Goatcraft – All For Naught (Forbidden Records, 2013)
The proof that death metal is formed of a spirit and not random techniques can be found in the open-mindedness of death metal fans. Contrary to public perception, death metal fans are quite open to any music that shares the same spirit they find in death metal.
Unlike rock music, where the underlying music is so similar that the only distinguishing traits are surface appearances like instrumentation and rhythm, dark music is formed of phrasing and melody. It sounds evil even when played on a kazoo or acoustic ukelele. Such is the spirit that animates San Antonio, Texas’ own Goatcraft.
Goatcraft creates necroclassical music in the intersection of the dark metal spirit, epic soundtracks like Conan or Lord of the Rings, martial neofolk like Lord Wind or Winglord, and dark ambient like Elend or Arcana. If you can imagine Dead Can Dance with a focus on the darkest aspects of classical and metal, and without vocals, Goatcraft is that.
Although it seems hard to believe, Goatcraft is the work of one man (Lonegoat) who routinely hauls his keyboard to metal shows and stands alone, covered in blood and accompanied only by a clock, bashing out songs of epic isolation, loss, doubt, darkness, despair, desolation and warlike aggression.
Much like quality death metal, Goatcraft is based on the transitions between riffs and finding ways to knit riffs together in such a way that atmosphere is not sacrificed and some kind of storyline emerges. In this case, it’s a melodic line slowly evanescing from the midst of Goatcraft’s trademark cascading flurry of hammer-on style piano notes.
Like a good soundtrack, these songs manipulate mood without using a standard format. The structure of each song is adapted from the content, and so they are hard to follow at first, but once the ear adjusts and starts tracking where the melody is going, they suddenly make sense like a mystery novel’s final chapters tie up all the loose ends. Since there are no vocals, and minimal effects, the lone voice of the piano dominates.
All For Naught avoids the pitfall of trying to be populist by incorporating electronic beats or repetitive samples. It’s like a highly structured 47-minute guitar solo. Themes repeat, but in an unpredictable order that gives them added weight with each appearance. Each song has a distinct theme and structure that defines its meaning.
As a result, Goatcraft is less pop-song-format than Lord Wind or Winglord, and less ritualistic than most neofolk. It is closest to a very stripped down version of a war movie soundtrack, as even with this mild-mannered instrument a strong aura of violence and the necessity of combat emerges. This then evolves slowly into a melancholic melody which transforms itself into a narrative, leaving behind a lingering feeling of primal isolation and emptiness.
This music will not be for everyone. All For Naught shows Goatcraft expanding upon the concept that enthralled and bewildered concertgoers for the past few years, but in this more developed form, the music has greater weight and power. It’s not as easy to listen to as your average punk or groove metal album, and the challenge this album faces is finding enough people who get its trip.
All For Naught drives away the boredom and conformity that has settled into this scene over the last decade. This album is an experience unlike any other. More musical than most guitar-based albums, and with a greater amount of creative work, it is a unique experience for the listener unafraid of new methods of voicing the rare emotional ground that the best death metal explored.