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Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

The trick of any band, as it grows older and grows into its sound, is basically maintaining the same sound while altering just enough so as not to be producing the same album year in and year out. Obviously, there are some exceptions (Opeth on one extreme, Motörhead on the other), but for the most part, any successful metal band will attempt to maintain their ‘sound’ while slowly rendering themselves entirely distinct from what they were when they began. To that end, we find Goatwhore, formed in 1997 and now releasing their sixth full-length. For Goatwhore, the trick has been to remain every bit as brutal and Satanik as their delightfully vulgar name implies while pushing their sound into different realms according to their changing tastes. With their latest record, Constricting Rage of the Merciless, Goatwhore continue undaunted in balancing these two directives, creating an entirely unrelenting result.

At its foundation, Goatwhore’s music is blackened death metal, but here the foursome aren’t afraid to let other influences bubble ominously to the surface. On “Poisonous Existence in Reawakening,” and “Unraveling Paradise,” Ben Falgoust pulls out some seriously deep guttural vocals like we haven’t heard too often on Goatwhore’s prior work. At the beginning of “Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh” (Goatwhore also excels in the art of the Death Metal English song title) Falgoust rides those deep ‘ooooggghs’ for all they’re worth, and the result is heavier than an oil tanker.

Yet the most profound change in the sound is the continually growing influence of ’80s speed metal. 2009 saw the advent of this new approach, as evidenced by the Morbid Tales worship of “Apocalyptic Havoc,” and there were hints of this as early as “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult.” Now, however, the ’80s inspiration is upfront and in your fucking face. If “Baring Teeth For Revolt” was in a major key, it could be the latest track from High Spirits. As it is, major scales are traded for the minor, and the result is one of the most quintessentially metal songs of the goddamn year. It sounds like a goat-headed nekrobiker hell bent for blood sacrifice, like Mötley Crüe shouted at the devil too hard until they found themselves possessed by evil forces beyond their control. “F.B.S. (Fucked by Satan)” takes this a step further, producing a thrashing hellfrenzy that would make Quorthon’s ghost shed a single black tear in pride.

But make no mistake, this isn’t going to be The Eclipse of Aeons Into “The Return…”. This is still Goatwhore, and when you hear it, you realize it couldn’t have gone any other way. There are blasts galore, Zach Simmons proving once again his versatility at slipping from groove to gallop to sprint at the drop of a goat’s skull. Falgoust tears his trachea conjuring images of bloodshed and occultism, and Sammy Duet is, now as ever, spot-on with his guitar assault. Duet’s the quintessential rhythm player: not much flash, but riffs so mathematically tight and crunchy that you could bounce a nickel off them. Don’t think he can’t solo, though: on “Baring Teeth…” and “Heaven’s Crumbling Walls of Pity,” Duet shows that he can shred with the best of them. And goddamn that production is good; somehow Duet has had one of the crunchiest tones in all metal since 2006, and Constricting Rage does not change that one bit.

Perhaps you won’t be won over by this album if you didn’t already have a taste for Goatwhore. They’re not necessarily a crowd-pleaser for a lot of people: too “vulgar” or “old-school” for beardos, too “mainstream” for some IMNs, too “brutal” for casual metal fans. But to Goatwhore’s fans, it’s a fucking solid release and one wild ride down the highway to hell. The day will come, someday very soon, when bands begin to list Goatwhore in earnest as a primary influence. Until then, they will have to content themselves with being entirely iconoclastic and singular, paying homage to the graves of the ’80s while riding forward, wrathfully, into the 2010s.

— Rhys Williams

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