Few bands can claim to be as consistent as Louisiana’s blackened death thrashers Goatwhore. Formed in 1997 by guitarist Sammy Pierre Duet, the band have just completed their eighth album, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven. It’s a mighty slice of Extreme Metal. On the eve of the album’s release, Sammy was good enough to have a chat with MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings about the album, touring, the NOLA scene and what to expect from their 2023 European tour with Revocation.
Sammy is at home in Metairie in the middle of his latest round of interviews. We start by exploring a bit of background and, for those of us unaware, what the scene was like in Louisiana at the end of the 1980s when Sammy was playing in Acid Bath and the like. “How can I say it? It was just different, you know. The scene throughout the whole state of Louisiana at that point in time was pretty happening, where now mainly the focal point is New Orleans. Back then, you had all the surrounding areas like Houma and Thibodaux and Lafayette and so on and so forth. There was a lot of good stuff going on back then in surrounding areas, and I think that was the biggest difference. Rather than being so focused on New Orleans being like the beacon of the scene, which it was back then, but it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now if you know what I mean?”
Like most of us of a certain vintage, Sammy grew up listening to the music of the late ’70s and early ’80s, so who were the early influences? “Oh man, of course, Black Sabbath, when I first started discovering music and getting into it, and I would say KISS was a big one when I was really young. Alice Cooper was a humongous one for me as well. And then it trickled into a more of the Hard Rock kind of stuff, and I started getting into like AC/DC and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Alice Cooper would lead the transition to something more extreme. “Welcome to My Nightmare is a great record from start to finish, but at the same time, it wasn’t the heaviest record you’d heard in your life,” Sammy said. “But I think it was more of the image he portrayed back then. That dark, sinister image that he had, which was a big influence on me, was kind of scary. Alice Cooper was a scary guy. He had the black makeup around his eyes, walking around with a snake and doing the guillotine rig and all that stuff. Still, I think they jolted me to go in more of an extreme direction because if Alice Cooper had sounded like Black Sabbath, that would have been a different story. Alice Cooper had the imagery within Black Sabbath ideas.”
Sammy continues, mentioning a moment that I’m sure is familiar to thousands of Metal heads across the globe. “I remember the first time I heard Black Sabbath was on their first record, and it was the first song, yeah, Black Sabbath. I was sitting in a dark room with my uncle, and my uncle would turn me on to all kinds of cool stuff like that. We had the bell and the rain and, you know, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew something good wasn’t going to happen.
“Then it just kicked into the whole song. ‘What is this that stands before me?’ It terrified me. I was really young when I heard it, and this actually scared me. And I’m looking for something that jolted that feeling within me with more music. That’s what catapulted me to go in a more extreme direction. What can I find that will scare me like this again?”
For those who may be unfamiliar with Goatwhore, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven is a slab of brutal yet thoroughly pleasing Extreme Metal. There are plenty of traditional hard rock influences in the playing, even if it’s not immediately apparent. For me, it’s one of the best albums of 2022, certainly in terms of ferocity and punishing riffage.
From the opening blasts of lead song Born Of Satan’s Flesh, the haunting title track through to the punishing Nihil and the sludge-filled finale And I Was Delivered From The Wound of Perdition, it’s a stunning album. Crafted during the pandemic, did Sammy and the band have the opportunity to use that unusual amount of downtime to finesse the record? “Yes, absolutely,” he says. “We started working on songs for this record in 2018, and we started defining the songs around 2019. They really started to take shape. So, we were going to take 2020 off and just work on finishing the songs and try to get into a studio at the end of 2020. Of course, the pandemic hit, so there was absolutely no way we could have got in the studio. So we had to wait till 2021, the middle of 2021, to get into a studio.
“We still had all this time left over to refine the songs. And I think it was almost like a blessing in disguise. Don’t get me wrong, in 2020, the songs were there, but if I didn’t have the extra time to really focus on making these songs even more than what they already were, the record wouldn’t have come out the same way. I think the pandemic benefited this record because we had more time to sit down and really plan things.
“Hey, you’re listening to this song so many times, and you like, OK, the song is good, but what can I do to make this song great? Basically, that’s what the pandemic did. I had nothing to do but sit around and mess around with these songs, so at least one good thing came out of it.”
As has happened with many bands, by the time Goatwhore finally get to tour the album, it’s been months, even years, since the thing was recorded. Is there a challenge that Sammy and his brothers will be sick of the songs before they’ve even played them live?
“Let me tell you something that happened yesterday. Yesterday they started shipping out the vinyl and the physical CDs. A lot of my friends have been getting it, and sending me pictures of it and saying how much they enjoy it. One of my very good friends sent me a picture of the vinyl and was like, ‘dude, this is awesome’. I texted back to him, and I’m saying, what? That old thing. That’s been done for over a year, man. Where have you been, you know?” he laughs.
