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Goatwhore gained some well-deserved recognition in 2003 with their breakthrough sophomore album, A Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun. Not only did it prove to people that indeed the US is perfectly capable of making fierce black metal that transcends the bedroom and basement projects, but showed the band's undaunted allegiance to their NOLA roots. There haven't been many bands combine black metal with sludge, let alone do it successfully. A Haunting Curse shows a more focused and vicious Goatwhore, upping the ante on every aspect of their sound.
A Haunting Curse is noticeably more aggressive and heavier than its predecessor. While previous works had more of subdued but haunting and atmospheric edge, there are no frills with A Haunting Curse. Dissonant tremolo riffs make their appearance more than you would expect here, the tempos in the band's compositions are much faster, and the merciless methods of songwriting bring everything to life on this release. Generally speaking, this album is on the more ugly, anti-melodic end of the spectrum; something which I'm perfectly happy with. Most of the songs never touch the five-minute mark, so it's a totally distilled and pure attack without remorse. Really, I can only think of one way to describe it; the last album was more ominus but vague in its approach. This album is a totally seperate extreme, however. Intense moments of evil, charging riffs are interplayed with slug-paced, menacing doom riffs, such as the excellent "In the Narrow Confines of Defilement." There is also a healthy degree of technicality here in the drum department, but plenty of room is left for the primitive, old-school charm of "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult." Some listeners will be surprised at the sheer ferocity in the songs, especially rippers like "Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone." Songs such as these show the high degree of musicality and skill in the band that hasn't been as clear before, and this helps out the album as a whole.
Sammy Duet really comes into his own as a composer on this release. Regardless of the fact that the whole album is a sensual assault, there's a great deal of variety in the riffs. There are plenty of power-chord driven passages that will get heads banging on the few opening songs, as well as the hazy, high-speed tremolo frenzies that are essential to this genre. Beyond that, there are some great palm-muted thrash riffs, tricky transitions, and eerie, massive sludge sections that sound like Celtic Frost on acid. His twisting but ambitious song structures help to ensure a mindfuck of a listening session, while never going into the ever-familiar realm of rehashing ideas or becoming boring.
As a vocalist, Ben has stepped his game up a lot. He still offers up the throaty, raw screams that he's famed for; but this time around, he possesses a considerable amount of polish and consistency in his voice. Things were a bit sketchy on the band's last album, but you know who's boss this time around. The vocal arrangements are an independent entity of the music, without straying too far from where they need to be. Also, the cryptic, occult-laden lyrics have only delved deeper into the depths of darkness, and fortunately for us, Ben makes it easy to understand and follow the lyrics. Ben occasionally layers his vocals with Sam and the bassist for a hellish, intimidating wall of noise on the title track.
Zack's entrance as drummer is a grand one. All of his work is more death-metal oriented, and his double bass chops are incredible. He makes a wise use of blastbeats, which helps out the more chaotic essence of the music in a massive way. There are some moments where it seems to be overkill, but most material of this sort is an acquired taste.I highly welcome Zack to the fold of Goatwhore, because he bares his fangs with no remorse, and proves that he can take the band's sound to a new extreme.
The production A Haunting Curse is fucking incredible. Unlike some of the obscure mud of the previous album, the guitars are clear, but maintain a general ambient thickness. The drums are a hell of a production job on their own; the bass drum punches like a brick, the snare cuts with some healthy overtones, and each cymbal hit is articulate and crisp. As everything comes together, it doesn't take away the balls from the music, and only makes the listen that much more vicious.
But, there's one problem; like many of the furious, rampaging albums in this genre, it's a definite acquired taste to handle this kind of brutality in one listening. The length of the album does help things out, but for first-time listeners, things will start to blur by about the sixth track.
Favorite tracks: All tracks 1-5, "Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone."