The next time you’re tripping on acid and riding a stolen Harley through the Mojave Desert, you should listen to Goatsnake. Formed in 1996, the L.A. doom lords broke up in 2001 and briefly reunited in ’04 to release the Trampled Under Hoof EP. Throughout 2010 and ’11, Goatsnake played a few festivals, but Black Age Blues marks the official end of the band’s 11-year hiatus.
Goatsnake’s other two LPs, Goatsnake Vol. 1 and Flower Of Disease, are goddamn perfect. Greg Anderson’s syrupy riffs, Pete Stahl’s soothingly nihilistic vocals, and Greg Rogers’ sledgehammer rhythms have all been ripped off by countless bands. Black Age Blues, which features new bassist Scott Renner alongside these three original members, doesn’t quite live up to the band’s previous albums. Still, it’s an undeniable reminder that Goatsnake is doom royalty.
The opener, “Another River To Cross,” begins with distant piano and vocals, courtesy of Mathias Schneeberger and Petra Haden. This ether fades into a honky-ass acoustic guitar line that sounds like something from the Deliverance soundtrack. All of this happens in the space of a minute and a half, at which point Greg Anderson leads Goatsnake into a Robitussin groove. Anderson explores amplification in more harsh and intellectual ways in Sunn O))), but he also knows how to write riffs that are both catchy and heavy as fuck.
One of the few downfalls of Black Age Blues is that there’s some fat that could’ve been trimmed. “Elevated Man,” the second track on the album, is a high-energy jam that feels like Goatsnake channeling Guns N’ Roses until it breaks down into filthy swing. While this song nicely counters the slow churn of the first track, the next two, “Black Age Blues” and “Coffee And Whiskey,” continue with the uptempo boogie and start to feel repetitive, ultimately taking steam from the album.
But “House Of The Moon” follows these two songs with molasses-soaked riffs and knuckle-dragging drumming that will make listeners headbang. It’s also the first of five tracks on Black Age Blues to feature backing vocals by the soul trio Dem Preacher’s Daughters. The Daughters’ gospel harmonies amplify Stahl’s haunting vocals and, by contrast, make the riffs they accompany feel like small miracles of nastiness.
“A Killing Blues” provides a fitting endcap to the album. The song begins as a cruel dirge and eventually devolves into squealing feedback. Amid this squall, Dem Preacher’s Daughters harmonize as Stahl repeatedly croons, “Lightning / Thunder / Wash my soul to the ground.” Everything aside from Stahl’s vocals drops out, briefly returning the listener to the mud from which the album arises before the band launches into one last groove.
While a few songs on Black Age Blues could’ve been cut, it’s still a Goatsnake album, which is to say that it’s badass. Eyehategod and Floor both came out swinging last year after long hiatuses, so it’s good to see Goatsnake return with similar verve.