A little west of Birmingham – often said to be the birthplace of metal – their lies an entire country with an almost equally rich musical heritage in terms of rock music. In the 70s, Wales birthed the often overlooked Man, the underrated Budgie, and the should’ve been huge Lone Star. Lone Star’s second album ‘Firing On All Six’, whilst perhaps not as big as monolithic works by Deep Purple, is an easy match for any of the great material released by UFO or Uriah Heep. It’s been even less documented that the country has actually spawned a healthy stoner and doom metal scene. Spearheaded by the former Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (later MWWB) and Dope Smoker, there are a truckload of good, heavy riff-makers filling an opulent Welsh underground in the twenty first century.

Formed in 2022, Goat Major worked hard at building a live following before entering the studio, and whilst it might not capture the sheer ferocity of a gig performance, the three tracks that make up their ‘Evil Eye’ EP manage to capture a classic sound almost immediately. It’s sound that could rival Orange Goblin, Spacebeast, Black Rainbows, Spelljammer and Forming The Void in terms of sheer riff-based excitement.

The title cut opens with a doomy riff and a clatter of drums which, in some ways, sounds like the death throes of a heavy tune, but by repeating the same pattern a few times, it also feels like a natural way to crank the tension. With the listener firmly drawn in, the first of the main riffs arrives with a crushing weight akin to Electric Wizard in full doom mode – a riff that’ll reappear between the track’s verses, augmented by a brighter sounding guitar part – before sliding into a pleasingly fuzzy head nodding groove that sounds like The Atomic Bitchwax cranked up by about two hundred percent. Too much of this might lead to fatigue, and certainly would be hard going if joined by a traditional doomy roar, but the band have thought of that. Vocalist Tom Shortt’s delivery is much cleaner – or at least it would be, had it not been smothered in echoing, other worldly effects. This is a good move, as it makes Goat Major sound like a natural blend of classic doom/stoner and deep space rock weirdness on more than a few occasions, but should still appeal to those who really don’t enjoy “clean singing” when approaching music in this style. Between the vocal sections, guitarist Jammie Arnold favours something even heavier than a post-Sabbath doom-groove, and often takes the band into an even purer world of doom riffs, but these too are perfectly executed. With the whole six minute caboodle shifting between the heavy and groove oriented, and the heavier still, it’s the perfect introduction.

Venturing deeper into classic doom at first, ‘Turn To Dust’ opens with a massive funereal doom/sludge riff, bringing together the sounds of overdriven guitar, growling bass grooves and a slowly pounded rhythm (courtesy of drummer Simon Bonwick) with ease. The same affected vocal is applied once more, but the riffs are so heavy here that there are moments during the first two minutes where Tom’s contributions seem a little lost. After increasing the tempo midway, everything works far more naturally when Tom’s fuzz bass leads everything through a super-charged Sabbath groove and the echoing voice captures a frantic tone that suits the job in hand. By the end of the track, Simon appears to be smashing his kit into oblivion and everything manages to convey more of a Kyuss-ish feel, and this also shows off an exceptionally good power trio, intent on taking familiar stoner metal fare forward, into more exciting places than most.

With ‘Mountains of Madness’ pulling the riffs across an epic eight minutes, the band not only get to explore passages of bass heavy doom augmented by howling guitar lines, but also share their deep love fuzzy, domineering sludginess even further, and in a way that really advertises their natural gifts with heavy riffs. With Simon holding everything together with an amalgam of almost tribal drum grooves and a crashier approach that smashes through a slow groove, the first part of the track shares perfect instrumental doom. Moving into a faster passage where the influence from ‘Master of Reality’ era Sabbath and ‘Welcome To Sky Valley’ era Kyuss becomes more than obvious, the trio locks into a power groove that’s perfect stoner/doom, delivering riff after riff of heavy fuzz, creating sounds that should appeal to all lovers of the style. That would be enough to secure another great track, but with a semi-bluesy lead guitar adding extra atmosphere and an escalating riff at the track’s end reinforcing a very 70s vibe, this lengthy jam becomes one of Goat Major’s best.

In just three songs, Goat Major announce their arrival with the kind of timeless tones and weighty tomes that some doom bands take half a lifetime to perfect. The fact that they’ve been mindful enough to temper some of their musical heft with a vocal more suited to space rock/deep psych makes the material so much more interesting than straight doom peddled with a deep growl, too. With equal parts heaviness, groove and darkly unsettling mood, this short debut marks often sounds greater than the sum of its parts, and is a recording that sets a still new band on the road to greatness. Highly recommended.

December 2023