. You have those bastard influences across the board with every member and they mold together and create what it is now.
H.P. Lovecraft and ‘Paradise Lost’ inspired a lot of the lyrics on this album, For you, is it always literature that inspires your writing?
Ben: It’s literature based with some real-world perspectives put into it. Within those stories, like Milton’s Paradise Lost or any of the stories you read in literature, there are some elements of it that connect with realistic things in life. It’s kind of a mixture with that. Lyrically, I mix a lot of elements together. I mix different religious and occult-based ideas together and I find different elements that work together in that fashion. The gist of it is literature. Those things you can totally build off of. The song “Chaos Arcane” is built off the H.P. Lovecraft story Nyarlathotep. My perception of it is within the lyrics and then I added my own kind of spice and my own imagination to how I perceived the story and decided to put it within the lyrics. So you have a different angle there. Someone else might read it and have a different angle. There’s different elements to approach it with and you take things into different perspectives. Sometimes you add your own little elements and your own literature or realistic life situations that you toss in to add difference and spice to it.
Ben: It’s been the basis of our stuff for quite some time. We’ve always had stuff based on occult, esoteric stuff. Luciferian ideas and stuff like that. It’s kind of funny – I thought that by 2017 modern religion wouldn’t hold such a strong foot. I thought people would step back. When you look back at older cultures like the Vikings with Odin and how it eventually became myth. I thought Christianity and Catholicism would become myths. It seems like it’s got a stronger footing now than ever before. It’s dug it’s claws in.
I’m not into the oppressive nature of things. I think people should have a free-thinking idea and move forward. I understand some people need crutches. Some people need an element to help them through life and that’s fine. It becomes a problem for me when people try to force it on you or they force it within a system like the government and things like that. Everything’s based on, like, “I’m running for office and I just want to let you know that I’m a good Christian.” To me, it’s just an additional lie added onto the stack of lies. Not just that religion, but there are many religions that all have these oppressive nature.
I do feel like there are a lot of people who have moved on and they utilize these things to symbolize things in life, but some people still hold it really close and try to push it on other people. I’m just not into that element of it. If I’m moving along and I see someone stranded on the side of the road, I’m not questioning what religion they are. I’m like, “Maybe I should pull over and assist this person.” And the person who’s being assisted shouldn’t question what kind of fuckin’ religion or belief I have. I mean, they might see me roll up and be like, “Oh my god, look at this guy. He looks sort of odd.” You’re a human being helping another human being. The relevance of what you believe in doesn’t matter. Some religious people would say, “A good Christian would do that,” but I’ve seen good Christians totally fuckin’ pass up a person on the side of the highway, so… I think it’s an individual thing. In humanity, some people just have this knack and just do things and it’s an ingrained thing that you help somebody. Maybe it was the ethics of how you were brought up. Some people act just on religion. They feel like in their religion, that Sunday after they do the wrong thing they can go in and have some salvation. So, what? All weekend you can do something bad and then go in and just shrug it off after that? That’s not fuckin’ how it works. [Laughs]
This might be more of a question for Jordan (Barlow), but is the artwork on the cover of ‘Vengeful Ascension’ related to the content of the album?
Ben: Yeah, I mean he doesn’t just straight-up come up with the idea. We go to him with the idea. Me and Sammy sat down with him and explained some things. We wanted it focused on the elements of the title and everything within the record. It’s been like that for the past three records he’s done. What’s cool is to look back at Constricting Rage of the Merciless and Blood for the Master and look at that art and the art on this one and you can see how eclectic Jordan is within his style of art. He has the ability to do anything. He has the ability to do shit that looks like woodcut all the way to shit that looks like a painting all the way to stuff that looks like an ink wash. His abilities are fuckin’ amazing as far as art. Not only that, but you can give him ideas and he’ll sit there while you’re telling him and he’s drawing small little rough sketches. You just let him go with it and then he hands it out or gets halfway and he’s like, “This is what’s going on,” and you’re like, “That is perfect. That is the direction.” We’re really on the same page with things. We could just say, “Hey, just draw something to be cool,” but he doesn’t let us do that. He’s like, “I want ideas.” He wants things that he can build off of and take off with. As soon as we give him those ideas and that direction, he just takes off with it. He wants that small push in the beginning of things we’re looking for and then he runs with it. Through the process he reaches out and he’s like, “What were you thinking on this? What were your ideas based on this?” That gets added in. You can see on the CD and the album it’s like 6 panels–because the original piece was like 3’x2’–and you fold it out and can see the entirety of it. It’s all of these esoteric, unique, hidden, taboo ideas coming from beneath up to the surface. It’s basically the idea behind Vengeful Ascension.
Yeah, it’s definitely a visual representation of the album.
Ben: I’m sure Jordan would have more to say because it would be unique from his angle. You’re just asking me for my angle and I’m sure Sammy would have a different angle too. Basically, we go in there and he wants ideas. He’s not going to let us just be like, “Put something together that’s looks evil or sick.” He wants knowledge behind it.
Since the beginning, what has this band been about at the core? What has it represented to you?
Ben: I guess it’s changed over the years. Not in a bad way, but when I first got in a band I was young and there were metal and hardcore bands I was into. I wanted to be in a band and I wanted to play music. As the process of doing records is going on, you start looking back and you start seeing people come up to you and tell you how much this record’s meant to them or what it’s done for them or bands that say you’ve influenced them. Then you start looking at when you were growing up and there were bands that you were looking at and considering as influences. I think you realize you’re becoming part of this cycle of keeping something alive and the evolution of something. It has its peaks and valleys – that’s just what extreme music is.
