By Craig Haze
We’re a fickle bunch, us metal fans. We want our favorite bands to keep dishing out consistent albums, and that’s understandable, but we’ll also gripe about them repeating themselves. Then we’ll complain if they try anything too adventurous, or when they don’t go far enough. So there’s something admirable about a band that ignores expectations, sets its own course, and carries on regardless of whether fans approve of their direction.
New Orleans black thrashers Goatwhore are just such a band. They’re tenacious, seemingly indefatigable, and continuously searching for that seamless synthesis of menacing malevolence and murderous musicality. They could have stepped into the studio to record the new album and attempted to recapture the same incendiary spirit found on 2009’s much-celebrated Carving out The Eyes of God. But Blood For the Master finds them tweaking their modus operandi, and there’s something commendable in their desire to keep hunting for the perfect unification of all that is unholy.
The new album isn’t a gigantic stylistic leap; it’s just as ferociously heretical as any of their releases. However, it does find the band re-evaluating its chaotic assault, albeit strategically, rather than softening its stance. It all comes down to the judicious songwriting, which admittedly seems a bit of a grandiose description when referring to a filthy beast like Goatwhore. But there’s no denying that Blood for the Master is enriched with considerably more varied hues than their last release.
There’s no lessening of the might. Tracks like “Parasitic Scriptures of the Sacred Word”, “An End to Nothing” and “Collapse in Eternal Worth” are all skull-crushingly heavy, delivered in a blitzkrieg manner, and Erik Rutan‘s first-rate production ensures it’s all bloodcurdling. L. Ben Falgoust II spits out his apostatical toxin, guitarist Sammy Duet fires off endless corrosive riffs, Zack Simmons pounds those drums manically, and James Harvey anchors it all with the rumbling bass. It’s exactly how you would have it, but there’s some restraint in evidence—an understanding, perhaps, that the devil is always in the details.
Where once the band concentrated on battleaxe brutality, on Blood for the Master it’s the subtle dagger thrusts of varying tempos that are the most interesting. “An End to Nothing”, with Duet’s warped soloing and Falgoust’s cutthroat barks, evokes 80s lo-fi crossover thrash of the blackest, most squalid kind. Duet drops the album’s very best solos into a brew of blackened hardcore on “When Steel and Bone Meet”, and mixes a bunch of riffs that almost get away from him. It’s the little nuances that nail the song’s brilliance.
Blood For the Master sees Goatwhore leaning harder on tradition. Traces of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are evident, particularly in the solos, and Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom are there in the album’s rancor. “Embodiment of This Bitter Chaos” initially heads deep into classic metal territory, before screeching soloing, and Falgoust’s biting vocals chokes the acoustic intro. And while “In Deathless Tradition” is hardly sluggish in any meaningful sense, for Goatwhore it’s fairly unhurried, with its doomier rhythm accentuating its grimness.
Blood For the Master isn’t a radical step forward, but nor, given its traditional metal underpinnings, is it a step back. It is exactly the album Goatwhore needed to make right now. Harnessing the best of the band’s attributes—the stony-faced crusty black metal, the grubby thrash, and Falgoust’s spiky-gauntleted occultist odes—there’s no denying it’s a different creature to Carving Out the Eyes of God, but that doesn’t make it a lesser album. Yes, it’s more considered, but it’s better for its self-control.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you endorse the slight change of mood. But as I said at the start, it’s not like Goatwhore will care if you’re on board or not. They’re busy forging ahead, and that strength of character and endless resolve is what makes them such a great band in the first place.