As the co-founder of Los Angeles metal label Southern Lord Recordings and guitarist/bassist for experimental drone masters Sunn O))), Greg Anderson keeps a fairly hectic schedule. So when he reunited with his turn-of-the-millennium Sabbath-rock quartet Goatsnake at the 2010 Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, it’s not surprising that it took another three years for the band to head into the studio to put together material for a new album, which will come out on June 2 with the title Black Age Blues.
From 1998 through 2000, Goatsnake released two albums and several EP’s worth of excellent, Sabbath-worshipping doom-metal. The full-length albums Vol. 1 and Flower of Disease were well-revered in the stoner-rock community, but other projects and day jobs took priority for the band members. Outside of one more EP in 2004, the group remained dormant until the Roadburn offer.
“It was always a juggling act with other stuff we had going on with our lives,” Anderson says. “It was always a hobby band. We just had a realistic view at the time that this wasn’t something we could financially afford to do.”
Additional live shows followed in the wake of Goatsnake’s headlining performance at Roadburn in 2010. Anderson, however, was not content to continue playing live shows full of songs that were over a decade old by that point.
“I didn’t want Goatsnake to turn into a tribute act that just played old songs,” Anderson says. “After the reunion, we received a lot of opportunities that we didn’t really have back during the early days. I felt we were given a gift and, out of respect, we should make some new music instead of just beat a dead horse.”
During the years that Goatsnake were on hiatus, Anderson’s other band Sunn O))) experienced a surge in popularity, becoming a touring entity and collaborating with other acts as diverse as Japanese experimental rockers Boris and avant-garde vocalist Scott Walker. His record label, Southern Lord, also became well-known in heavy metal circles for its impressive curation of stoner and doom-metal bands, and some of the fiercest hardcore punk groups on the planet. On top of all of that, Anderson became a family man, getting married and having three kids.
Anderson acknowledges that it was initially difficult for him to get back into the headspace of working on new Goatsnake music. But in the end, all of his life changes during the band’s hiatus further fueled his desire to do so.
“I was 30 years old when Goatsnake made our last record,” Anderson says. “Our lives have totally changed since then. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see what a Goatsnake record would sound like after the experiences we have all had over the last 15 years, professionally and personally.”
It would be September 2013 by the time Goatsnake got back together to jam and write new material, with another year-and-a-half before the release of Black Age Blues. Whether it’s because of the aforementioned life experiences or simply because their skills as musicians and songwriters are better honed, Black Age Blues is the most substantial release of Goatsnake’s career.
Musically, there is more of an infectious blues edge to their take on the classic Sabbath blueprint. Vocalist Pete Stahl’s melodic approach has always made Goatsnake’s brand of doom cut more cleanly. But the more evolved sound on Black Age Blues allows Stahl to provide a performance drenched in hearty soul. Add in gospel choruses on tracks like “Jimi’s Gone” and “Grandpa Jones,” and Goatsnake’s heavy rock is more palatable on Black Age Blues than on previous efforts.
Even with the new album and some upcoming live shows this summer, Goatsnake is still likely to remain, in Anderson's words, a “hobby band” due to the members's other commitments. For Anderson, there is still the day-to-day of running Southern Lord, which has so far in 2015 released new records from Pomona hardcore group Xibalba, Portland punk icons Poison Idea, and Danish crust-punks Halshug, along with an EP from Chicago post-metal greats Pelican and reissues from Massachusetts doom-metallers Warhorse and ‘80s Philadelphia hardcore punks Y.D.I. A new album will also be coming later this year from Sunn O))), which remains Anderson's main band.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to create music with two very different outlets,” says Anderson. “It’s amazing to have this really esoteric experimental group and this very heavy blues band. There are some common threads though… mostly Sabbath!”
Goatsnake performs at Complex on Wednesday, May 20. More info.