With a cover reminiscent of something out of Hellboy, Goatess’ self-titled debut certainly stands out. Titled The Birth Of Pan it features what looks like an unborn faun in the womb; strangely beautiful and pretty hard to ignore. What lurks within is similarly tough to forget.
Stockholm’s Goatess set their stall out splitting their efforts between throwing out weighty Sabbathian doom and gloom, driving, sludge-packed rock and exploding, cosmic psychedelia that threatens true enlightenment. If you recognise the hauntingly melancholic, resonant vocal and are thinking it might be Ozzy Osbourne himself (“I never say die-e-e!”), you’d be understandably mistaken. It belongs to none other than cult vocalist Chritus Linderson (Lord Vicar, ex-Count Raven, ex-Saint Vitus). Originally named Weekend Beast, the band was born of Chritus and guitarist Niklas’ desire to play less-structured doom metal; something with atmosphere centred around their worship of the heavy riff.
Opener “Know Your Animal” turns out to be an excellent diversion from their stock material, coming through a lot cleaner and feistier than it’s mucky brethren. The overdrive does kick in for the chorus, but compared to the blues-soaked stomp of “Alpha Omega” it’s full of positivity and life. From here its a slow descent into the sludge pit where the Sleep-esque rotational, trance-inducing single-chord plod rules all. The 10-minute “King One” is the finest of these dissonant soul-suckers, finding numerous ways to re-ignite the joys in mastering the lengthy one-riff song. If the ear-to-ear phase doesn’t do it for you, it could be the game-changing dropout, the tweaks toward Soundgarden-like grunge, the trilling top-end or the heavy use of the drum fill, but most likely it’ll be the sum of those parts. Basically it’s got all the things that “Ripe” and “Oracle, Part 2” haven’t.
Inside this network of repetitive bludgeoning, there lies the axis point of the album. It lurks in the middle of the startlingly experimental “Full Moon At Noon”. The dominant, forceful riffing and sudden crisp, loud breaks suddenly give way and the track collapses into swathes of mind-expanding experimentalism. It continues on through “Oracle, Part 1” and the incredible “Tentacles Of Zen”. This 12-minute denouement features eye-opening sound clips from a scene from the 1976 BBC dramatisation of I, Claudius where Mnester (Nicholas Amer) theatrically suggests that Messalina (Sheila White) take part in a tournament of sex. His lascivious imagining of “copulation on a cosmic scale” provides the perfect introduction for the mesmeric sonic orgy that follows – be sure to have your bong at the ready for the magnificent section of tribal drums and ethnic strings.
Goatess’ constant shape-shifting, some might say unbalanced, sound is a feature that crops up quite a lot. Whether it is an effect they wanted during recording or is merely an unintentional post-production anomaly is unclear, but it certainly adds to the overall disorientating effect. Svart Records are building up quite a special roster of bands right now and these mind-bending Swedes have slotted in like a charm.
(7.5/10 John Skibeat)