Hearing the latest effort by the Louisianan masters of blackened swampcore, Goatwhore, made this February 15th possibly the most eventful Valentine’s Day in my (thus far) grimdark, loveless mortal existence, and while I wasn’t immediately floored by the slightly thrashier approach our favorite bayou crawlers chose on their latest opus, repeated listens ultimately cumulated in an album that I can see myself returning to in aeons to come.
The most obvious contrast that can be made here is to Goatwhore’s previous album, Carving Out the Eyes of God. While the wicked hooks and punkish attitude of the latter album had propelled Goatwhore at last onto the radar of the metallic mainstream, I felt that the sullen, bitter miasma that characterizes the work of so many Louisiana metal bands (and had characterized all of Goatwhore’s albums up until that point) was slightly compromised in favor of a catchier, more accessible approach, something that diminished its power relative to earlier efforts like A Haunting Curse.
To go over why Blood for the Master truly excels in contrast however, I must emphasize how it brings back much of the claustrophobic aggression that had characterized Funeral Dirge for A Rotting Sun and A Haunting Curse and integrates it with the superb songwriting of Carving, creating a work that is simultaneously catchy and abrasive in the ears of the listener. The thrash influence is stronger than ever, with songs like “Collapse in Eternal Worth” and “Death to the Architects of Heaven” filled with palm-muted thrashing madness that grows repetitive, but works well in churning the collective momentum of the record in a forward direction.
The second-wave black metal influences have also returned in full-force, stronger than they have been since the days of Funeral Dirge. While the last two records took much of the power chord-laden style of Celtic Frost and interpreted it in a modern context, Blood for the Master sees these swamp dwellers once again making a sojourn to Nordic shores, with tracks such as “Beyond the Spell of Discontent” chalk full of tremolo-picked melodic melancholy that hearkens back to Darkthrone and Gorgoroth’s earlier days. Yet amidst the cacophony of classic, yet clichéd influences, Goatwhore never loses their uniquely American identity, throwing in moments of sludgy southern attitude, most prominently evident in “When Steel and Bone Meet,” one of my personal favorites off the record.
Despite its unique atmosphere and tasteful integration of antediluvian influences within a modern framework, Blood for the Master was not without its weaknesses. First of all, Louis Benjamin Falgoust II (a mouthful more befitting of a monarch of the Anciens Regime than a black metal vitriol spewer)’s vocals have certainly declined since the days of Soilent Green’s Pussysoul, and here he sounds more like a tired old man attempting to maintain a (annoyingly “hardc0re”) façade of true aggression than the mutilated larynx of nihilistically-fueled anger a black metal vocalist is supposed to be. I found that this uninspired approach often interfered with the motifs and soundscapes the band was attempting to conjure, often breaking me out of whatever necrotic stupor a great riff puts me in back into the shitstain of reality. Great vocalists like Erik Danielsson of Watain, Mortuus/Arioch of Funeral Mist, and Naas Alcameth of Nightbringer only serve to intensify the crushing wall of oppression that is black metal, but Ben Falghoust’s voice is utterly devoid of phlegm, black bile, and hate, and in their current state sound more appropriate for a dickless metalcore act than a great band like Goatwhore.
The songwriting, while still memorable, doesn’t have quite the same staying power as some records in their back catalog. The songs, all structured in a similar manner and somewhat lacking in dynamics, have a tendency to mesh together as in many inferior black metal records, and there are no massive standouts like Carving’s title track or “Forever Consumed Oblivion” on Blood for the Master. I mentioned before that the palm-muted thrash picking grows extremely irritating if the album is listened to as a whole, and indeed, hearing them used in an identical fashion over and over again gives the album an artificial, inauthentic feeling that sadly shatters the black metal spell. Despite these complaints, my desire for a more brutal incarnation of Goatwhore was satisfied quite nicely by Blood for the Master, and I’d recommend this album to any acolyte of heavy metal for its accessible yet potent approach to the genre, as well as to more seasoned black metal hierophants looking for some originality in their collection.