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Goatsnake - Trampled Under Hoof

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Artist: Goatsnake

Album: Trampled Under Hoof

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Jan. 24, 2005

Metal – if it wasn’t already – is now blatantly self-reflective. Intent, whether mildly tongue-and-cheek, or darkly confrontational, has found itself a casualty in the mix-and-matching of genre and performer. References – and there are plenty of them – are nearly omni-directional. Appropriately, there is some difficulty in deciding where to begin: Goatsnake’s lineup alone is the pinnacle of sonic gravitas, with ex/current members of Sunn O))) (guitarist Greg Anderson), The Obsessed (bassist Scott Reeder), and D.C. hardcore outfit Scream (vocalist Pete Stahl) larding the pot. Yet, it’s not always the case that typology is derived by its ingredients; one need look only to the Lotus Eaters (a trio comprised of the omnipresent Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) and Khanate, James Plotkin and Aaron Turner of Isis) to shun any preconceived notion. The Lotus Eaters, while boasting the heart of metal’s order, make a decidedly fragile, and minimalistic music with nary a fuzz pedal in sight. And dealing with Goatsnake is analogous, if only for the fact that while they may proceed in a predictable fashion, referential – and humorous – detours are taken along the way.

Of course, this is entirely self-evident: “Junior’s Jam” opens with the harmonic smears of Sabbath’s “The Wizard;” the opening riff of “Portraits of Pain” brings doom masters Candlemass, Saint Vitus, and Cathedral to mind, and the title of the EP itself – Trampled Under Hoof – is a transliteration of post-Led Zepp onanism tempered with the fight-not-fuck mindset of early greats Hellhammer, Motorhead, and Venom. Two bonus tracks, the Saint Vitus cover “Burial at Sea” and “Hot Rod,” a Black Oak Arkansas cover (replete with “spoken word” intro) engage some of the best – and worst – of Goatsnake’s tendencies. Yet, it must be noted that the members of Goatsnake aren’t covered in corpse paint and engaging self-mutilation; there’s no overbearing ideology or cache of underground websites to promote the band – and for good reason.

Anderson & Co. eschew the ominous, choosing to trounce territory not unfamiliar – the aforementioned Sabbath, Australia’s Buffalo, and even Budgie are all invoked, made manifest, and brandished. And while this may sound tedious to some, it’s anything but: Goatsnake – for all their ostensible metal hero-worship – manage easily to achieve originality. Whether it’s Anderson’s incessantly churning guitar work, Stahl’s near Ian Astbury stunt-doubled vocals (not a bad thing), or Reeder’s swamp draining bass, it’s part and parcel to metal’s unspoken bona fides.

Volume and attitude aren’t just tropes. When this group is engaged and pushed, technically inferior bands make good. Tom Warrior (Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) knew this, as did members of Saint Vitus, or even punk rock’s Flipper. But Goatsnake – especially Anderson – knows what it’s doing. For the uninitiated, it may not seem as potent as it truly is – but give it time. The best “doom metal,” even if it chooses to not wax funerary, knows something about the psycho-physiological effect achieved from stretching the minutes from end-to-end. And even if it’s hinted at with only bent notes and snarling feedback, this music makes its mark.

By Stewart Voegtlin

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