Goatpsalm - Downstream
Aesthetic Death
Dark Ambient
7 songs (58' 22")
Release year: 2016
Reviewed by Andy

It's pretty easy to think of ambient black/doom group Goatpsalm's LP Downstream as something along the lines of what Celestiial or Blood of the Black Owl were doing quite a few years ago. Like them, the band has extensive tribal and nature motifs, combining trickling water and woodland creatures' calls with darkly croaked vocals. Except on Downstream, the pacing is a lot nicer, combining the sense of being out in a beautiful yet creepy forest with an oppressive dread brought on by the vocals and the leaden beat.

This is an album with a deliberately slow build-up, with the first track taking almost three minutes just to let the critters out in the forest get some one-on-one with the brooding synths. But when the beat does get started, it's surprisingly mid-tempo, chugging away at the listener with various folk instruments fading in and out -- clay bells and flutes, sanshin and mouth harp --, occasionally just accentuating the music, other times playing along a little bit. Indeed, the guitar often doesn't seem to have much personality to it compared to the other instruments; it just underscores the use of the other instruments with the heaviness that they don't possess, and that light touch on the instrumental section extends to the vocals. Though guitarist/vocalist Vaarwel produces a nice deep death metal growl, used like a funeral chant, dull, wordless female vocals highlight the regular singing on Flowers of the Underworld and on Of Bone and Sinew, both of which, perhaps not coincidentally, were my favorite tracks.

What does carry the melodies are the horror-movie synths used, in much the same manner as now-defunct Horrors of the Black Museum handled them, but combined with flute and occasional mouth harp. It's hard to make the mouth harp sound menacing -- even on folk metal albums, a sound that most Western listeners associate with Saturday morning cartoons is faintly ridiculous --, but the combination of this instrument with the synth and guitar background definitely cuts down on the cheese. Of Bone and Sinew, though still somewhat atonal, gives much more of a metal riff to the guitars than most of the tracks, a chugging sound filled with doom. In between the metal portions are primitive beats and grunts to match, songs one can imagine the shamans of Robert E. Howard's Pictish race droning out in front of an altar to some dark god, but always the percussion falls away to reveal melodic passages of surprising beauty.

Without getting too far into folk music, black metal, or doom, Goatpsalm's created an album here of surprising complexity. Those not patient with ambient sounds will probably end up walking away from this one too, but if you like a blackened, nature-themed album with no trace of New Age sensitivity, Downstream's for you.

Bandcamp: https://goatpsalm.bandcamp.com

Killing Songs :
Flowers of the Underworld, Of Bone and Sinew
Andy quoted 78 / 100
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