Over the course of their three previous albums, New Orleans’ Goatwhore have made a name for themselves as one of the premier American black metal bands. Their fourth album, and second for Metal Blade, Carving Out the Eyes of God (out Tuesday, 6/23), finds the band stepping up their game, making an album that’s possibly their most guitar-oriented yet. Frontman Ben Falgoust caught up with Metal Insider to speak about the new album, the New Orleans metal scene in the wake of Katrina, and the stigma of being a black metal band.
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This is the first time you’ve done consecutive albums with the same lineup. Is it a noticeable difference?
The cool thing about it is that you can see the growth and the change and improvement of the members. [For 2006’s A Haunting Curse] You had the entrance of Zack Simmons on drums and Nathan Bergeron on bass. Both of them had never really played in a band and recorded an album on this level. They’re more confident, and their playing has gotten better. They knew what was going on in the studio, and they knew how to confront it when they went in. They prepared themselves and maybe weren’t as stressed about it as they might have been. Even (producer Eric) Rutan made a comment that he saw such awesome improvement in both of those guys. He digs that because it makes the process easier. When you’re recording, if your performance is hurting a little bit, whether it’s because you’re a beginner or a little amateurish, it pushes the recording into a more stressful situation. Being prepared and knowing what’s going on made it work easier and gave more time to make the record better.
Speaking of Eric Rutan, you went back to him for the new album. Was it because of how the last record came out?
He did a really good job on the last record, but there were some qualms. To be honest, we weren’t thinking about going back to him. Mainly, (guitarist) Sammy (Duet) didn’t want to go back. Sammy had some trouble with his guitars and guitar heads when we did A Haunting Curse. Things didn’t come out quite like he envisioned. It wasn’t necessarily Rutan’s fault, but of course him being the producer, he got the slack for it. So Rutan called me when he heard we were going back in the studio again, and told me he really wanted to do the record and I said he’d need to call Sammy and talk to him. So he called him and said that if we got to the end of the month and he didn’t like the tone, he would spend time and money out of his own pocket to make sure we were happy, which we didn’t have to do. Sammy’s really hard to please sometimes. He can be very critical, and he should be. But he’s really happy with how it came out. Our main focus was to make sure the guitars were more up front. There’s so many metal records coming out nowadays where the mix is drums and vocals up front and the guitars are just kind of in there. We wanted them up front, but not burying everything, and that was the battle. Rutan said if they were too up front, they’d bury everything, so we said ‘that’s where we’re going to prove if you’re a good producer or not. If you can bring the guitars up but still hear everything else that’s going on, that makes you that much bigger than all of those big moneybag producers that keep putting out these metal records with low guitar sounds.’
The album might be the most guitar-centric Goatwhore album. Was that intentional?
It is very much so, and it’s the element of what metal is. The reason metal got its name is because of the guitars. Nothing against drums and bass, they all add to it, but it is built from the guitars, and why push the guitars back in the mix when they’re what created the style? Rutan said ‘I’ll just bury the vocals,’ and I said ‘I don’t give a fuck as long as the guitars are ripping through like chainsaws.’ I knew my vocals would be fine, and I told him if he didn’t try then he wouldn’t know. Rutan’s a stern guy. He’s really good and he’s got an awesome ear, but I think maybe sometimes producers might read something from a major producer about how to record something and all of them fall into line, instead of one of them stepping out and saying ‘let’s try this and see if it works out,’ and proving you can do it. Saying you can’t do it isn’t the end solution. You have to try before you can say it doesn’t work. He did it, and did an amazing job.
The New Orleans metal scene seems really tight…
It’s unique, and really close-knit, but it’s really nothing huge. A lot of people outside of the area think we probably have some big, crazed metal scene, but we don’t. There’s a good bit of musicians, but then there’s a tightly knit musicians that play metal, and a lot of them have this incestuous thing going on with all these bands. Sammy came from Acid Bath and also played with Crowbar and also plays in Goatwhore and has another band called Ritual. Brian plays in Eyehategod and plays in Soilent Green and also plays in Outlaw Order. Jimmy who’s in Down and Eyehategod, used to play in Crowbar. So even though there are so many different bands, they’re still kind of closely connected as well. It’s still small though. You’ll do a show and 400 people will at the show, then a few months later, you’ll do a show in the area and there’s 60 people there. It goes up and down. Overall, it’s unique. Even though it’s incestuous, the bands don’t sound alike. You had Exhorder and nobody sounded like them, you have Goatwhore, you have Crowbar, you have Eyehategod, Soilent Green and Acid Bath, and none of them sound like each other.
Are there a lot of newer bands in the area?
Yeah, they’ve got a bunch of different things going on. There’s this band called A Hanging that has the crust punk thing going. There’s a band called Haarp that got signed to Phil’s [ed note: Anselmo, duh] label, Housecore. There used to be a bunch before the hurricane, but after that happened, a bunch of them split up, and members of the split-up bands formed new bands. It took them a little while to rebuild, but they’ve got a lot of really good bands that are working hard and definitely could be the future of the scene.
