After fifteen years, Goatsnake reappears with Black Age Blues from Southern Lord Recordings like Jeremiah returning full of fire and brimstone. The four piece make judicious use of guest stars, but none of those shots overshadow the devastating groove-drunk stomp achieved by the core unit. Nick Raskulinecz’s decision to not excessively muddy the bottom end at the expense of the guitars and other instruments results in a balanced mix. If this must be deemed a comeback, as it invariably must, Goatsnake’s presentation couldn’t be better.
Contributions from the Soul Vocal Trio are an important factor in making the first song, “Another River to Cross”, a memorable opener. The scat singing, akin to Claire Torry’s turn on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”, has a hallucinatory, anguished edge like some spectral wail in a southern gothic. None of this is poseur nonsense. The spare, but painfully precise, acoustic blues kicking off the song is ripped straight from Mississippi Delta earth. When the full band enters, the riff mushrooms into a steady musical hammer that drags listeners along at a slow crawl. The song title is a little clichéd, but this is a well played, pulverizing opener full of light and shade.
“Coffee and Whiskey” continues the band’s penchant for stripping grooves down to their simplest components. It isn’t for everyone’s taste, but every note is on trial for its life. The band pivots through a series of churning riffs that never overstay their welcome. Anderson’s brief lead guitar flurries betray no suppressed urge for self-serving heroics and, instead, provide effective and necessary color. The title track, “Black Age Blues”, begins as a full-on, over the top musical assault. Pete Stahl’s emotive voice has such woozy urgency that it’s reminiscent of some street corner preacher half mad on corn whiskey and his visions.
“Graves” ranks high as one of the album’s tastiest grooves and highlights a key, but perhaps underrated, aspect of the band’s musical attack. The balanced mix is an important element in their presentation, but an overall aesthetic governs the band that “Graves” illustrates. Nothing is an afterthought with Goatsnake – each part has equal weight and a common direction. The backing vocals only bolster an otherwise strong vocal and help draw further attention to their above average lyrical content.
Goatsnake concludes the album with the blood-soaked Götterdämmerung of “A Killing Blues”. This stark and turgid blues has the feel of a final definitive statement for the band, but like the entire album, there isn’t a moment here that betrays pretension. Stahl’s vocal is one of his best and the dynamics are off-scale. A finer curtain-closer, complete with visions of Stagger Lee and violent redemption, is difficult to imagine.