Album Review: Goatwhore - "Constricting Rage of the Merciless"

Let’s face reality right off the hump – coming off the success of “Blood for the Master,” it’s all been on the upswing for Goatwhore, a band of that rare breed that still fervently believes metal is best as a DIY, furious experience. For Pete’s sake, their poster (albeit edited,) appeared in a SportsCenter commercial. To quote that network’s Stephen A Smith: That’s. Box. Office (insert however many exclamation points you deem necessary.) Bloviating aside, Goatwhore retreated back into whatever dank cavern they write their compositions in and emerged swirled in black smoke with a new collection of pure nastiness entitled “Constricting Rage of the Merciless.”

Quick sidebar – one of the most appealing aspects of the Goatwhore story, is that they steadfastly cling to the time-honored thrash/death/metal tradition of topping the headers of their songs with totally ridiculous names. It’s difficult to tell how tongue in cheek this is, but no matter the case, any metal fan of a certain age can grin, however sheepishly, at song titles like “Nocturnal Conjuration of the Accursed” and “Externalize This Hidden Savagery.” Goatwhore, if you’re reading this, please don’t ever stop naming songs like this. It’s one of your most endearing qualities. It all has just a small, delectable taste of the Lovecraftian.

Back to the matter at hand – the new record. Really, only two bad things could have happened to Goatwhore. First, they could have lost their peculiar but visible sense of humor (more on this in a minute.) Secondly, they could have overcompensated for their recent success and the pressures of their contemporaries and completely forgotten how to write the rhythmic riffs that have forever been the band’s calling card. Focusing on that, several band members have called this album’s writing process both difficult and cathartic, as pent up frustrations of a grueling album cycle needed to be aired and ultimately exorcised. (“I have problems with you people!”) The end result was arranged by analog recording heads into neat magnetized lines of iron filings on the surface of a two-inch tape reel. It takes real chutzpah to record this way – first of all, you don’t get the benefit of electronic editing unless you re-ingest the entire reel, and even then there’s only so much beyond the superficial that can be done to amalgamated tracks. Second, you ever tried to change a two-inch reel? It’s a pain in the ass. You have to go around the drum, through the heads, around the control arm…trust me, it sucks.

Anyway, Goatwhore’s signature ability to write riffs that transfix the attention of whoever happens to be walking by remains thankfully intact and in glorious repair. While the band still aren’t big fans of the kind of open-space pacing that makes for truly infectious hooks, they make up the difference by finding endlessly repeatable cycles of five or six tones. Where most great riffs capture your ear like vaporous sirens, Goatwhore achieves the same end by simply storming the gate with guttural power until you give in. Secondarily, the band remains forever attached to the history of metal that came before them – there’s an awful lot of Motörhead and Judas Priest wrapped up in the combinations and machinations of “Constricting Rage of the Merciless.” It’s a damn good thing, too, because it serves to separate Goatwhore from the embarrassingly large army of hairy dudes in black who can play fast and scream. “Baring Teeth for Revolt” sounds almost like it could be a cover of a long lost b-side from “Painkiller” and it’s that level of metal authenticity that makes Goatwhore enjoyable even to those who think the depraved depths of underground metal have passed them by.

We see some expansion from the band in these tracks, as the songwriters put their heads together and manage to budge the borders of the band’s musical profile just a little. “Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh” is mostly a black dirge, the kind of doom-laden fugue that Goatwhore has always been equipped to play but largely avoided. Sure, it ends with a titanic riff and some fine guitar work, but the bones of the song represent a new page of the playbook.

Speaking of fine guitar work, there’s plenty of that to go around for this record. “FBS,” which I like to think is about the flawed college football division (and if it isn’t, don’t tell me; I’m having more fun believing the lie,) is seeded with solos and guitar overlays that if they don’t border on harmony, are certainly melodic when juxtaposed against the fiery grit of analog fuzz beneath.

Backtracking a bit, “Blood for the Master” had a certain bizarre, unbelievable humor running through it, and while the band has suggested in press that they’ve deep-sixed that feel for this record, it’s hard to imagine that it has been so completely written off. No matter the intent, the power and grinding simplicity of Goatwhore’s riffs (“Nocturnal Conjuration,” “Reanimated Sacrifice” for a couple examples,) imparts the strong impression that at the very least, these guys enjoy their own music. From frontman Louis Falgoust on down, there’s an endemic pride to these cuts, a certain sinister smile that’s mixed in with the torrents of sound that in the end colors “Constricting Rage of the Merciless” in a positive way. Those looking for it will find that the resultant feeling is one of being in on the joke or story or motivation or whatever it may be.

If metal is, in fact, a largely immature genre that revels in virility and the fact that its emotional development was taken out back and beaten with reeds, then Goatwhore gleefully waves that banner with the pure guts of their effort and that’s a compliment. Even if, like me, you try and mask your metal fanhood in at least the threadbare veneer of good taste, there’s something about Goatwhore that’s so irrepressibly honest that they’re enjoyable. “Constricting Rage of the Merciless” is a fun listen and a worthwhile diversion, even if I’m enjoying it for the wrong reasons, which I’m pretty sure I am.

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