Black Age Blues

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The expectations were impossibly high for Goatsnake's first full-length album in 15 years. Their Roadburn reunion gig in 2010 whet appetites, but it took another half decade for schedules, ambition, and creative drives to gel for Black Age Blues, produced by Nick Raskulinecz. The lineup is vocalist Pete Stahl, guitarist Greg Anderson, and drummer Greg Rogers, with new bassist Scott Renner from Sourvein joining the fold. There is little to no separation between 2000's Flower of Disease and Black Age Blues. Literally. Opener "Another River to Cross" contains the final moments of the earlier album's closer, "The River," before a new, crushing blues-rock riff commences with Stahl's desperate moan riding atop it all, backed by an all-female chorus -- Wendy Moten, Gale Mayes, and Andrea Merritt (aka Dem Preacher's Daughters). Stahl is a more soulful and expressive singer now. His delivery is huskier (not raspier), his range wider, his phrasing more elastic. The collective's musical imagination is rooted more deeply in blues and boogie, but it never forsakes the riff science developed by their influential forebears, though now they go further back, all the way to Free in the early '70s. Check the clash of hard-edged blues and doom-laden heaviness on "Elevated Man," with Stahl's wailing harmonica complementing his dominant voice. The guitar and bass vamp that introduces the title cut is a 21st century answer to the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues." Rogers handles the shuffle with enormous force, while Anderson and Renner grab the front and go! The slow grind that introduces "House of the Moon" gives way to a churning monolithic rocker with gospelized R&B backing vocals by Dem Preacher's Daughters. They pair well with Stahl's voice; they push him -- hard -- toward a new depth of expression. They also add a stoned rhythm & blues vibe on "Jimi's Gone," with a series of stop-and-start riffs and thundering snare and bass drums roiling around Anderson's killer guitar break. Stahl alternates between wailing, groaning, and near whispering. "A Killing Blues" has enough shifting dynamics and detailed sonics to make its seven-plus minutes compelling. "Grandpa Jones" sticks closest to the stoner rock cum doom metal formula, but even here, unexpected vocal exchanges between Stahl and Dem Preacher's Daughters amid changing tonalities in the guitar and bassline in the bridge make it simultaneously grander and uglier. Why fans had to wait 15 years for Black Age Blues is hard to say; things take as long as they take. But this is an exceptional addition to Goatsnake's catalog; it's a doomsday boogie album for the ages.

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