Album Review: Goatsnake – “Black Age Blues”

There’s a sea full of bands that play heavy, riff-laden jams that bleed into the metal category labeled as either “doom” or “stoner.” Goatsnake is no different, but they were one of the first bands to attack their listeners with classic rock inspired riffage. On Black Age Blues they finally treat the metal world to that long awaited full length, something they haven’t done in fifteen years (albeit with a brief hiatus snuck in there).

Goatsnake isn’t playing around when they include the word “blues” in the title. The riffs are heavily rooted in delta blues style and song structure. Under their glossy sheen, the vocals are anchored by a nearly-hidden bluesy twang. The heaviest riffage comes during the second song, “Elevated Man.” Fuzzed out almost beyond recognition, the thick guitar tone simply dominates, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

The lyrics are also classic rock inspired: simple and trite in their content. Enlisting Dem Preacher’s Daughters to sing on the album—including star appearances on “Jimi’s Gone,” and “House of the Moon” and “Grandpa Jones”—lends the album a very Southern Baptist church-like feel. When they join with the harmonica on “Jimi’s Gone,” Black Age Blues is at its best. It’s an homage to the rock and roll of the late ’60s and early ’70s that grew out of an appreciation for delta blues of the early 1900s.

It’s hard to get past the stale and repetitive lyrical stylings, though. Pete Stahl boasts one heck of a singing voice, but the execution’s a bit lacking. It almost sounds like Queens of the Stone Age meets The Staples Sisters, backed by Lightning Hopkins. “Coffee & whiskey ’til the cows are coming home” is a difficult concept to write a song about—especially when the vocalist is doing his best Axl Rose impression at times. It’s tough. But the elements of great rock are still there.

If I haven’t mentioned it, this album is Heavy with a capital “H.” Greg Anderson’s thick, unyielding guitars easily match the intensity of his work in Sunn O))). There’s also a nice acoustic guitar guest spot from Slint’s David Pajo, and the mastering was handled by funk, R&B and rap legend Brian “Big Bass” Gardner. All of this is to say: Black Age Blues does not lack for star performers, stellar guest spots and heavy hitters on the production end. That’s probably why the album has been billed as an instant classic.

But the album suffers a fate all too common when so many heavy hitters are at the helm: it’s overdone, and almost nauseatingly so. The album is cluttered with recycled themes, overly familiar lyrical stylings and an excess of excellent musicianship. People will be very, very divided on this album. But listen for yourself, make up your own mind and let us know what you think.

-Manny-O-War


Black Age Blues will be available June 2, 2015 on Southern Lord Records. For more information on Goatsnake, visit the band’s label profile.

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