When you think about it, it’s just amazing how many things Goatsnake managed to achieve in so little time. I am obviously talking about when the band just first got together. Formed initially with a stunning line up that included Greg Anderson of Sunn O))), Greg Rogers and Guy Pinhas of The Obsessed and Pete Stahl, Goatsnake were on a roll since their inception. Three EPs, a split with Burning Witch and two insane full-length records, all within the span of just two years! What really did it was the albums, obviously. The debut album, especially, finds the band making a deal with some supernatural forces – because I cannot really find another plausible way in which these guys were able to come up with such devilish riffs. Flower of Disease followed a year after Vol. 1, and even though the vibe had slightly changed towards a more psychedelic offering, it still found the band at its best.
Label: Southern Lord
Even though the band officially split up for only three years, there has not been any new material from them since their 2004 EP, Trampled Under Hoof. So, a staggering eleven years later, they get back to business, with the same personnel apart from the departure of Pinhas and the subsequent inclusion of Scott Renner on bass (Scott Reeder was also playing bass for the band for a time.) There certainly are some changes in Black Age Blues in terms of the music. The heavy rock vibe is still going strong, but there seems to be a move towards the more anthemic side of heavy rock and a departure from the darker, doom-infused style of the debut album and the acidic trips of Flower of Disease.
There are parts where Goatsnake travel towards their earlier days, with tracks such as “House of The Moon” and its pummelling riffs bringing down walls, or parts of “A Killing Blues,” with the band letting loose all their nastiness and meanness. But then what is quite prevalent overall is that dirty, heavy rock style of the opening track, mutating into bluesier alterations with “Coffee & Whiskey” and into a rock ‘n’ roll frenzy with “Elevated Man.” That works great with the vibe, really lifting the tracks, and that retro vibe of moments such as the title track fit in perfectly.
Photo: Gemma Shaw
The guitars manage to balance the album, keeping the songs aggressive when that is necessary and cooling them down when it is needed. At moments, they even give the impression that they are digging a hole in the ground for you, something you will understand when you listen to “Graves.” The inclusion of some solos further enhance the experience and offer stand out points within the album, especially in tracks such as “Coffee & Whiskey.” But the rhythm section is equally impressive within the album, with the powerful drumming and deep bass laying the foundations for the music. From the more straightforward moments such as the opening track, to the addition of great fills, and then to controlling the movement of the songs they are just something else. There are even a few really cool experimentation within the album, with the inclusion of a cowbell in “Graves,” which somehow manages to fit in splendidly, some tribal-esque patterns in the beginning of the song, as well as the addition of effects near the end of “Coffee & Whiskey” to make things more unstable.
Photo: Gemma Shaw
But this is Goatsnake, so even within songs that appear straightforward with a bluesy tone and a heavy rock vibe, they manage to further improve the trip. That is where Stahl vocals come in. In terms of technique, he really seems to be at his best, delivering the lines with energy and confidence at every turn. The anthemic vibe really originates from his voice, something that is quite apparent in “Graves,” with the vocals echoing through what it seems to be eternity. “Black Age Blues” and “Elevated Man” follow the same big sounding method, as does “House of The Moon,” bringing a huge performance. Even within the vocals, Goatsnake bring in their playful tendencies, with the effects on “Coffee & Whiskey” giving a very nice retro vibe to the song, as well as the performance becoming more disturbing at moments, such as in “A Killing Blues.” That combined with the amazing backing vocals, courtesy of Dern Preacher’s Daughters (Wendy Moten, Gale Mayes and Andrea Merrit) and Petra Haden (who also provides violin for the album) manage to output a magical outcome, giving more depth and variation to the album, and since it is fairly vocal heavy, that works quite well. The backing vocals in “House of The Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone” and especially “Grandpa Jones,” really nail it. And do not forget about the crazed harmonica parts where Stahl really shines. In “Elevated Man” he gives more variety to the track, but in “Jimi’s Gone,” tangled together with a sick guitar solo, it takes things to another level along with the huge backing vocals, and finally the performance goes completely mental and finishes off the song.
What Goatsnake set out to do with Black Age Blues is quite crucial. They begin the album with “Another River To Cross” picking up from “The River,” the last song in Goatsnake’s previous full-length, A Flower of Disease, with a great acoustic guitar part, courtesy of David Pajo of Slint. That is a clear statement as to what they are doing, they do not try to reinvent themselves in the process of recording new music, but rather carry on where they left off.