Nominally part of the stoner rock scene that was hobbling slowly down Diminishing Returns Avenue on broken legs by the time they released their debut album in 1999, Goatsnake always made a habit of transcending any such association while exuding an authority and off-kilter charisma that made them revered heroes of the slow-riffing underground.
Fifteen years on from the release of their classic second album, Flower Of Disease, Pete Stahl and his low-slung hombres have returned, with comparatively little fanfare and no mention of unfinished business. Instead, Black Age Blues is the sound of a band reconvening because the creativity vacuum they originally filled has remained unoccupied since their initial split in 2001.
Put simply, no one else writes songs or even riffs like the ones here, and Stahl’s voice still soars and roars with maximum soul: a thrilling anomaly in a scene that isn’t always overly bothered about great singers. Just hearing him hurling obtuse proclamations across the turbulent surface of Greg Anderson’s churning riffs should be enough to have most stoner acolytes weeping into the bongwater.
But comebacks are a redundant notion if the long-awaited new material fails to live up to those early, cherished classics. The key to Black Age Blues’ brilliance is in Goatsnake’s refusal to simply turn up and be Goatsnake.
Instead, while the likes of Elevated Man and House Of The Moon are instantly recognisable due to Stahl’s velvet tones, the 2015 incarnation of this legendary band have expanded their sonic palette in a number of elegant and disarming ways, ranging from hard rock honky-tonk trimmings and a hint of turbo-blues through to the way Stahl’s vocal lines drift in and out of the songs’ fluid structures, sometimes jarring with the underlying momentum but with consistently vivid and psychedelic results.
From the foggy-brained singalong of Coffee & Whiskey through to the rambling, skewed Sabbathisms of closing doom-out A Killing Blues, the return of Goatsnake is every bit as compelling and out of synch with current trends as was their arrival at the arse-end of the 20th century. There they go, thrusting greatness upon us again. About fucking time./o:p