How is the scene, and New Orleans in general, since Katrina?
It’s fine. I think it got a little better after the storm, because it seemed like people got more close-knit about things and realized that any given hurricane season, the city could be Atlantis. That made the scene tighter, and made people come out more than beforehand, because they realized how quickly things could shift. It’s still tight, but whenever hurricane season rolls around, it gets a little tighter.
Are there still a lot of areas that aren’t back to normal?
Yeah. There are areas that have been completely leveled, with cement slabs where houses once stood in certain spots. Some areas are redone and ready to go. I think it has to do with the fact that some people didn’t want to come back, and in their effort to not come back, they sold their property and the city took them over and bulldozed them. Now they’re waiting for someone to step in and decide to build. People outside would watch CNN, and I can’t stand the news because they show you the negative of everything. So five years have passed in New Orleans, and CNN is like ‘and still nothing is happening.’ It was a major disaster, and if you look at any major disaster anywhere in the world, in five years, everything wasn’t perfect. It takes a while, and if people don’t move back, it will take a while too. If the city had 500,000 people, and 250,000 people decided not to come back, that’s a lot of houses that will get bulldozed. You can’t fault anyone because of that, and it takes time to change things. Not to mention, this state has a really screwed up political agenda, and they never want to bring that up. They always want to blame the main government, but we know within the state there’s also government, and our government isn’t the hottest shit.
How do you feel about the record business transitioning from physical to digital?
I’m not going to pull my hair out about it. It comes with change and comes with time, and things shift. We went from records to tapes to CDs to digital media. People pirate things, and we’re not going to be a band that stomps around bitching about pirating ruining our career. You can’t do anything about it unless you destroy the whole internet and the possible evolution of man through technology. We keep doing what we do, and hope that if people do steal our stuff from the Internet, that they at least come to our show and maybe buy a shirt. Or if they really like the CD that much, maybe they can buy the CD at the show. It’s not just record stores though. Because of the power of the Internet, you have clothing stores and stuff closing down. You can buy everything you need off the internet. It’s the idea of suburbia crumbling as well. You had all these suburbs springing up and the rise of the shopping mall, and because of fluctuating fuel prices, you see people wanting to move closer to the cities and you’re seeing the decline of suburbia. Out by us, New Orleans isn’t a huge market. It’s something you can’t control and it goes with financial situations and the evolution and progression of man and technology.
A lot of people try to write off black metal and satanic music. Do you care about trying to refute them?
It depends. Sometimes, I don’t care, but if it’s someone that’s judging by the band name and heard what we’re about and they decide to throw judgment on us, then I’ll work to make it worth something. I mean why would you do that when you don’t know anything about the band? As far as Goatwhore goes, yeah, we have evil stuff, but to us, the devil is metal. You have to keep the devil in metal – that’s a part of it. And we don’t do it stupidly either, we’re not just randomly writing about evil. We try to reference our stuff. Some of the stuff we do is fictitious, but it’s fictitious on the basis of making puns of religions and other ideas of gods or other civilizations that had religious structures, and we make puns of it and we make references it to in the lyrics and build things off of those. We’ll reference things in the occult and satanic organizations and make puns of those as well. So we’re not just a band spouting off evil ideas with no knowledge about them. We try to get some background on it and reference and put it in a position. You have to be a little smarter. People are a little smarter, at least I hope they are, and media digs in a little more. You’d hate to look like a fool, especially with the Internet, and not have any idea of the background of what you’re going after.
What have you done to continue to challenge yourself and stay fresh 10 years into your career in Goatwhore?
Just rip off older bands (laughter). It’s kind of like reinventing the wheel, in a way. You can become a band and try to do some weird avant-garde shit to be different, or you can go back to the things you grew up with and the things that you appreciate, and take those styles and form them into what you think they should be now. Like ‘if this band still existed, how would they sound now?’ That’s how Goatwhore does it. Also, as far as the lyrics go, there’s only a certain point you can go to. So now I reference stuff, and look things up, and when you reference something, it opens doors. It opens doors to new ideas on the way you can look at Satanism or the idea of Satan and where the whole idea game from. You can expand even further, instead of the simple version. And we do touch on simplicity sometimes. The whole idea of ‘Apocalyptic Havoc’ came from the simple idea of armageddon, and we confronted it in a different way. And then we’ll go into deeper elements, with ‘Shadow of a Rising Knife’ of “Carving Out the Eyes of God’ where the ideas sink in a little deeper, as far as the ideas of the songs. It’s hard to keep it fresh, but I’ve never thought about it. Maybe it just comes naturally to us from constantly trying to reinvent the wheel in our own way. The wheel is pretty much perfect, but you feel like you could always make it more perfect.