Review Summary: "A ritual so evil, the bloodiest orgy / That involved the spreading of a curse / More vile than mankind knows"
Goatlord were an occult-themed death/doom band out of Las Vegas, Nevada formed in 1985. After a few demos they signed on with European label Turbo Music to release their debut album "Reflections of the Solstice" in 1991. However, the mix was so poor the next year they decided to reissue the album through JL America/Turbo USA (the American division of the label) with a proper mixing job and a new track titled "Voodoo Mass". This version was more recently put out by the mighty Nuclear War Now! Productions, spreading this obscure oddity to a new generation. Although it would be their only album, "Reflections of the Solstice" is a landmark release and one of the most ugly, sluggish, disgusting and horrifying things to reach the metal underground.
Goatlord's sound is buried deep in the low end, with a horrendously murky disgusting tone. This seems to fit with the lyrical themes of the band, exploring bizarre hallucinations set in jungles or swampy locales where tribal freaks engage in perverse and bloody rituals. The guitar has a nice fuzzy crunch, with riffs alternating between oozing putrescent plodding and fast to mid paced violent thrashers. They rarely change from utterly simple power chord formations, but serve their purpose well, as the sound here is all about primitive, almost percussive (or perhaps tribal?) smashing and churning along. The bass has a nice thick sludgy and chunky reverberating tone, which fits in with the seeping vomitous muck of the rhythm section. The percussion here will turn many people off from the get go, being an old drum machine rather than an actual drummer (*Edit: it was actually a full drum kit with electric toms and snare). But fear not, because this is a far cry from your modern cheap computer programmed beats. The bass drum, snare, high hat and cymbals are actually passable for the most part. It's just the toms that sound so obviously mechanical. Regardless, after many listens the clanky thudding of the drum machine may grow on you, as it doesn't in the least bit detract from the menacing sluggish onslaught of the rhythm. While often use of a drum machine would be a deal-breaker, for me the music completely makes up for it.
Now, onto the vocals: For the first track (which was recorded after the original sessions and included in the American version) a new singer by the name of Chris Gans appears. He does a fine job, but the real treat comes with the original tracks where the mighty Ace Still enters the picture. Ace was the singer for the majority of Goatlord's career, and let me tell ya, he gives quite a performance. He mostly uses a very throaty rasp with a harsh delivery which at times bears a strong resemblance to Dan Browning (the vocalist/drummer who played on Morbid Angel's "Abominations of Desolation"). Just imagine how the vocals on that album would sound if they were puked over sickening sluggish doom. But the real excellence of Ace Still doesn't lie solely in his delivery. His lyrics are of the most bizarre imaginable, and they thrust the music into horrifying and occult territories unseen by most. While for most metal bands "the occult" refers to Satanic rituals, perhaps Wicca, and generally European concepts, Goatlord prefer to get down and dirty in the jungle and look to stereotypical horror movie depictions of voodoo cults for inspiration. And that's not all, as occult-obsessed acid head Ace Still brings in his own drug-induced insanity to further the morbidly weird ideas and sounds of the band. The result is excruciatingly heavy and mucky death/doom backed by the insidious rasps of that horrifying hallucinator.
"Reflections of the Solstice" is truly a sickening brew, a classic and a great achievement in the second wave of doom metal. Taking influences from early thrashing black metal and trudging doomy death metal Goatlord forged quite a sound. While they would only release this one blood-smeared offering to the hallucinating voodoo priests, Ace Still made a triumphant return the following year with another band called Doom Snake Cult, exploring similar territories but with a stronger focus on drug experimentation and a more stoner doom oriented sound. Fans of death/doom, violent black/death metal, and even sludge/stoner doom may find this relic intriguing. The drum machine is a bit of a let down, and combined with the simplicity and abrasiveness of the music many people will be instantly put off by this group. Regardless, they created some wonderfully hideous death/doom and should likely be revered by fans of that genre. All hail Goatlord, purveyors of VOODOO DOOM.