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Before stumbling upon a couple of their albums in a large used CD purchase, I mostly knew Goatwhore as 'that band that everyone has a shirt from'. I have no clue why, but apparently Goatwhore is the most popular band in the central Florida area if we're going by the level of t-shirt saturation. I never actually hear anyone TALK about the band, but they sure as hell sell a lot of shirts. But then I finally wound up with this and the following full-length, and I have to say the emperor actually has some clothes after all. It's nothing amazing, but it's certainly a cut above your average death/black stuff.
There's something that sets Goatwhore apart from other bands of the same general mold. It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is. The band's music has a particularly depraved, sadistic aura about it, like the blasphemy and evil they talk about really is a way of life more than a gimmick. This is aided by the fact that the band does more than just mix black and death metal and expect that it's going to amaze everyone (see Belphegor). It's clearly music made by people who have their own influences to bring to the table instead of simply repeating BLACK DEATH METAL in frantic voices to each other while rehearsing. Those influences are subtle: a pinch of sludgy southern influence (fitting, given their location), a little bit of punk and oldschool hardcore, and a wide variety of styles as far as song structures and ideas go. The riffing, production, and other root elements are all solid, but it's really the way the band structures everything that makes this so good.
The stuff here almost hearkens back to an earlier time in metal where the 'rules' of genres weren't so concrete and harshly defined. The guys in Goatwhore are willing to throw in elements because they work with the songs, and they walk the tightrope between sticking to the genre too closely and incorporating outside influences for novelty value without ever falling. Does the song need a d-beat there? Sure, put it in! Does it need some clean vocals in this spot? Sure, and it doesn't matter that we don't use them anywhere else because it SOUNDS GOOD HERE. They don't stray too far, but they don't huddle at genre lines like scared children. It's a great quality that many more bands should aspire towards.
As for the music itself, it's pretty great. The production is very strong, with a warm ambiance yet surprising clarity- perhaps a bit too much in the drum department, which is extremely snappy and tight compared to the more buzzing guitar tone. The riffing on this album is both varied and memorable, with a very unique spin on traditional black metal tremolo riffing, and the vocals (very reminiscent of those used in Insidious Omen's work) are a spitting, venomous screech that fit the music extremely well. Some songs are less than two minutes long, and some are more than six. Why? Because the SONGS DEMANDED IT. Goatwhore's a band that doesn't overthink itself at all and the results show a confident, strong artistic endeavor.
Goatwhore's quite a quality band I learned, so maybe there's a reason why everyone has a shirt of theirs. By taking metal a step back they've really brought the genre two steps forward by being less self-conscious and composing songs in a purely musical fashion. This is a very good black/death album and I recommend it to most who enjoy modern extreme metal; I can't really find much at all wrong with it.