By Andrew Bansal
New Orleans, Louisiana’s all-destroying extreme metal force Goatwhore have been spreading their onslaught for the past decade-and-a-half, and are following a tremendous exhibition of their musical intensity on the recent Metal Alliance tour, they’re ready to release their sixth full-length studio album ‘Constricting Rage Of The Merciless’ via Metal Blade Records on July 8th, perfectly encapsulating everything they’ve stood for over all these years with their most diverse and punishing record of their career. They hit the road tonight (July 5th) with a run of headline shows leading up to the massive Summer Slaughter tour, and a couple of weeks ago, I spoke at length to vocalist Ben Falgoust about the new album, the role of producer Erik Rutan, the emotions expressed through music, and the live performance aspect. Enjoy the in-depth conversation below and make sure you catch Goatwhore on tour this summer.
Ben, it’s good to have you again on Metal Assault. Goatwhore has already done a big North American tour this year as part of the Metal Alliance package and you were using that to hype up your new album, which is now ready for release. How are you feeling at this point?
We’re pretty excited about it! We played a new song from the record on the Metal Alliance tour to just kind of get the ball rolling a bit, and I think we’re adding may be two or three more into the set for the Summer Slaughter tour coming up. We’re really ready to get it out in the live setting and see what people think of it. The record will be out, so that’ll be good too, for people to familiarize with it.
Before an album comes out, you usually put out a song or two to promote it prior to the release. A lot of people start making judgements based on that, about the whole album itself. How do you feel about that? I personally just like to wait till I get the whole album when it comes to checking out any new music.
Yeah, everything is like that now. They do it with TV shows too. I think it’s just something to do with the times we’re in. Some people decide whether or not they want to wait for the release, or somehow it ends up online and people download it prior to that. I definitely don’t think one song represents the whole record. This record has a lot of diverse and different elements to it. We are a metal band, and our basis is a mixture of death metal, black metal, thrash metal and all these different elements. So within all of that, our songs change each time too. I mean, it’s definitely the Goatwhore stamp. It sounds like things we’ve done in the past and everything like that, but it’s just more of an evolution and growth of what we’re doing now. To judge a whole record by hearing just one song and saying, “Oh, I don’t know. This record’s not going to be that good”, you’ve got to wait till the whole thing drops, to give it a whole hearing, because it’s got that variation to it. Opinions are so varied nowadays, I really don’t listen to what a lot of people say because everybody has their own way to perceive things. One person could say that one song sounds like a certain style but then another person might think it sounds like another style. So, there’s a lot of opinions and variations going on with that.
Right, exactly. I agree, even the song that you played on Metal Alliance, ‘Baring Teeth For Revolt’, it’s the most rock ‘n roll song on this new album but in no way does it actually represent the whole album which it’s very diverse. It has the black and thrash metal elements, it’s dark, but it’s rock ‘n roll as well.
Yeah, very much so. We’ve always had that, and we’re very much influenced by traditional metal, like Judas Priest and even all the way back to stuff like AC/DC. But then you know, we have elements of early forms of black metal like Venom, Celtic Frost, and then the rock ‘n roll/metal side of bands like Motörhead. It splits up even more than that, as we also have death metal black metal and all kinds of metal influences that have been with us for ages. Me and Sammy are a little older than Zack and James but we all kind of share pretty much similar influences and ideas about how we want to do things within the band.
One thing I wanted to talk about is the contribution of Erik Rutan, whom you’ve worked with for a number of years now. Actually recently here in LA I was talking to Mike Hill from the band Tombs and he was telling me that he listened to a lot of the Goatwhore albums Erik has done, and Tombs decided to work with Erik based on that. What role has Erik played in Goatwhore’s last few albums?
He’s a very unique individual, and I’m saying it in a positive way, by all means. He’s got an amazing ear. He hears things that I definitely don’t even hear, and he’s really on top of things as far as that goes. The thing with Erik too is his history within extreme music, from playing in Ripping Corpse, Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal. He’s been in the same kind of idea as a lot of us have been doing. So it makes the situation more comfortable and everybody is kind of on the same page, even though there’s some death metal elements when he was playing in Morbid Angel and the things he’s done in Hate Eternal are a little bit more cleaner-sounding and Goatwhore likes things with a little bit more grit in there. We like everything to come through but we do want that rough edge to it. The first time we went to him for ‘A Haunting Curse’ (2006), we had to kind of drive that into his head a lot, because he was so used to a certain style. But I think the uniqueness about him is that he’s willing to open up and take different ideas in to make something happen. He doesn’t stay stern, like engineers are really solid about how it goes. For them, these are the rules and these are the guidelines. With him, he has opened up and let it go, and learned things along the way. It expanded him even further as an engineer and even opened up things towards us, that we had never done in the past. He’s kind of like a secret fifth member of Goatwhore. He doesn’t write music or things like that, but it always feels like he’s a member, the fifth guy that we never had around before. We all get along really well. Sometimes in the studio it can be a really stressful situation, but if anything happens it gets solved quick and everybody’s got a good attitude when it’s time to do what they have to do, whether it’s Sammy doing the guitars, me doing vocals, James the bass or Zack the drums. Rutan makes sure that you get the best performance through the whole situation. He’s on top of that, and even though everybody in our band has a good relationship, he’s still like the really stern discipline kind of guy in the studio. He’s amazing all around.
