Five years ago, I attended a Cannibal Corpse concert. Make no mistake; I was there for CC, but I was interested in the opening acts as well (save for The Black Dahlia Murder...they're not my cup of semen). My principal curiosity was to find out if Goatwhore delivered the ruthless, skin-flaying live experience that had won them ubiquitous plaudits. It's not that I didn't believe the metal community. I had to see it with my own two eyes. The verdict? Goatwhore is fucking brutal. Since that fateful night, I've been a staunch fan of the Louisiana-based thrashers. Of course, the term "thrashers" doesn't do them justice. Drummer Zack Simmons, bassist James Harvey (a late addition to the line-up), guitarist Sammy Duet and vocalist Ben Falgoust II peddle a Cajun-laced strain of blackened speed metal.

You could also toss "sludge" and "hard rock" into this adjective urn. NOTE TO SELF: Write a treatment for a 50's-style educational short film starring The Undertaker called The Adjective Urn. Anyway, Goatwhore rules the planet. Carving Out the Eyes of God was my favorite album of 2009. It was an artistic apex of sorts, an annex of the band's overall sound. It amplified (and augmented...alright, I'll knock it off) the manifold facets of the three preceding long players. But with every peak, there is a valley. I won't call Blood for the Master a flop, but it doesn't take Goatwhore to new heights. Honestly, it comes across as a sallow sequel to Carving, which is exactly what these guys were trying to avoid.

Look, there are strong numbers here. "In Deathless Tradition" and "Beyond the Spell of Discontent" hint at the progression I was expecting to hear on this record. And this isn't a case of yet another underground mainstay selling out. Not even close. Master is full of grinding riffs (gotta love Sammy's sandpaper guitar tone), scrupulous blastbeats and acrid vocals from the recesses of Satan's asshole. I can listen to it without getting bored. Is that the kind of compliment that Goatwhore was hoping to elicit from loyal devotees? I would dispute such a claim. My biggest complaint about this compact disc is...well, it's extremely standard. There is an inveterate sense of sameness hanging over each track like a black cloud pouring sheets of rain onto Charlie Brown's scalp.

Master strikes me as a wooden, perfunctory collection of b-sides. That's not easy for me to type, and I still worship Goatwhore, but I think they would agree that they set the bar too goddamn high. It's their fault! If their first four albums weren't so righteous, Blood for the Master would have blown my mind. In closing, all I can offer is a plea for evolution the next time around. There was a great deal of growth in between 2000's The Eclipse of Ages into Black and 2003's Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun. Ditto for subsequent releases. If you're just now discovering Goatwhore, this is actually a decent place to start. Sample "Collapse in Eternal Worth" and "When Steel and Bone Meet." If you dig those tunes, buy the whole back catalogue.

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