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Goatreign is the project of Mike Hickey, a musician who's been kicking around the metal scene for a number of years now, having played in such legendary endeavors as Venom, Cathedral, Cronos, and Carcass, despite still being rather unknown himself. Well, Hickey has decided to strike out on his own with his solo project, enlisting the aid of drummer Shawn Progen to even out the musical equation. The music of Goatreign is a groovy, rock and blues influenced form of traditional heavy metal, with the occasional modern touch in the form of Black Label Society or other such artists. A hint of Sabbathy doom is present as well, laced with the guitar work of both that band and Ozzy Osbourne, resulting in music both oldschool and modern, and certainly capable of getting attention in today's metal scene.
This is a guitarist's album, but is fortunately devoid of any masturbatory cock-rock theatrics. That being said, it's not without its love of dramatic flair: the burst of solos over sludgy riffs is clearly the centerpiece of the music here, leads which bring to mind equal parts Suffocation theatrics and Aarni psychedelic stoom swirls. The riffs themselves: thick and round, with a heavy bass presence, and a general simplicity, with rhythm guitar employed as just that: a rhythm instrument. Backed up by effectively perfect drum performance, which never fails to find the appropriate beat for the circumstance, the instrumental capabilities on this album are second to none, with both a wonderful precision in playing as well as a certain looseness befitting of the style. The fairly clean vocals of Hickey himself are effectively employed, but probably the least important part of the album: I think this could be instrumental without too much trouble, and all the emphasis of the music really is drawn away from the vocals and towards the interplay of guitar and drums.
The title of best track is a split between opener 'Hell In A Handbasket' and 'Empty Hollow Dripping'. The former track is packed with Black Label Society-derived riffs, thick and traditional, and boasts possibly the best melodic lead work on the album, and indeed, perhaps some of the best I've heard. As one that doesn't generally enjoy traditional metal and rock solos a great deal, this is certainly an aspect of note. The latter track has a stretch of Downlike sludge balanced by segments of speed and aggression, without ever losing coherency of the song as a whole. After the 'real' songs (the first six tracks) are over, the listener gets a set of demo tracks, which, while not strictly necessary, are an enjoyable extra. The most amusing by far is 'Tool Town Grinder', Hickey's seemingly tongue-in-cheek tribute to his time in Carcass. Good to see that a sense of humor is maintained.
Goatreign's debut album is a great piece of traditional heavy metal for all fans of the style. With a definite core of powerful songwriting and riffing, the band has started their career with a bang worthy of many older artistic collectives. Very good, and certainly worth a look.