That’s great to hear, man. So, for this album I think for the first time ever you guys recorded on analog 2-inch tape, which even Erik hasn’t done in a long time with anything he’s worked on. What difference did that make?
We thought we’d step back to that just because it’s something a lot of people, specially younger people in the extreme scene won’t be used to, as it’s such an old method now. It’s becoming more and more obsolete because tape is hard to come by. I think there’s a company that makes it still but it’s kind of questionable. We got some old reels that we had to use to get into the process, to get ready, and even then there was a chance that it would not work. Luckily everything fell into place. There’s a tone in tape that I don’t think the digital world has been able to touch yet. We have answers to so many things digitally, but it hasn’t really got to the point where it captures the true sound of the way things come off on tape. I mean, it’s funny because you do it all on tape and once you drop everything in a tape, you send it into Pro-Tools and work from there and fix everything, but it’s the tone you get from the tape. It’s got a warmer and fuller sound to it. Digital is just like a flat line, whereas tape is so variant. It gives you so much more with the tones and everything. So we really wanted that and experiment on that end. Me and Sammy did stuff on tape in the past with other bands we were in, but Goatwhore had never been on tape. So we thought we’d give it a shot and everybody was pretty gung-ho about it. Everything fell into place, Rutan had the machine, he had to just refresh himself a little bit, but everything worked out really good!
The other thing about this album is it’s 37 minutes long, which I think is pretty much perfect for what you want to express with this music. Most albums in the 80s were of that kind of length, and then there was a period with much longer albums. Do you think it’s going back to shorter, more precise albums nowadays?
I think it depends on the band too. Sometimes bands have that knack. Somebody like Metallica, they had that knack of having songs that were five minutes plus but it wasn’t like a boring thing as it went along. Then there’s bands that put together songs that are five minutes plus and you’re just like, “Let’s go to the next song. This is dragging out too much.” And then there’s bands like, a good example would be when ‘Reign In Blood’ came out. It’s such a short record, but the impact and quickness of it, all the parts just constituted together in such a way that you had to go back and play the whole thing over each and every time. Goatwhore don’t really write long, epic things. Every now and then we do something, like on the new record there’s a song called ‘Cold Earth Consumed In Dying Flesh’, and that’s probably one of the longest songs we ever did. Another longer song from the past is ‘In The Narrow Confines Of Defilement’. To be able to extend a song, it has to keep people into it. The type of band we are, we’re attacking cut-throat, just straight to the point. This is what it is, and this is how we do things.
Over the years with the kind of music you play, it has allowed you and the other songwriters in the band to express the negativity, the anger or whatever it is that’s built up inside of you before you start writing. Has that actually allowed you to be a happier person in life, when you’re done writing an album for example?
(Laughs) I’m pretty happy in general. I just think that the writing structure of this band goes through many different emotions and cycles within influences and things like that. For example, Sammy comes into the room and says, “Ok, I have these riffs. Let’s sit down, go through them and see if we can combine something with them and put it together.” Then Zack steps in with drum fills, and then James steps in with bass parts that go in it and fill it out, and I put lyrics. So, when everything is going from point A to the end, you have a lot of emotions and influences going on and there’s a lot of variance. I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m a negative person. We all have negative moments. I think what happens within a song is, may be at one given point there’s a negative moment in it and it influences the song in some sort of way, whether it’s lyrically, musically or anything like that, within any certain member and it can come from something is going on personally or outside of that. We delve into a lot of different ideas and subjects, and we’re definitely influenced by a lot of the dark arts and things like that. I read up on it and it interests me, but it doesn’t necessarily make me a negative person. I just like the knowledge. So it’s all an impact of each member and how their approach is in structuring every song and then all the songs completing the record. So you have a culmination of so many emotions and influences by the end of it that it’s hard to just pinpoint one simple little thing. Yeah it is an assault on the ears and everything, and it’s complete chaos, but I think there’s more thought but behind everything than just the basis of a negative structure.
That’s interesting. So, even extreme metal can allow you to express different emotions and it’s not just about anger.
