Year of The Goat’s “Unspeakable” genius

It’s only fitting for an album titled “The Unspeakable to begin with nearly two minutes of little more than spooky whispers and a slowly building drum beat. And this two minutes represents less than one-sixth of the entire track. Yes, the opening track of “The Unspeakable” is going on 13 minutes long. That takes balls.

Okay, plenty of the artists I listen to write long songs. But Year of the Goat practices a pretty digestible style that I like to call occult rock. There’s no shortage of it these days—maybe driven by a love for all things retro, maybe due to who knows what. YOTG’s influences are very distinctly ’80s pop, new wave and goth. As a child of the ’80s I carry a deep love for much of the pop music of that era. I suppose that’s always the way with the music that surrounds you in your formative years. YOTG starting this album with a sprawling epic is a bold move for this genre, but one that I appreciate, and an indicator of ambitious fearlessness. Either that or they just don’t give a shit, and I appreciate that, too.

A portion of what I listen to would certainly be considered “weird” by some, but this album’s appeal is greatest in that most conventional of things: the chorus. YOTG writes the most insanely catchy, compelling choruses I have heard in years. “Pillars of the South” quickly burrows into your brain’s pleasure center and rocks out there, the groove utterly irresistible. “Vermin” is even more crazily addictive, a song of which I cannot get enough no matter how many times I hear it. There’s somewhat of a Thin Lizzy vibe here as it blazes unfettered into the rock stratosphere. When it hits the bridge to the chorus, it drops into an uncanny copy of the epic guitar line from Bryan Adams’ iconic “Run to You.” And oh man, that chorus is sheer goddamned perfection. But this isn’t your average radio-friendly fodder; the lyrics are firmly grounded in the unsavory and unsettling:

I feel — eyes stare at me
I’m crying — out for mercy
I hear them — screaming in anguish
From under the floorboards and up through my spine

The first part of each line is sung as background vocals, with the second sung up front and slightly overlapping the first. Again, here’s a conventional tactic that we’ve all heard in a hundred pop songs, but it works brilliantly.

“Vermin” is the fourth track, and by this point the record is locked in and absolutely unstoppable. “World of Wonders” again has a chorus to die for, almost incomprehensibly catchy and fully capable of getting lodged in your head for eternity. “The Wind” summons the best of The Sisters of Mercy, with the bass lines such a close match to that seminal goth band that you’d think they themselves came into the studio to lay them down in a guest session. YOTG even employed the little vocal echo at the end of one line, a classic signature of ’80s goth. And yes, the chorus is pure gold. “Black Sunlight” and “The Sermon” are great, the former containing some Spanish guitar flourishes and the latter a driving rocker, but penultimate track “The Key and the Gate” came to grow on me immensely. Year of the Goat is a Swedish act, but the chorus curiously repeats the song’s title in Italian—“La chiave, la chiave, e la porta”—and of course is deliciously appealing. Here again, YOTG asserts their occult tendencies. “The Key and the Gate” is a reference to Yog-Sothoth, a Lovecraftian deity of the Cthulhu Mythos. Let’s see Bryan Adams write about that.

And finally we have the track that first turned me on to this band (thank you, Radio Fenriz): the epic “Riders of Vultures.” Maybe the most metal track on the entire album, it features big, radiant guitar chords soaring over the top of doomy riffs, and sounds huge. It culminates in a chanting choir ominously singing in a minor key, then growing urgent in Carmina Burana-like style, signaling The End Times. But it’s only the end of this glorious album, and you can start it all over again! And you will, again and again and again, because you won’t be able to help yourself. With its ability to be almost unnaturally catchy while maintaining its dark occult roots, I’ve never heard anything quite like “The Unspeakable.”

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