Typically, the New Orleans heavy metal scene is more famous for the dirty sludge its various members pour out, but like all scenes, at times various participants need to get together and exorcise a much darker set of demons than personal ones. Enter Goatwhore, possibly the blackest metal outfit from the region.
Formed in 1997, the band has grown into a local entity of almost super-group proportions, with its various members also having served in such legendary acts as Crowbar, Soilent Green, Acid Bath, Paralysis, and Ritual Killer. With tons of experience under their belts, Goatwhore already appear to be a worthy proposition no?
Sadly, A Haunting Curse leaves much to be desired. Yes, the band has some of the best NOLA scenesters in its ranks. Yes, frontman Ben Falgoust was confined to a wheelchair after a terrible car accident, and used that buried emotion to churn out a frightening performance as lead vocalist. And yes, the group also recorded Curse in a supposedly haunted studio, the poltergeist contained therein adding immense atmosphere, or at least according to the press release. Oh, and let's not forget Hurricane Katrina, which kind of speaks for itself doesn't it?
So with all the above, why is it that A Haunting Curse is pretty bland as far as blackened death albums go? Though with repeated listens, some minor notes of diversity have manifested themselves, I can't shake the feeling that this album was weakened by all the aforementioned adversity rather than strengthened by it. I just feel like this is music that is well-crafted, but ultimately on the same paths that hundreds of bands could have tread before. It all just leaves a bit to be desired maybe.
"Wear These Scars of Testimony" is a decent opener, but it sounds like it could have been done before. The band switches between bleak tremolo-picking and blastbeats, to more traditional drumming and pummeling death metal riffs. In some of the songs (this one being another great example) the band injects a bit of punk rock into the river of filth, the tar-stained rebellion adding a breath of stank but original air so to speak.
"Bloodletting Upon the Cloven Hoof" has some excellent black metal melodies to it, the ebony sheen of the tremolo chilling you to a bone. Even by now however, it is obvious that skinsman Zack Simmons is certainly talented, but he also has a tendency to lapse into oddly tiring blastbeats with alarming frequency, and vocalist Ben Falgoust also seems to like being mired in his dull roar.
"Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" is actually one of my favorite tracks, its full-bodied mid-tempo riffing tainted by the sludge of NOLA's more traditional fare. Falgoust also stretches into some blantant cries of inhuman aggression, and some whispering screeches, all to much needed change.
"My Eyes are the Spears of Chaos" may have an excellent title, but its twisting blackened thrash sounds like Usurper without any of the soul, and with rote blastbeat changeups in the back.
"In the Narrow Confines of Defilement" is probably my favorite track, its dirty assault never relenting on your harried eardrums, and some frosty, ambient bridges mid-song providing the only legitimate periods of well-crafted atmosphere on the entire album.
"Forever Consumed Oblivion" is so painted-by-numbers, you'll swear this slice of generic blackened death metal was still the last song or something of that nature.
"A Haunting Curse..." has some excellent howls that raise hackles and gooseflesh aplenty, and the sinister vortex of slow black metal it lets Falgoust and his vocals wallow in is decidedly entertaining. When the man lets forth some utterly demonic rasps over chugging mayhem, you can almost see the band existing at the actual point of perfection you'd expect from them as a collective unit.
"Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone" is pure, unhindered necksnapping, great stuff, but the following "Diabolical Submergence of Rebirth" brings little variance to the table is immensely tasteless. "...Of Ashen Slumber" is probably the last good song, its lethargic crawl and moody guitar tones making you think something awesome is going to happen, but wait! This is but a mere interlude before the end of the CD.
Closing track "I Avenge Myself" has plenty of heart, but doesn't really sound much different from the other ten songs you've heard thus far. Shame really, a bit of switching it up could have ended this album with a real bang.
Don't get me wrong, the music here is top-notch and never does it feel like the band is phoning anything in. However, as well-played as the music is, there's just no lack of sameness to the majority of the tracks and you get the feeling that the band is stuck in a groove of repetition in their songwriting. If you like USBM or dirty, filthy thrash/punk/sludge, I'd recommend this as a mixed bag of tracks in that vein and little else. I can't say this is bad, but it isn't good either. I guess I was just expecting more, but Goatwhore simply isn't the sum of its talented, storied parts. Approach with caution.
1. Wear These Scars of Testimony
2. Bloodletting Upon the Cloven Hoof
3. Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult
4. My Eyes are the Spears of Chaos
5. In the Narrow Confines of Defilement
6. Forever Consumed Oblivion
7. A Haunting Curse...
8. Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone
9. Diabolical Submergence of Rebirth
10. ...Of Ashen Slumber
11. I Avenge Myself