While most intense bands seem to unload their best work and ideas on their initial three releases or so, N'Awlins' GOATWHORE has been aging like a fine wine. The band has been churning out its blackened emanations for two decades now, and with album number seven, "Vengeful Ascension", its released its best work to date. The quartet has unquestionably improved its songwriting over time. There are more hooks, and the music is catchier all around, while continuing to make clear references to early CELTIC FROST and HELLHAMMER without being plagiaristic. But with "Vengeful Ascension", GOATWHORE has synthesized that element of maturity and growth, if you will, with the ominous fracas that drove the band's early work, like 2000's "The Eclipse of Ages into Black" and 2003's "Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun".
GOATWHORE was never a "pure" black metal band. Indeed, the group has been filling its cauldron with black, thrash, death, doom and even a dash of Louisiana sludge for good measure. "Vengeful Ascension" isn't anything new, yet it doesn't feel like more of the same. Simply put, the band has become better, and its music is even more memorable. It's impressive for a band this deep into its career to continue to improve. Erik Rutan certainly did a stellar job with his production of the unit's previous four albums; however, the band chose to work with its live soundman, Jarrett Pritchard, to capture the essence of its live performances. The group has succeeded in meeting that end. The sound of "Vengeful Ascension" seemingly pulls listeners into a venue; to the extent that one can almost picture the commanding presence of charismatic frontman Ben Falgoust wagging his freakishly long E.T. -like fingers at a crowd.
Far from the Bible Belt's portrayal of the Devil as a menacing beast eternally gnawing on souls, Falgoust drives "Vengeful Ascension" lyrically and conceptually by representing Lucifer as an emancipator or guiding light, a source of strength during a state of struggle, alluding to John Milton's classic "Paradise Lost". The direct narrative provides tasty morsels for metal fanatics inclined toward such traditional evil imagery; however, it isn't difficult to make deeper inferences on a subtextual level. Falgoust expounds: "There's that whole idea of Lucifer being the anti-hero. He's cast out from this place in heaven to the depths of nothing. He keeps trying to ascend to the top again but no matter what, there's always this significant force trying to destroy him at any point and banish him back to hell. If you look at it from an everyday aspect in life, it's the idea of people hitting the bottom of the barrel or, you know, things just aren't going right in life. Emotion plays a huge part in how people react. Whether it's based on love or hatred or sadness or whatever, there's always an aspect of emotion that drives people to an extent. So the whole idea of a 'Vengeful Ascension' is built on being at the bottom, working your way to the top, and realizing along the way that there's other facets to the journey aside from just pure retribution. Within negativity, there can exist a positive angle as well."
And the music couldn't suit the sense of struggle, rage, survival and ascension any better. A primal tribal drum beat swells up at the onset of opener "Forsaken" prior to an eruption of high-velocity metallic mayhem ignited by the infectious riff mastery of Sammy Duet, arguably the band's focal point. His work is augmented by the prowess of drummerZack Simmons and the unit's aforementioned frontman. James Harvey continues to play bass on the band's recordings, though Robert "TA" Coleman (WARMASTER, HOD) is the band's touring bassist.
""Vengeful Ascension" is significantly more vitriolic compared to the rest of the group's recent material, but it's not just a blast fest. The title track marches along at a casual pace with shades of haze-inducing, eerie subdued guitars, starkly contrasted with the unyielding, pressing follow-up track "Chaos Arcane". The album's obviously methodical sequencing certainly highlights the material's diversity, as the track following "Chaos Arcane", "Where the Sun Is Silent" shifts back downward to a foreboding doom-like crawl, punctuated with one of the album's several rock ‘n' roll solos. Elsewhere, Duet's hypnotizing main riff in "Drowned in Grim Rebirth" serves as a reminder that the band is capable of making some of the most evil sounding metal out there. "Mankind Will Have No Mercy" nods and winks at BOLT THROWER in addition to boasting a fist-pumping, simplistic riff reminiscent of ACCEPT.
GOATWHORE shows no signs of slowing down and hanging up its blackened hooves. To the contrary, "Vengeful Ascension" proves that the band is firing on all cylinders, standing tall as one of extreme metal's leading bands.