During the dying days of 2023, Welsh stoner/doom band Goat Major made some huge musical waves with their debut EP ‘Evil Eye’. Although its three tracks didn’t really set out to offer genre fans anything especially new, it was clear these lads had a massive set of talents, and clearly understood that taking a well liked style and reworking it flawlessly would be, in many ways, more beneficial than adding new twists and somehow missing the mark. Whichever way you approached it, the EP sounded superb. The riffs were incredibly weighty, the filtered vocal added a Sabbathy ‘Planet Caravan’-esque strangeness, and the rhythm section sounded like a truck. In DIY terms, ‘Evil Eye’ was absolutely peak stoner/doom – a download not to be missed, and a release that set up enormous hopes for an equally good follow up.

…And this follow up cements any feelings that Goat Major are something special. The material follows the same blueprint as before, but therein lies its strength once again. The band allow their listeners plenty of time to get re-acquainted with their sound when ‘Snakes (Goddess of The Serpent)’ opens with a huge doom riff, which lurches slowly over a minute or so, flaunting a distorted guitar and bass. The riff never stretches beyond doom by numbers, but it doesn’t need to; those approaching this off the back of the EP will be thrilled instantly by the semi-sludgy Electric Wizard colliding with Crowbar tones, and guitarist Jammie Arnold recycles those with an absolute love. Beneath the crushingly heavy chords, Tom Shortt’s vocals swirl and echo in a way that feels other worldly rather than threatening, and the space rock filters – as before – share a much preferable sound to many bands’ throaty growling. With a brief sojourn into a couple of faster riffs, the band ensure the track never feels laboured, and despite being quite predictable, it’s very much the kind of tune that shows how effortlessly Goat Major approach some very heavy stoner vibes. Flowing straight into the title cut, the sequencing of the album is such that it gives the impression of having opened with one massively long track, but it isn’t long before ‘Ritual’ takes on far more of its own identity. Atop a faster groove, Arnold’s lead guitars add passages of wah-wahed, blues-edged leads, a few of the vocals sound a little more pointed and, overall, Goat Major latch onto a set of riffs that rework a truly classic sound. With the aid of a more memorable hook, some fantastic live sounding drums, and an eventual glide into something a touch more Sabbath-esque overlaid with fuzz, Goat Major take an already strong number to higher highs, creating an album standout in the process.

Stretching out to over six minutes, ‘Light of The End’ adds even more heaviness, and hearing Shortt reworking a riff that sounds like a relative of the classic ‘Wheels of Confusion’ adds a further weight to the band’s growing legacy. As always, though, this isn’t just about the pure heaviness – although it is one of the heaviest Goat Major tracks to date. His fuzzed up, bluesy leads add a different kind of retro dimension, and several wordless backing vocals lend a deep psych vibe that’s a great contrast to the more typical doom sounds. Going deeper into the psych, the guitars eventually fall away to reveal an amazing bass riff which anchors a very slow groove. Eventually, and with the aid of some very live sounding drums courtesy of Simon Bonwick, the trio cranks a timeless doomy sound, filling the remainder of an already great number with some really oppressive riffing. Via the huge ‘Power That Be’, which swaggers like a Sabbath tune circa 1971 with the heaviness of an on form Electric Wizard, everything comes very close to being on autopilot, but even here, a superb drum sound and perfectly executed lead guitar break lifts everything enough to make it massively enjoyable despite being predictable, and as if to counterbalance that, the trippy ‘Lay Me Down’ sounds like a Pantera ballad (without Nazi connotations) reworked by Mercury Rev and then layered with a howling guitar for an extra other-worldly feel. When there are riffs as massive as ‘Light of The End’ on offer, it’s unlikely that this will be anyone’s favourite track, but it’s great to hear a band who are able to switch gears and share something very different – and so naturally.

On top of those enjoyable tracks, the three tunes from the debut EP are also included here, making this an ideal way to get up to speed. The best of those, ‘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 with ease. The space rock-ish 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.

Elsewhere, ‘Evil Eye’ opens with a doomy riff and a clatter of drums before the first of the main riffs arrives with a crushing weight akin to Electric Wizard in full doom mode. It’s a massive riff that reappears between the track’s verses, augmented by a brighter sounding guitar part – before making time for a pleasingly fuzzy head nodding groove. It’s sometimes a little more heavy handed than parts of this album, but that won’t necessarily be at all off-putting to fans of the style. Between the vocal sections, guitarist Jammie 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. During the epic ‘Mountains of Madness’ Simon holds everything together with a mix of tribal drum grooves and a crashier approach that smashes through a slower riff. In classic style, the first part of the track shares perfect instrumental doom, before moving into a faster passage where the influence from early Sabbath and ‘Welcome To Sky Valley’ era Kyuss becomes more than obvious. A huge amount of fuzz augments a world of classic stoner riffs throughout, 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 another of Goat Major’s best.

Even with its longer playing time,‘Ritual’ never allows boredom to set in. The best material has all of the power and confidence present on Goat Major’s EP, and in a couple of cases, even outshines previous work. On a release where the riff could be all, these tracks still convey a sense of atmosphere – even if an uneasy one – often showing off Goat Major’s power trio stance strongly and allowing each of the musicians plenty of time to shine. In terms of DIY stoner/doom sounds, you’ll be hard pressed to find much better. This is a release that’s not to be missed.

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February/March 2024