The band are really looking forward to playing songs from the new album live. “The only time we’ve played these songs live was Born Of Satan’s Flesh,” Sammy says. “We performed that on the last tour because that was the first single release, but all the other ones, we haven’t played those songs since we recorded them, April 2021. So, they’re still kind of fresh.”
Vocalist Louis has stated that the album is based on human despondency. Sammy’s called it full of dark evil, impending dread, so it’s very much an album of our times, isn’t it, given the state of the world, I muse. “You’re a product of your surroundings sometimes,” Sammy offers.
The writing process is divided up in Goatwhore, with Louis B. Falgoust II as the main lyricist. Sammy explains that he rarely hears the lyrics until they are recorded. “It works out because Louis knows what to do,” he says. “There’s never been a time when I’ve had to say maybe go back and rethink this because you’re not walking down the right path. He knows what to do. When he was recording the vocals, there were maybe two lines out of the whole album that I was like, why don’t you change this just a little bit? And other than that, he knocked it out of the park. He’s a master of his craft.”
This is the first album to feature bassist Robert “TA” Coleman, although he’s been a touring member of the band for ages. Sammy confirms it was 2014 when Robert started filling in for the previous bassist James Harvey. Robert was in the band when they were recording the previous record, Vengeful Ascension. “But the thing was that James Harvey wrote a lot of the music for Vengeful Ascension with me as well, so when it came time to record the record, James wanted to record his parts because he, of course, he wrote a lot of the stuff and that’s why Robert didn’t play on that record.”
Goatwhore also had Jared Pritchard back in the producer’s chair. “He’s pretty much been with us for like ten years,” explains Sammy. “So, he’s mixed a lot, like ten years worth of our live shows. He’s been at almost every live show we’ve done for ten years, so he knows what we sound like. As you said, it was a no-brainer to get him to track the record with us, to capture the performances because he knows better than anybody what we should sound like in a live setting. And that’s what we kind of went for on this record, you know? It’s the kind of that that energy that you have from the live show captured on the recording. And then Kurt Ballou came along and mixed it and just knocked it out of the park. So, it was almost like a perfect storm getting those two together and working together on this record.”
With the band not touring at all in 2020 and their last shows being in 2019, how much of a challenge was it to suddenly have that huge gap and then get back on stage? “It’s getting your sea legs back,” sammy says. “I never really get out of practice because I practise a lot when I’m at home. So, it’s just getting used to standing back onstage and getting back into moving around a lot and the whole song and dance that we do live. The biggest challenge was learning to move around on stage wearing all the bullets and the spikes and stuff because it was such a long time, and I forgot how heavy that shit is. But it didn’t take very long. It took maybe two or three shows.”
Goatwhore finished their latest US tour with Incantation, Bewitcher and Caveman Cult in August. They were also out on the road in April over in the States. We’ve all seen strange gigs since the pandemic ended. How has the reaction been in the States? “The last runs that we did earlier this year were all fantastic. People were out in droves. People were excited. It was great, man. You know it. The enthusiasm from the crowd was through the roof every night. It was fast. It was great. And it was fantastic. It was way better than I expected, let’s put it that way.
“I was expecting people to be a little scared, but they weren’t, you know, the crowds in the US are rabid at this point, you know. They don’t care.”
Angels Hung From The Arches of Heaven is out on 7 October 2022. Does Sammy have anything special for the release day? “Not really. Probably just going to go get something good to eat and have a good evening and celebrate the release of the record, you know.”
Sammy is active on Instagram – his account states guitars, cats, and Metal in that order. How does he find engaging with social media? “I basically started it to show off my guitar collection and it kind of spiralled out of control from there,” he laughs. “I didn’t mean for it to turn into what it turned into. I saw all my other friends were doing an Instagram account and showing off all their guitars and stuff like that. I’ve got some pretty cool guitars, so I started it and then, you know, my cat started to want to get involved in it, and that kind of blew up as well.”
2023 sees Goatwhore return to the UK with Revocation, who have also dropped a superb album in Netherheaven recently. With several bands pulling out and cancelling tours due to cost (See Anthrax’s European dates), I wondered if the tour is as watertight as it can be as far as Sammy’s aware. “Absolutely. I mean, we’re not on the level of Anthrax, where I’m sure their overheads with their whole stage setup is something that’s through the roof. We’re simple, some amps and a drum set. We’re good.”
I’m looking forward to seeing the band in Bristol. How does Sammy feel about the UK? “Man, I love the UK in general,” he says. “I like Camden a lot because of the Camden market. I like to go shopping, so that’s always cool, you know? But the UK fans, in general, are just maniacs. They’re great. I love them.”
As well as new songs, I ask Sammy what else we should expect. He sums it up in a perfect way to end our chat. “Yeah, just a hell of a night of guitar shredding.”