Blackened thrash works as a genre for the same reason Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups work as a candy. It’s two great things you wouldn’t think to put together, but one day someone did it and the world was all the better for it. But while most of the genre’s biggest players succeed by blending their two influences (you got your Overkill in my Mayhem!, etc.), Goatwhore seem to be less a blackened thrash band then a black and thrash band on their new album, Blood for the Master. There’s black, and there’s thrash, but the two are almost discrete from one another, creating an unusual dynamic at work.
The first couple of tracks, “Collapse In Eternal Worth” and “When Steel And Bone Meet”, come out swinging, as any respectable thrash record would, and these are thrash through and through. Vocalist Ben Falgoust delivers a voice like gravel and broken glass not unheard of from bands like Testament and Slayer, managing to ride a line between the traditional punk- and thrash-style vocals and out-and-out harsh, extreme metal delivery. The guitar chunks along satisfyingly, tight yet murky and full of grimy goodness. The guitar tone is maybe the best thing this album has going for it-it perfectly exemplifies the Goatwhore vibe, disgusting and dark.
If the opening songs bring out the thrash side of the band, the black side truly rears its head on the fourth song, “In Deathless Tradition”. Full of booming, minor chords, Falgoust brings out his raspy high voice in an impressively nasty-sounding pairing. The evil-sounding guitar leads make this one of the album’s standout tracks. The blackedness continues with the blast beat-fueled “Judgement Of The Bleeding Crown”, which, while impressively nasty, brings out one of the problems I have with the album-the drum sound. The drums are mostly mixed towards the back in favor of the guitars, and there’s certainly the feeling that these songs could feel even more powerful with a clearer kick drum and a more piercing, confident snare. As it is, Falgoust and guitarist Sammy Duet basically carry this album, and while they perform admirably, it’s easy to imagine how awesome this could have been had the rhythm section gone a little harder.
“Embodiment Of This Bitter Chaos” is probably my favorite song on the album. Beginning with a slightly Schuldiner-esque shredfest over an acoustic progression, it encapsulates the wicked vibe of the record concisely before breaking into more thrashy goodness. I have to say, though, I feel like Goatwhore are at their strongest when they embrace the black metal aspect of their sound. “Beyond The Spell Of Discontent” is unabashedly Norwegian, and it’s one of the scariest songs on the record as a result. Since the latter half of the record is stacked high with songs of this style, the record takes a while to kick in for me, but when it does, it’s nothing but gravy.
Goatwhore haven’t taken their sound to the next level, but Blood for the Master is a competent, solid effort. There’s no “Apocalyptic Havoc”-style instant classic, but the blackest parts of the record are as good as anything they ever wrote. A shift in focus could help these guys produce something really amazing down the line, but until then, consider this another step in the Goatwhore ascendancy.