The smoking collapse of decadence burns red once again in… the, eh, laser eyes of Karl Marx (Zeus? Socrates?) as he heaps the scorn upon crumbling castles, battle-torn wastelands and the salted firmament
of late capitalism. The writing is on the wall, the Zardoz-sized head is on the horizon as Leipzig, Germany-based quartet Goat Explosion return for a much anticipated second full-length, bringing a refined and ambitious version of their desert-stoked heavy/doom metal sound to freshly ‘epic’ highs-and-highers herein. ‘Threatening Skies‘ arrives as a proper storm should, with little warning (er, promotion) and plenty of pressure applied to the greater atmosphere it scourges with an ante-up beyond their already mind melting beginnings. Without belaboring any intentional weather-related puns this record is well worth chasing down as the second point of reveal for this increasingly impressive high-point for the greater German doom metal sphere.
Goat Explosion formed back in 2015 between folks who’d cut their teeth in thrash and doom-related bands up ’til that point. The original line-up sustains alongside their general approach to stoner-metallic heavy/doom metal, insight which has remained consistently on the incline beyond their already well-formed ‘Siesta Infernal‘ demo tape back in 2016. Though that first tape was a sleepy downer it’d had a certain personality, birthed memorable enough and well-recorded that it’d bode well for the quartet’s underrated debut full-length (‘Rumors of Man‘, 2018). When I’d written about that album as I’d rounded up the more overlooked records of that year I’d remarked: “Goat Explosion have two very major defining traits in both a believable but fairly understated vocalist and truly inspired heavy metal arrangements featuring riffs that verge on narrative values, as well as fitting lead work that builds on an ‘epic heavy metal’ style of riffing…” Which provides overflowing context as to why expectations were high on my part in approach of ‘Threatening Skies‘. Both characterizing traits of their sound have been expanded in considerable ways on this second record and to the point that the full listen becomes a beaming bliss-out for my own taste, even more of all the things that’d impressed me several years ago.
The sky parted and he spoke… “Seize the means of production.” — With ‘Rumors of Man‘ Goat Explosion had entered the fray much in the way that Magic Circle had, a profound and idealized sound which was inspired per the material and its clangorous render. It’d been more than enough of a bustling, screaming loud record to not only catch my ear but hold it for countless listens yet both groups opted for a more dynamic sound design and varied pacing the second time around. In the case of ‘Threatening Skies‘ the adventure is on, the narrative has already sparked with the first riff, and the trotting hooves of heavy metal intend to take us places for at least the first forty minutes. Beyond the couple of main riffs which drive opener “Thundertower” into view the first thing returning fans may notice is that not only are we getting a bit more belting volume from vocalist/guitarist Bastian Mokosch but a clear sense that he is pushing for a performance that is bigger, expressive to the point that the years in between have clearly served the band well in deepening their signature. Likewise the placement of the rhythm section in the mix still gives the guitars the power over the realm but they’ve managed a percussive bass tone enough that a live-feeling traditional heavy metal timbre defines the experience right away.
“Dawn of the Red” is the crestfallen soldier’s soul leaking out it’s armor up front, a bluesy stoner-slung anthemic piece which rides its impressive kicking groove for the duration of the piece, lending more than enough momentum to push the listener into the next two songs. This is the one, the song that gives me pause every listen without fail and cues me to turn my head towards the stereo and give a knowing nod. Otherwise the “meat”, the greater machine unveiled, the fracas to light the mind most consistently can be found within the two songs that follow. “The Slumbering Judgement” b/w “Sinking Shift” are the epic bulge in the middle of the album which total a full ~27 minute ride. Of course fans of Solstice‘s epic station and the doomed charge of earlier Grand Magus will be foaming at ears for these pieces and their steeling action, since we find the band hitting upon their most heavy metal-charged thread thus far for the hourlong duration of ‘Threatening Skies‘ and the argument for this arrives within these heaping longer-form pieces. If you’re not already sold on the album after sitting through each, I can’t relate. These folks have found a perfect point where the soulful “stoner” edge of doom might emphasize their traditional heavy metal charges and mid-paced doom ride, at least for my own taste.
Goat Explosion have been kind enough to provide the comedown of “Soil”, an instrumental respite, which allows for this sublime reflection and reaction to the empowering venture of the first two thirds of this three-sided double LP before we cut into Side C. This’ll have to be the rare case where a stoner-adjacent psychedelic doom/heavy metal type of record can happily hit the hour mark with a bit of spacing in between, it only adds to the ‘epic’ qualities of listening experience in this case even if not at all necessary. In fact I’d not found “Reasons and Time” or “Utopian Rifts” at all necessary per my enjoyment of the full listen, leaving a good ten or so minutes of the running order where nothing sticks quite as well as the first five pieces nor the album closer “Storm of Sorrows” which is arguably one of the best pieces on the album; Because of this strong ending the whole of the experience made a quick and lasting first impression upon me and I’d been ready to praise it even more to high hell than I have… ’til I began to identify a certain ride (?) hit which refracted off of the room noise (I assume) and kept rattling like a chain on certain songs. Not a big gripe but a small detail which pulled me out of it a few times along the way and might eventually lower the score over time as I return to the album throughout the year. Even with a few nitpicks and some impatience on my part ‘Threatening Skies’ has already proven to be one of the more engaging and memorable doom metal releases of the year for my own taste. A high recommendation.
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