Not at all. There’s so much variance, and it’s a shame too that metal gets painted into this corner of having to be evil, or this and that. It’s just metal, and it’s actually about having a good time. If anything, it’s a way for people to vent and let things out, for the band writing songs and for people coming to the shows. People come to the shows, they’re there, they get away from their daily routine that they’re not happy with. They’re not happy with their job or something like that, but they go to the show, they grab a drink, hang out and have a good time. It’s venting, letting things off your back, letting yourself be a little free and open that evening. I think that’s the basis of metal. The whole thing is about a huge venting to let a lot of shit out, to let things go and have a good talk about what’s happening. You know, metal is basically birthed from rock ‘n roll. You look back at early Judas Priest, they took rock ‘n roll and evolved into metal. Even AC/DC and things like that. Things have gone through a transition and shifted since then, but it’s still got that rock ‘n roll element to it.
Precisely. You mentioned metal and being painted into a corner of evil, which brings me to my final question, actually. A lot of black metal and extreme metal bands have theatrics, and you can call it a ‘gimmick’ or whatever, like the band Watain whom you’ve toured with. When I saw you on tour with them four years ago, their show was pretty intense, when they were playing smaller venues. But now that band has grown and become bigger, and I think their show is not quite the same in terms of the evilness or the intensity. So, do you think you’re fortunate in that sense because you don’t really on any such theatrics and your show will always be the same?
Yeah, we don’t do a lot of theatrical stuff. We’re just stripped down and basic about a lot of things. I mean, we still throw on our gauntlets and everything, which is basically our tribute to traditional metal and keeping that flag alive. But bands like Watain want to shift and change the way they do things. Their internal influence on how they approach things becomes a little different. I’m not in the band so I couldn’t really say what they do or the choices they make, but I can say that the experience of touring with them was very immense and very interesting, and it was very intriguing to see everything they did, how they went about things. I’m always interested in looking at every band we tour with because everybody does different stuff internally in a band, whether it’s going into a dressing room and putting makeup on, just talking about silly shit or turning off all the lights and do some kind of ritual to get into the mood. So everybody’s got their little variation on how they want to do things, but we’ve always been pretty much the same about everything we’ve done. I think if anything, our evolution is internally taking place in our music. That’s where you’ll see our growth and maturity, with every record and how it changes, how it becomes more of what is the Goatwhore sound. That’s what we tend to focus on a lot, the music itself. From that, we’re really heavily into the live performance and the presentation, not necessarily in a theatrical sense, but in terms of us playing the stuff we wrote and that we’re really into from the get go.
That’s awesome, man. I think that’s all I have for this interview. Ben, it was a pleasure talking to you as always, and I’ll see you at Summer Slaughter!
Hell yeah, awesome! Thank you very much man, I appreciate it.
Catch Goatwhore live this summer:
7/05/2014 Southport Hall – Jefferson, LA
7/06/2014 The Levee – Longview, TX
7/07/2014 Zydeco – Birmingham, AL
7/08/2014 Exit/In – Nashville, TN
7/09/2014 New Daisy Theatre – Memphis, TN
7/10/2014 Fubar – St. Louis, MO
7/11/2014 The Vanguard – Tulsa, OK
7/15/2014 Soda Bar – San Diego, CA
Summer Slaughter tour w/ Morbid Angel, Dying Fetus, The Faceless, Thy Art Is Murder, Origin, Decrepit Birth, Within The Ruins & Fallujah:
7/17/2014 The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
7/18/2014 The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
7/19/2014 House of Blues – West Hollywood, CA
7/20/2014 Nile Theater – Phoenix, AZ
7/21/2014 Tricky Falls – El Paso, TX
7/22/2014 Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque, NM
7/23/2014 Summit – Denver, CO
7/25/2014 House Of Blues – Houston, TX
7/26/2014 Scoot Inn – Austin, TX
7/27/2014 Gas Monkey – Dallas, TX
7/29/2014 State Theater St. – Petersburg, FL
7/30/2014 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
7/31/2014 The International – Knoxville, TN
8/01/2014 Agora Theatre – Cleveland, OH
8/02/2014 Mojoes – Chicago, IL
8/03/2014 Skyway Theatre – Minneapolis, MN
8/05/2014 The Rave – Milwaukee, WI
8/06/2014 Crofoot Ballroom – Detroit, MI
8/07/2014 Rapids Theatre – Niagara Falls, NY
8/08/2014 Irving Plaza – New York, NY
8/09/2014 The Palladium – Worcester, MA
8/10/2014 The Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA
8/12/2014 Empire – Springfield, VA (No Morbid Angel)
8/16/2014 Gwar B-Q @ Hadad’s Lake – Richmond, VA