Year of the Goat – The Key and the Gate (Napalm Records, 28 November 2014)
Year of the Goat – The Unspeakable (Napalm Records, 31 July 2015)
The year of the goat has ended: this past February, the year of the monkey was ushered in. But the previous twelve lunar months had been dominated by this horned beast — the third such year since the one in which I was born — and around this time period, Sweden’s Year of the Goat had been fairly active. Exactly twelve weeks before the commencement of the (Chinese) new year, their second EP The Key and the Gate saw the light of day via Napalm Records, who then went on to release Year of the Goat‘s second full-length album The Unspeakable once the year of the goat was actually in full-swing — in fact, right in the middle of the month of the goat.
And I’ll stop there, because that pretty much exhausts the extent of my research into Chinese astrology in preparation for writing about this band from Norrköping and their latest two releases — the latter and longer of which found its way onto my list of the best of 2015 …
The 2014 EP The Key and the Gate features three tracks and runs a little over sixteen minutes altogether. The title track opens things off by introducing the listener to what Year of the Goat is all about: kind of an upbeat tune but with a target dark, occult vibe; the vocals and overall arrangement definitely bring to mind Muse (or at least demonstrate an overlap in influences), while the guitar tones and the supernatural aspects also such heavy metal precursors as Blue Öyster Cult, Deep Purple, etc.
The middle song “Mystic Mountains,” which occupies nearly half of the EP, features another hallmark of the band’s sound: a tastefully understated Hammond organ underscores the occult-bluesy vibe, while the vocals occasionally turn into powerful wails in conjunction with an increasingly epic orchestration that once again whispers hints of the sound of very early heavy metal. Closing things off, the instrumental piece “Non-Euclidean Calculus” takes things in a very different direction, with flutes and strings during the intro, sort of a Ye Olde Folk Music vibe (along the lines of Cathedral’s “The Guessing Game”); then a kind of “Mr. Roboto” electro-bassline enters, with organs and synths providing swirly melodies. Overall this release could serve as a fantastic introduction to Year of the Goat, as it touches upon various different styles and vibes one would be likely to experience throughout their discography.
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The Unspeakable, the album that followed about eight months later, features three times as many songs, and pulls in a few more varied influences and styles, while also expanding upon those that were present on the previous release.
The new sounds incorporated here end up taking the form of a spaghetti western feeling in several places: single “The Emma,” for example, which also features some expansive ELO-style choir vocals; also . “Black Sunlight” definitely borrows that genre’s feel and rhythm, while adapting it into more of a hard-rock style; and finally the closing track “Riders of Vultures” blends slowly plodding, heavy blues rock with a clear western tinge, then flavoring the whole thing with occult-themed goodness (and also dramatically increasing in epicosity later, especially over the last minute).
Elsewhere, the band employs plenty of warm and fuzzy distorted organ in many of the songs, beginning about halfway through the monumental opener “All He Has Read,” which also builds upon a good deal of tribal drumming paired with full, thick-sounding guitar chords, before the vocals enter and the arrangement once again takes on a rather Muse-ish form. The 6/8 shuffle of “World of Wonders” gets slightly heavier in the guitar parts, in spots, but this is contrasted with somewhat gentler vocals. And taking a turn in an even more occult direction, introducing yet another different aspect of the band’s sound, “The Sermon” occasionally bears a slight resemblance to Ghost, both vocally and lyrically.
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The Key and the Gate is available here, while The Unspeakable can be picked up right over here.