Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Album Review: Year Of The Goat - The Unspeakable

A lot of bands have been learning the lesson recently that if they want to sound evil, the way to do that is not to go into the furthest extremities of black and death metal, but rather to embrace the more sinister forms of hard rock and heavy metal that initiated the creation of those genres. Using bands like Mercyful Fate as a guide, as opposed to Cannibal Corpse, these new bands have managed to bring back the off-putting sound that turned the normal music that was popular into something with more darkness and edge.

Year Of The Goat brings us an adventurous take on this sound, with ample doses of both traditional metal and doom metal, wrapped up in a package that also includes some hints of proto-prog. The opening "All He Has Read" shows all of these elements off, as the band stretches out their sound over nearly thirteen minutes, giving the song more than enough time to establish its tone and tenor. There's a soft wash of building noise before the first riffs come in, and when they do, it's not with the usual over-driven ferocity. The guitars are raw in the vintage style, and continue on until we've reached four minutes of playing time. A nimble-fingered riff brings us into the main thrust, as the tone switches just a bit, finding a beautiful balance.

What makes this all work so well is that it's not just a song that is able to sound like the soundtrack to an old horror movie. No, there is an actual song in there, with a delightfully airy chorus of ethereal backing vocals, and a swelling feeling that fits the epic length of the track. It's a killer opening.

"Pillars Of The South" takes a different tact, with a jangly, riff that for some reason reminds me of surf music, and a chorus that recalls classic Blue Oyster Cult (those backing vocals are used beautifully). It is also something that immediately strikes me as being a far better interpretation of what Ghost has been trying to do than their second album was. It's solid, catchy rock that sounds far more evil than it really is.

"The Emma" is a deeply sinister waltz, exactly the kind of song you would expect zombies to slow dance to at a wedding.... you know, if zombies were really a thing. And on cue, the band completely shifts gears with "Vermin", which is a peppy, energetic track that has an irresistibly catchy chorus that shows just how much Year Of The Goat is twisting traditional hard rock into something more interesting, as opposed to starting off from an impenetrable block of metallic noise. It is seriously one of the best tracks so far this year.

Without getting into a track by track review, the level of quality Year Of The Goat is delivering never drops, as the album presents track after track that is beautifully melodic while still sounding like the bar band that should be playing in Hell. That's a compliment, in case you couldn't tell. From the opening chords, all the way through the sweeping grandeur of "Riders Of Vultures", every song here is infectious. I've been listening to this daily since my first spin, it's that hard to shake.

Almost all of the bands that ply in either aspects of this sound are either unwilling or unable to write songs that balance the dark image with melodies that will make people remember the tracks and want to listen to them over and over again. The fact that Ghost was able to write two or three of those on each of their two albums has made them the biggest name in this occult-style dirty rock, but I don't hesitate for a second to say that "The Unspeakable" blows them out of the water. Over the course of these nine tracks, Year Of The Goat establishes themselves as a band to be reckoned with, because this is an album that works on more than one level. It sounds gloriously old, it's a fresh spin on hard rock, and it's just a great record to throw on and rock out to.

This has been a great year for music, and there have been some albums that are right in my wheelhouse that have bowled me over and are locks for top spots on my year-end list. But for something that comes out of left field, Year Of The Goat has achieved something monumental here, they're going to give those records a run for their money, and "The Unspeakable" is anything but what it's title suggests. Go out and listen to this record right now, because it is flat-out one of the best records of the year, and a sure-fire contender for album of the year.

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