Let’s first deal with the elephant in the room: this band’s name. To some of you it might signify primitive, ear-raping, bestial black metal. For others it might lead to scoffing — derisive presumptions that there will be nothing to take seriously here. Both guesses might be understandable, but both would be wrong.
Having heard, and thoroughly enjoyed, Goat Sperm‘s persistently surprising debut EP, Voice In the Womb, it does occur to me (without any inside knowledge) that there was a streak of perversity at work in this Ukrainian band’s choice of name, and not just for the most obvious reason. I can imagine them chuckling behind their hands, or maybe cackling with devilish glee, over that decision, because of the head-fake that it represents. And part of the reason I make that guess is because the music itself is such a twisted but ingenious experience.
At a high level, the part of the music on the EP that’s metal (and not all of it is) can be classified as a dissonant brand of blackened death metal. But rather than the kind of sound found in the more murky or warlike corners of that sub-genre, Goat Sperm haven’t choked their music with distortion or drowned their maneuvers in ceaseless waves of battlefield detonations. To be sure, there’s grit in these gears, and toxins in the atmosphere, but the sound is clear enough that you can follow all their technically accomplished twists and turns, which are manifold.
Of the three songs on the EP, the opener and closer are long, and the middle one is shorter — but the minutes don’t really tell the tale. As you’ll discover, the black/death portions of the two long tracks aren’t that much longer than the middle one, because they veer off into very different musical territory in their final minutes. Some might feel cheated by these diversions; I thought they only added to the EP’s diabolical atmosphere.
As for the opener, “Voice In the Womb” greets the listener with an all-encompassing cyclone of boiling, snarling riffage and thunderous drum battering, coupled with the vocalist’s echoing, sepulchral roars. From there, things change in rapid succession as the guitarist segues into rapidly slithering and warping riffs and angular, darting notes, while the rhythm section set off explosive detonations and bursts of ferocious pummeling.
And then the drums go silent. Eerie, dissonant, pealing notes cast a cloak of poisonous gloom over the proceeidings, and the guitar continues to spread its chilling creepiness while the drums and bass return with a syncopated rhythm.
Abrupt changes are one of the hallmarks of these songs, and so the band terminate that morbid interlude in startling fashion with an explosion of maniacal violence, a torrent of squealing strings and hungering, buzzing, tremolo chords. And then, without warning again, that lunacy is replaced by the dulcet harmonies of an ecclesiastical choir, both soaring and somber — which lasts for minutes.
The shorter middle track, “Into the Deep Waters of Catacombs”, is also a changing experience, albeit one without a divergent closing. Slow, groaning, and dissonant at first, it becomes fast, flensing, and fiery — a fret-leaping form of fanaticism that’s matched by the dictatorial vehemence of the roaring vocals. After a bridge, the cadence becomes a lurching, bounding thing as the riffs boil with lunatic fervor and menace. Peals of shrill, unearthly, wailing sounds spiral forth; bursts of clattering snare and chiming dissonant chords mix with grim intonations of doom; and still to come is another eruption of drum frenzy followed by rapid jolting guitar sounds.
By now, you’ll have figured out that Goat Sperm delight in shifting gears, and they do it repeatedly on “XXIV Elders”. Slow, craggy bass notes and blaring guitar reverberations create an aura of morbid gloom; the drums erupt, the guitars seethe and clobber in a cacophony of fury; the pace slows, the bass clangs, filaments of high eerie sound flicker and soar; the cyclone spins up again… and so it goes, the pace and the mood continues swinging between suffocating gloom and cruel frenzies.
When this song lets go of the metal, as the first one did, it segues into a kind of dancing melodic refrain over the rhythmic tolling of bells. The instrument here sounds like an infernal squeezebox, the sound distorted as if emanating from an old gramophone. It’s a bright yet unnerving celebration, with a hint of gibbering madness in the music.
Voice in the Womb will be released by Inferna Profundus Records on September 10th.