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Goatpsalm : Downstream

Goatpsalm's latest album is an essential release for any fans of textured atmospheric dark music.

I received this album in a recent trade with Aesthetic Death (an activity I highly recommend as they have tons in stock at dirt-cheap prices) who released the record in late February. Goatpsalm are a band so tr00-kvlt (insert tongue-in-cheek emoticon here) I can't even find them on Metal Archives, meaning all the probably-made-up facts in this review will have to come directly from me rather than from there! I do have the single paragraph bio on the flyer from Aesthetic Death, which says they are Russian, as does their Bandcamp page for 'Downstream' – although some sites state they are made up of members from both Russia and the Ukraine. Both countries are a hotbed for boundary-pushing dark Doom these days, and Aesthetic Death are pretty reliable at sourcing gems from the underground, so great things were expected.

I was not disappointed. This is an absolutely fabulous record, mixing rich ambient soundscapes with traditional ethnic instruments (clay bells, mouth harp, sanshin and clay flutes all played by various members of the band) and Dark/Black Doom. The album starts with a slow build through various layers of natural sounds (rainfall, birdsong and other animal noises) and synths, adding layers of whispered vocals and tribal/hypnotic drums slowly until breaking into full-scale doom around the 4 minute mark. Indeed this pattern of slowly adding elements is a common strategy employed on several tracks, but whilst this a played out cliché in some genres (sub-par copycat Post-Rock bands love to do this), since every sound introduced in each of the builds is new both on the record, and often times to my ears in general, each of these tracks is a fantastic journey of discovery.

There are elements of other things here and there. The ethnic instrumentation gives this record a sound that reminds me a lot of a slowed-down Negură Bunget. I also hear flashes of Unholy in some of the keyboard and lead guitar arrangements – a particular keyboard sound used on almost all the tracks instantly brings to mind a very similar one heard on 'The Second Ring of Power'. Overall though, the blend of elements is unique, and oh so effective. Guitars seem to be used almost sparingly, and even when they are present keep to providing a simple foundation of heaviness. Indeed there is no part of the band's sound that dominates over any other. Everything exists to provide another thread of texture to this delicately woven tapestry.

For the most part played out at a funeral pace, variety does come with faster paced 'Of Bone And Sinew' around the midpoint of the album. Even when sped up, Goatpsalm's atmosphere is never reduced. It is ever-present, lush and reverberant in its dark beauty.

I've been a follower of Aesthetic Death's output for many years and have been exposed to most of the discography at one point or another, and for me this is the best thing to come out on the label since Esoteric's 1997 album 'The Pernicious Enigma', surpassing last year's crowning glory in the form of Whelm. There's just so much going on here, so many differing and interesting sounds and textures expertly welded together to create a singular atmosphere, and I honestly can't fault it. This is an essential release for any fans of textured atmospheric dark music.

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. Grey Rocks
2. Flowers Of The Underworld
3. White Sea
4. Orphan
5. Of Bone And Sinew
6. The Waylayer (A Great Spring Hunger)
7. Downstream

Duration : Approx. 58 minutes

Visit the Goatpsalm bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-04-10 by Kris Clayton
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