It’s been quite a long time since I thought about ‘Portlandia,’ the I-have-to-assume wholly accurate depiction of life in Portland, Oregon. But reading the promo material for GoatHawkBuffalo’s full-length debut, I was put in mind of the particularly curious ‘We can pickle that’ sketch. Not because GoatHawkBuffalo are from Portland – the five-piece is based in Copenhagen, Denmark – but because of this statement from guitarist Asger Abel Sørensen, talking about how the band live-recorded Come to Temple but “subsequently recorded various crazy overdubs – we’ve had microphones in empty Jack Daniels’ bottles and buckets of water, we also ran a guitar signal through a pickle …” This strikes me as a curious thing to do but, as I have mentioned previously in these cursed hallowed pages, I suffer from a conspicuous lack of musical talent and am not the person to assess the relative merits of a pickle versus, say, an aubergine1 or a steamed broccoli floret. But I suppose we have to ask, can you hear the pickle or is this just plan dill?2
These Danes play a brand of raucous, bluesy stoner sludge that, pickled or not, I really enjoyed. This is not subtle but it’s not trying to be. Very much following the mould set by their solid 2017 EP, Release the Beast, this in your face, hard rocking stoner, sporting shovels full of groove-laden bass, fuzzy blues riffing and bellowed vocals. It’s loud, fun and makes it hard not to be that guy on the train with the big headphones on, headbanging along to Come to Temple. Worshipping principally at the altar of early Clutch, GoatHawkBuffalo’s pilgrimage also takes in a few genuflections in the direction of Corrosion of Conformity and a better-safe-than-sorry cross yourself at Kyuss for good measure. I dig Johan Brandt’s gruff vocal style, which puts him somewhere between Mastodon and Transnational Speedway League-era Neil Fallon.
For all the other obvious references I could make here to the likes of The Sword or Five Horse Johnson, there are also moments on Come to Temple where GoatHawkBuffalo, weirdly, remind me of Raging Speedhorn. That said, there are mellower moments to be found on Come to Temple too, which Raging Speedhorn wouldn’t touch with a ten foot piece of Corby-forged steel. Acoustic, almost folky blues of “The Ridge” and the droning, feedback-laden “Buried Alive” – perhaps this is where the pickle had its moment in the spotlight? – offer something very different from the stomping groove that GoatHawkBuffalo major in. Brandt’s croaky, dusty voice (I suspect he may have been principally responsible for emptying the Jack Daniels bottles into which mics were jammed) works as well on the slower parts of the record as it does on the rest. That said, it’s the stoner sludge riffing of tracks like “Broken Whore,” “Get Defensive” and the massive title track that sees GoatHawkBuffalo at their best.
It’s not all sunshine and pickles though. Enjoyable as Come to Temple is, it’s not breaking any new ground and can sound a bit
samey3 after a few listens. And where GoatHawkBuffalo try to introduce more experimental elements into their sound – see the pickles, buckets, etc. – it’s been overdone in the mix, with unnecessary mountains of feedback and reverb giving the album a murky, stifled sound in places that didn’t work for me. I also can’t overlook the cringe-worthy spoken word section of “Buried Alive,” with its overwrought attempt at … well, I’m not really sure what they were attempting but it sounds like they’ve listened to SikTh’s “When will the Forest Speak …?” a few too many times.
When GoatHawkBuffalo are in their groove – that is dirty, heavy fuzzed stoner rock – they have the same irresistible effect as Red Fang. I enjoyed the slower, broodier moments of the record too and actually think that Come to Temple could have easily carried a few more tracks, or parts of tracks, in the bluesy vein of “The Ridge” and the first two thirds of “Buried Alive.” It’s this, rather than spoken word sections or the use of vegetables – preserved or otherwise – where GoatHawkBuffalo can carve out something a bit different. Brandt’s voice is great and they write solid riffs, so I look forward to seeing where they go next.