The thing was, a lot of us got into the underground scene and within that I think you found out that there was more element going on in the underground. Even though extreme music wasn’t at a peak at the time, a lot of stuff was going on in the underground. It’s almost like… You don’t see the ant pile on the lawn, but underneath they’re all working really hard and all of a sudden two days later there’s this huge pile. It’s the same with the underground. Always working. Always evolving. Always taking it to the next level with extremeness.
I think a lot of us being involved with the underground scene and being into bands like that, that’s kept that process rolling, too. When so-called metal isn’t the “trendy” thing and the weekend-warriors are fuckin’ gone – that were just about certain things or the latest fuckin’ metal hits – you have the underground sitting there still working, still maintaining something, still doing something different. That’s when you start seeing how your band is relevant in the structure of keeping the flow going and bringing that metal banner forward. Like I said, when you see newer bands that are younger and they’re really good you’re like, “Holy shit this is awesome! I feel like I should just retire and let this thing go and move forward like it does.” I think that’s a big deal.
Some people get in bands and they think about the money aspect of it, but let’s not kid ourselves. It’s extreme music and there are very few bands that actually come out and actually make an income from it. There’s very few Metallicas or Slipknots or Panteras. Every now and then a band like that pops up and they take the helm and move the extreme level a little bit more forward within the mainstream. But meanwhile while that’s moving forward in the mainstream, the underground is already way ahead of that. You feel like you’re a part of something when you tour and see people you’ve toured with or you meet new people. It becomes this cultural family. This unit that keeps everything going. Then the idea of money doesn’t really overshadow things. You find the value within the cultural aspect of it.
You guys have always toured nonstop and played festivals in between that. What about that has yet to get old? What’s always fun about it?
Ben: You know what? Even though sometimes you’re playing in the same cities, especially being around for a while, you have a new generation that starts coming to your shows. For a while, you tour and you see a lot of the same faces and then years pass and some of the same faces get married and have families and don’t come out to shows as much. But then you have a newer generation that’s stepping in and they’re into your stuff and they’re coming out to your shows. It’s like, “Wow, look at all these new faces we have coming out to the shows.” I think that kindles it. It kindles the fire and it keeps it moving. Not only that. Venues change. Some venues shut down. Sometimes there are new venues or there’s something different. In some places you feel like you’re visiting the same thing, but in some places you feel like it’s been revised. That’s another thing–you also see scenes shift through time as well. There’s a scene when you first started that was really good and watch it kind of go down a little bit and then you watch it rise again and BOOM it’s booming again. You see the fluctuation within scenes on how things are. I don’t know how it is for each member, but for me, personally, it’s unique to see those things. Where someone else would be like, “Oh, I’m getting old…” No you’re not! You’re actually witnessing the changing cycles within the structure of something.
Yeah, you’re getting to first hand watch evolution.
Ben: Yeah, it’s really unique. I have to say, maybe years ago I didn’t really step back and perceive that, but lately I saw that. I was like, “Oh yeah, I remember playing this town for the first time and we played at this venue.” Recently, we played Little Rock again. We’ve played Little Rock numerous times, but I’ve watched the scene from Little Rock change throughout the last 20 years. I’ve seen its up points and its down points. It’s funny because the venue we first played when we would go out there is the venue we just played with Goatwhore again. It’s unique to go back to one of those venues where you change venues a few times and you go back it and you’re like, “Wow!” It gives you that young feeling again, but also it’s refreshed. You went full-circle when you’re back in that situation.
What new records or artists have you been listening to?
Ben: The last two records I’ve been jamming on a lot are the new Vallenfyre and the new Memoriam. Those two records I’ve been listening to a little heavily. I’m really into the new Paradise Lost coming out later this year. I mean, it’s older stuff. It was stuff I kind of grew up on, but I feel like they’ve come full-circle. They’re revisiting an older thing they used to do, but with a different sense to it because they’ve done it before but now they’re a little older. It’s really cool to come across. Memoriam… I mean, I was a huge Bolt Thrower fan so it’s unique to see a couple of guys from Bolt Thrower, since they’re kind of dissolved, move on and still do it. Some good friends of ours from California called Necrot. They have a new record out. We played a show with them in Oakland about a year or so ago and they’re really fucking awesome. There’s a band called River Black–it’s some members of Burnt By The Sun and also has a member of Revocation in it. We played with them at Dark Lord Day about a month or so ago. They’re really awesome as well, man. Totally hitting on all cylinders. It’s cool to see different variations of things. Within that band you have some dudes who were in some older bands but you have some guys who were in new shit like Revocation. That’s really good, too. As I’m going along, all these ones are popping up. I’m listening to that and to that and that right now too. The thing is, there are so many bands and sometimes it’s hard to keep up on it. I feel flooded mentally. [Laughs] It’s funny because sometimes I’ll do interviews and someone will go, “What are you listening to right now?” and all of a sudden I’m at a blank because I’m listening to so many different ones that I forget all of them. [Laughs] It sounds crazy, but there’s a lot of them!
Ben: Yeah, I agree! Ooh! And that new Cultes des Ghoules record that came out. That was pretty crazy too.