Goatsnake was originally formed by veterans of seminal doom act The Obsessed, and though they’ve rattled around since 1996, they haven’t been the most prolific crew in the doomiverse. With only two albums and a few EPs to their credit and their last full-length dropping way back in 2000, they would already be relegated to a footnote in the Big Book of Doom if not for how righteous early works like Goatsnake Vol. I were, and the sheer number of bands ripping off their sound. After an eleven year drift through limbo, something motivated three fourths of the original lineup to rejoin forces for their long-awaited third album, Black Age Blues, and boy, was that the right damn decision! This is a two-ton mass of heavy stoner doom with enormous backwater NOLA swagger and an authentic southern fried sensibility, borrowing the best elements of Crowbar, Down, Floodgate, Kyuss and Clutch, while maintaining a unique identity. It’s also one of the more infectious and fun doom outings you’ll hear this year. A fun doom album, you say? Madness!
And yet it’s true, as slobberkocker opener “Another River to Cross” ably demonstrates. After some country western acoustic noodling, the main riff stomps forth to convert all non believers. It’s the kind of riff Black Sabbath invented but it still manages to sound pretty fresh and vital. The huge bluesy swing and shake to the music hooks you right in for the swamp crawl ahead, and Pete Stahl’s soulful croons sell the music like a fire and brimstone preacher. This one is a strong contender for Song o’ the Year and I can’t stop spinning it.
Things remain highly infectious with “Elevated Man” as it shotgun marries ponderous riffs with memorable vocal hooks and a noticeable Soundgarden vibe mixed with what is an obvious homage to Sabbath‘s “The Wizard,” complete with harmonica lines. At first blush “Coffee and Whiskey” seems like a silly throwaway tune, until you realize you can’t remove the chorus from your head, and it sports a jubilant Blue Cheer influence. Around the album’s halfway point, the band starts to incorporate backing vocals from Dem Preacher’s Daughters, who give the southern-styled doom an even greater dose of old timey boogie, reminiscent of a Baptist revival meeting or a backwoods hoedown. The slow motion destruction of “House of the Moon” benefits from this odd addition as the Daughters chant along in the background like a supporting church choir. The same can be said for the rocked out swing of “Jimi’s Gone” and especially the grinding “Grandpa Jones,” where things really take on the feel of a bizarre church outing.
The album runs a concise 47 minutes and the band wisely kept most songs to judicious lengths, with only a few running over the five minute mark. This makes the material much more digestible and accessible, even to non-doom fans. That isn’t to say they couldn’t have trimmed a minute or so from longer cuts like the title track and closer “A Killing Blues,” but overall, the writing and arranging is quite remarkable and the album is an effortless joy to sit through.
Greg Anderson’s guitar playing really shines from start to finish, with a plethora of huge, tooth rattling doom riffs wisely balanced with more rollicking rock leads. Sure, he robbed the oft-sacked crypts of Sabbath, but he took all the right bones and that makes all the difference here. As Anderson is laying waste with fat riffs, Stahl’s vocals provide the honey and moonshine. He has a pleasant and powerful voice with just enough edge and muscle, often sounding like a more versatile Kyle Thomas (Floodgate, Trouble) mixed with a slightly less aggro Danzig. He’s adept at sounding plaintive and exasperated when necessary and more upbeat and hopeful when the tunes go in that direction. Scott Renner’s bass is also a big part of the sound, acting like a second guitar at times and filling the gaps with a rich low-end rumble.
Unfortunately, the production is a bit too compressed, and while it definitely gives the guitars a huge impact, a bigger dynamic range would really bring out the full palate of what these guys are doing. You can’t have it all though.
This is another happy surprise for 2015 and I’m stoked to see Goatsnake rise from the ashes with such a strong dose of southern stonage. Black Age Blues makes it seem like they were never gone and certainly proves they’re still relevant in 2015. If you’re hankering for a new Down or Crowbar album, this may just do the trick. Welcome back boys.