Goatsnake - _Flower of Disease_
(Rise Above, 2009)
by: Alexandra Erickson (8 out of 10)
While America's swampy southeastern region, musically, is most notably home to the poor boy blues and an ever burgeoning hip-hop scene, for metal fans the climate here is personified by thick sludgy doom. New Orleans is a mecca for devotees of the down tuned, slow paced, smoke and whiskey stained music. The music reflects the environment -- slow moving because it's entirely too hot and humid to do anything but, and with depressive lyrics because of the economic standing of the region, lyrics that are Mississippi delta blues at their core. There is only one problem here: some of the best sludge comes from California. Birthed from the likes of Sunn O))), Thorr's Hammer and Burning Witch, Goatsnake summon the swamp without so much as a hint of west coast attitude.

Groovy from the first chords to the closing hum, the guitars are the essence of _Flower of Disease_ (originally released in 2000). Run through enough effect to get the bluesy whine without being so distorted to lose their tone, and running the gambit from work that would make BB and T-Bone proud with the finger work and finesse displayed to single chord strumming at a snails pace to keep a simple heartbeat... the strings keep this record aloft. Lest we forget how pivotal the bass is, the rattle and reverb off it punches you square in the gut with the ambiance of this album. You don't have a choice but to tap your foot to the inanely catchy rhythm. The pipes on vocalist Pete Stahl are unorthodox in their pitch, a midrange voice but with the emotion, the heart to deliver the goods. I don't know where a guy from California got this much soul but it fits. From gritty, agonized lower-pitched howls to wails at the top of his range akin to early '90s grunge (think Alice in Chains), always with enough vibrato to envision his fists clenched around a bottle of cheap beer and his lip curled into a snarl on stage. Thrown in for good measure, an homage to their very obvious roots, a harmonica is used on a few tracks. If we didn't know it beforehand, we do now – this album is a reinvention, a melting pot of music styles. While all rock & roll (and subsequently metal) is simply a branch off of the blues tree, no matter how far removed we can claim it is, this album in particular brings a chunk of history back to the forefront.

I don't know whether these guys, and all of the west coast doom scene, grew up on the blues or fell in love with it as they discovered it, its of no consequence really. As a native daughter I'd love to be able to claim my neighbors as the vanguards and torch-bearers of this genre, I have to give credit where credit is due. Eyehategod, Crowbar and Acid Bath are all giants – but Goatsnake give them a run for their money. Flower of Disease is one of the best sludge-tinged doom albums available, no question.

Contact: http://www.southernlord.com/band_GSK.php

(article published 14/2/2010)

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