It wasn’t very long into Year of the Goat‘s sophomore effort, The Unspeakable, that I was asking myself, “self, is this the second coming of Ghost?” The answer is no, since that happens next month and it’ll be their third coming (or two and a half since I didn’t care much for Infestissumam), but this here platter certainly has a lot of similarities to the goods provided by those mysterious masked ghouls. Their sound is part of the growing and nebulous “occult rock” genre, and along with the aforementioned influence, there’s a good deal of In Solitude, Witchfinder General and Blue Oyster Cult, peppered with a goth rock flavor. This makes for quite the old school listening experience, light on mystery but heavy on atmosphere and mood.
The Goat definitely likes to gamble [Because they’re eeevil – AMG], opting as they did to place a nearly thirteen minute song as the lead off track. And those who dare win, since “All He Has Read” is a slobberknocker of a tune steeped in the excesses of the ’70s and early ’80s metal and prog rock scenes. There are traces of early Fates Warning, Mercyful Fate and all sorts of NWoBHM magic wrapped into it, and it feels like several good songs melded into one great one; full of hooks, interesting peaks and valleys, and with a dark and haunting mood. The musicianship is tight and this will undoubtedly be a strong contender for Song o’ the Year.
Elsewhere, “Pillars of the South” sounds like a mash-up of Agents of Fortune-era Blue Oyster Cult (especially the guitars) mixed with ’70s Styx, and while the prog vibe is strong, the song itself is immediate, addicting and rocking. “The Emma” veers into trippy realms, blending The Doors psychedelic noodling with recent Pain of Salvation angst and singer Thomas Sabbathi (aka Thomas Eriksson from Griftegård) sounds an awful a lot like PoS‘s Daniel Gildenlöw with all the drawn out dramatic pauses and whispers.
The balance of The Unspeakable sticks to the same groovy, slightly ’70s, Ghost-centric model, incorporating this influence or that, mostly to good effect. “The Wind” stands out by having a much stronger goth vibe, recalling H.I.M. and even Peter Murphy and it works well, especially come chorus time. The goth elements also infect “Black Sunlight” and the astute goth fan will hear traces of Charon filtered through the prism of flower power culture and you may find yourself waiting for the band to burst into “Age of Aquarius.”
While there are no weak songs, the excellence of the introductory magnum opus makes a few later cuts seem a bit pale and bloodless by comparison, which is unfortunate as this is a very solid and enjoyable album. My biggest gripe is with closing track “Riders of Vultures,” which is a good song that simply doesn’t know when to end, and the lack of trimming ends up making it feel tedious.
Without a doubt, the key to Year of the Goat‘s appeal is Thomas Sabbathi’s singing. He has the perfect voice for this kind of music, sounding like a mix of Ghost‘s Papa Emeritus III [Really, all of the Papa Emeriti, if we’re to be honest – AMG] and Pelle Åhman of In Solitude. His odd, fragile delivery will remind many of the vocals on In Solitude‘s Sister album, and a lot of the rich mood that made that album so good is present here as well. The man’s voice just has that certain something that makes occult and goth rock work and without his unique presence, I doubt this album would be as impactful. The guitar work by Marcus Lundberg and Don Palmroos is also very engaging and rich in mood and emotion, effectively conveying the feeling of rituals, black candles and pentagrams while keeping things rocking and just a bit unusual. They borrow a lot from Blue Oyster Cult‘s bag o’ tricks and mix it with goth and metal in a way that makes it seem new and interesting. This rests on top of the flappy, jangly bass work from Tobias Resch which is ubiquitous without ever feeling intrusive. This is a tight band with an interesting sound and style and that goes a long way.
Definitely one of the bigger surprises this year, The Unspeakable was good enough to send me searching for the band’s older material and more notably, to preach their merits to the notoriously hostile, jaded and maladroit AMG staff. And hey, if Ghost‘s new outing falls flat, at least we got a dose of righteous Devil rock from Year of the Goat. Vote Goat!