Black Age BluesFeatured review by: UG Team, on june 24, 2015 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Goatsnake is a sort of doom metal supergroup. When the band released its first album in 1999, it featured Pete Stahl (Scream, Earthlings?), Greg Anderson (Sun O))), Burning Witch), Guy Pinhas (Beaver) and Greg Rogers. The band released two albums before becoming inactive. This album is the band's first in fifteen years. Goatsnake managed to keep three fourths of its lineup in the long interval, with the only new member being bassist Scott Renner, who replaces Guy Pinhas. The band also managed to recruit renowned producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice In Chains) for their return.
Immediately, the album strikes me as a direct Black Sabbath offshoot. Imagine "Into the Void" redone in so many versions that it could make up a whole album. The album's title is equally indicative of its sound. It sounds like a doom blues album. Pete Stahl's vocals could be put straight onto a blues album; they are that built for the genre. That being said, the main blues connection of the album is Stahl's voice and occasional harmonica parts; the guitar borrows a blues influence by sounding like Tony Iommi, who is inherently bluesy. The chord progressions and notes themselves sound like traditional doom/sludge metal with a speedy kick in the rear á la "Into the Void" or "Sweet Leaf."
The best songs on the album have killer riffs that are immediately catchy like any normal rock riff. These songs, and especially the ones with an almost swing beat, feel like they would make great live jams. The title track is a perfect example. It has a catchy riff that draws you in and then the swing beat, similar to that of "Fairies Wear Boots," gets your head bopping and then the dynamic changes from slow to fast and back again absorb the rest of your body.
Despite the great vibe, two things are left out. The first is a well-defined bassline. The album is certainly not lacking heaviness (bass frequencies) but there is nothing separate from the guitar parts. If I pay close attention, I can pick out the electric bass, but when I do, I can only hear it doubling the guitar. No doubt this contributes to the guitar's thunderous tone, but a groovy bassline could be cool if placed well however there is no deviation from the norm.
The second (practically) missing piece on this album is guitar solos. I only counted two of them. The sad thing is that they're both ripping solos, especially the one on "Jimi's Gone" (rather fitting). The album, especially since it's trying to work the blues image, should feature more guitar solos. One can only headbang with riffs alone for so long and there appears to be a lot of potential within the songs to place guitar solos. Rarely do I say this, but it's a shame that the guitarist didn't want to show off more.
Other than my two minor criticisms, this is a solid album. Its weighty sound is full of crunch. Nick Raskulinecz stays laid back with his production, which is exactly what the album required. The harmonica and female backup singers add a nice variety. And finally, the drums fulfill their function well without ever demanding center stage. // 7
Lyrics: Pete Stahl's vocals propel this album above the average. To begin with, the high-pitch tone of his voice contrasts nicely with the deep oomph of the guitar. In addition, the smoothness of his voice is another welcome contrast to the guitar, which can get frantic and crackly at times. Stahl's voice never screeches or creaks, but instead remains confident and clear throughout. He also adds a good deal of dynamics to his voice, getting noticeably softer or louder when it is in best taste.
Stahl's lyrics are another nice surprise. While he doesn't focus on any one thing in particular throughout the album, all of the songs have coherent stories or messages that mesh well with the "Black Age Blues" theme and, more importantly, with the emotion that he imparts with his voice. The obvious Jimi Hendrix tribute is a nice touch because it goes with the theme of the album. At the same time it's somewhat unexpected coming from a doom metal band.
Overall, Stahl gives a great performance that sends the album to a level it could not have reached otherwise. // 8
Overall Impression: For a first album in fifteen years, this certainly exceeded my expectations. The doomy, groovy, Iommi-esque riffs are there as is a good dose of hearty blues singing. Of course, this album is certainly not out of this world amazing and the reality is that I probably won't keep more than a song or two in regular rotation. While most of the album is top notch, some of the songs could be cut without much notice. On the other hand, I would be excited to see Goatsnake live (the good songs are mosh worthy) and I definitely would recommend this album to you. The best songs were the title track, "Coffee and Whiskey," and "Elevated Man." // 7