Just the other day, when reviewing the new Dying Fetus album, I remarked that a little change goes a long way. Case in point: Vengenful Ascension, the seventh full-length from Nawlins’ Goatwhore. Working with producer Jarrett Pritchard, Goatwhore’s approach to metal hasn’t altered drastically — don’t worry, this ain’t no Cold Lake — but the ways in which they have allowed themselves to evolve make all the difference in the world. Vengeful Ascension is Goatwhore’s most vital album since 2006’s A Haunting Curse, which is saying something, because it’s not as though the three albums they’ve released since then were duds.
So what are those changes Goatwhore has made? You’ll notice them the moment the record begins: up until now, for example, no Goatwhore album has ever had any variety of the moody intros metal bands so love; Goatwhore releases grab you by the throat the moment they begin and do not let go, ever. But “Forsaken,” the opening track on Vengeful Ascension, commences gradually-rising tribal drums, alerting the listener that something… is… coming. The building of tension is brief — twelve seconds — but it pays off in a big way.
This small-but-significant deviation from the usual Goatwhore formula also speaks to the general theme of what differentiates Vengeful Ascension from past Goatwhore offerings: it’s a more measured attack than fans are used to. Most Goatwhore albums simultaneously brutalize and wear down the listener; they haven’t depended on traditional song structures or finesse, but, rather, on hypnotically-repetitive, unrelentingly vicious music. Vengeful Ascension is still wicked as fuck, never lacking in Hannemantastic guitar solos, and guaranteed to frighten your grandmother directly into her grave. But it’s also got peaks and valley and differing flavors, from the ghostly atmospherics and galloping riffs of the title track to the traditional black metal of “Abandon Indoctrination” to over-caffeinated speed metal of “Mankind Will Have No Mercy” to the groove-thrash of “Decayed Omen Reborn” to the pure fucking insanity that is the record’s closer, “Those Who Denied God’s Will.” These are the most traditional songs the band has written to date, but that’s not a bad thing — on the contrary. One might almost be surprised as well hooks fit the Goatwhore sound.
(Incidentally, four of the five examples I just named come from the end of album, which is also worth calling attention to: unlike so many other extreme music releases, Vengeful Ascension is not front-loaded with its best material.)
If you love Goatwhore, I think you’re gonna be pleasantly surprised by just how good Vengeful Ascension is. If you’ve always found Goatwhore’s music too challenging in the past, I recommend you give Vengeful Ascension a listen, ’cause it may win you over. The album is something of a white buffalo: a step away from tradition too dramatic to be ignored, yet not radical enough to alienate the band’s core base. It’s a pure pleasure to listen to, and it makes me excited to hear what comes next.
Correction, 6/23/17, 6:33 p.m.: An earlier version of this review credited Erik Rutan with this album’s production. Our sincerest apologies for the error.