Goatwhore’s Zack Simmons Dishes on New Music, Haters, and Genre Hopping

All images courtesy of Earsplitter PR

Maligned by some and loved by many, that’s long been the tagline slung over the shoulder of New Orleans extreme metal outfit Goatwhore.

But through it all – tough times, harsh critics, and yes, devout fans – Goatwhore has never relented. Instead, the group has pushed forward, crafting inventive, and dare I say it – watershed music, which has come to linchpin one of metal’s most polarizing genres.

To that end, not much has changed with Goatwhore’s latest record, the cheekily titled, Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven. The veteran foursome – comprised of Sammy Duet (guitars), L. Ben Falgoust II (vocals), Zack Simmons (drums), and Robert’ Trans Am’ Coleman (bass) – seems to be happy to continue flipping the middle finger in the face of doubters, haters, and supposedly oh-so-astute critics.

For Goatwhore, naysayers will never leave the band at a nadir; no, if this latest record is any indication, the über-aggressive, continuously undulating outfit is as trenchant as ever. With Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven, we see yet another example of a thriving metal scene bursting with new music for hungry fans to devour at as ravenous a pace as they can maintain.

No matter, though, because Duet, Falgoust II, Simmons, and Coleman are already several paces down the road, plotting their next move. With a taste for blood and fervent passion for heavy metal in all its forms, Goatwhore’s winding road toward infamy might never meet its end.

Taking a break from bucking trends and dodging daggers, Zack Simmons dialed in with Metal Castle to dig into Goatwhore’s latest record, adventurous approach, curious spirit, and thoughts on the state of the metal scene today.

What can you tell me about Goatwhore’s latest record, Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven?

Well, the restraints of the whole COVID pandemic gave us some extra time, which afforded us the headspace to take our time writing this record. We’d already been writing the record before the pandemic, but the extra time gave us a chance to refine the songs, which made all the difference. We weren’t being rushed by deadlines or tours coming up, forcing us to spend a lot of time not overanalyzing.

So, we took the time to make revisions and really made sure that things were the best they could be. From there, it was just a matter of getting into the studio and making sure the sounds were right. We spent a lot of time on the mixing, mastering, artwork, and everything that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. So, we’re very proud of this record because of how much we poured ourselves into making it.

What would you say the most significant progression with this record is from Goatwhore’s last record, Vengeful Ascension?

It’s weird to say for us, but with this new record, there’s a little more melody in these songs. And there are certain things that I think we felt more comfortable doing this time, probably because it felt a little more natural. Sometimes you don’t know if a particular riff or idea is in your specific band’s wheelhouse or what you’re trying to accomplish. But this time, we just said, “Fuck it. If it feels right, we’re playing it.” We just went with it.

It’s one thing for a piece of music to sound questionable when it’s just like drums and guitar because you’re not stepping out of that established ground, you know? But you’ve got to realize that once Ben [Falgoust II] has his vocals over it, and everybody has their input, it becomes so much more than the sum of those parts. That’s when it becomes a Goatwhore song, no matter what encompasses the track. So, I think with this record, we let go of many things and trusted the process. And I feel that our decision to trust each one of our abilities contributed to the progression.

Goatwhore - Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven Review | Angry Metal GuyAll images courtesy of Earsplitter PR

As a drummer, what is your approach to laying down the beats for Goatwhore’s music?

My approach is taking risks, going with my first instinct, and seeing how things grow. With that, I will take my freshest idea and lay it down immediately. And then, from there, I will either leave it and walk away from it or come back to it and refine it. But I’ve learned to trust my gut so that things stay fun and don’t become too finite. And while the first thing I come up with might stick, I also might need to change it a little bit, and I accept that. But from there on, I allow the evolution to remain natural and use the process of trial and error.

Goatwhore straddles several metal subgenres, never settling on one for too long. With that in mind, how would you describe the sound of the band to a new listener?

It’s weird, man, because it’s not a conscious thing for us. Moving around through genres – while still sounding like us – is entirely natural. But I’d classify us as just “heavy metal.” But I know it goes deeper than that. And then you have the people who don’t know much about extreme or heavy metal, and they ask me, “What do you classify yourself as?” And I always say, “I guess… extreme metal,” as a blanket term.

But you’re right – we incorporate elements of black metal, death metal, thrash metal, maybe a little grind, and some traditional metal, too. But it all goes back to our collective influences because we like many kinds of music. And that diversity ends up showing up in many ways, but it’s not something we sit down and try to do per se. It’s not like, “Alright, we need a black metal part. We need a death metal part,” it just happens seamlessly.

What are some of your most prominent influences?

I’m all over the place, but bands like Candlemass and Motörhead – I worship Motörhead. [Laughs]. But also bands like Celtic Frost, which is probably obvious. But then, myself and even the rest of the band are inspired by horror movie soundtracks and things like that. We’ll hear a melody from a horror movie score and try to improvise and build on that, and that might end up on the album in a million different ways. So, it’s all over the place. But it’s cool to be well-rounded as a metal band, and I guess, as a musician, you’ve got to be well-rounded in your tastes and what kind of music you’re into; otherwise, you end up sounding boring.

When creating new music, does Goatwhore feel beholden to its past, or is it comfortable covering new ground?

That’s a good question, man. Like I said earlier, because of our various influences, it’s essential for us to be mindful of letting go of that fearful feeling of needing to be confined to what we’ve already done. It would be easy to look at what was successful and keep on doing that, but we like to break new ground. We need to keep ourselves open to forging a new path. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still going to sound like Goatwhore, but we do so to build a future.

Another way to look at it is when we’re making an album, we’ll be like, “Okay, we’ve already done this, let’s find a way to expand upon it.” And once we do that, we can go even further in new directions. But having said that, deep down, we know there are certain lines that we won’t cross as far. You’ll never see Goatwhore doing an experimental noise record or something like that. [Laughs]. So, there’s room for growth and experimentation, but at the same time, there’s a hard line of things we won’t do.

May be an image of 4 peopleImage credit: Stephan Cabral

What drums, cymbals, and equipment are you using, and why?

I’ve been a loyal endorser of Pearl Drums for years, and I love them now as much as I ever have. I’ve been using Pearl Drums since I started playing drums, and I’m lucky enough to have a deal with them. So, I’ve got my Pearl Drums, and then I use Sabian Cymbals, Evans Drumheads, and Ahead Sticks. That’s the main bulk of the gear that I rely on. I use that combination because it sounds great, looks great, and allows me to translate the music of Goatwhore best. I don’t mess with my setup too much. I might try something new now and again, but generally, if it works, I leave it alone.

What are some of the most significant challenges metal acts face today?

The first thing that comes to mind is that selling physical copies of albums is much harder compared to 20 years ago. Man, it’s like night and day. But I’m beyond stoked about the health of the metal scene and the extreme metal scene. It’s not so bad out there and not nearly as bad as some make it out to be. We’ve got a whole new generation of people just getting into extreme metal, which is fantastic. I’m seeing a resurgence of the old-school death metal scene through some newer bands, and that’s made life a lot easier for all of us.

I will say that COVID fucked a lot of things up for a long time, but once that died down, we found that people were so stoked to get back out to shows. And now, so many tours are coming through, and it’s so saturated that we see constant sellouts all over. People pack into places to see bands play, and shows are well attended. So, I think that metal is on an upswing now, and this could be one of the best times for metal ever. Things go through peaks and valleys, and maybe every ten years, it dips down a little bit, but right now, I think it’s pretty fucking strong.

To what does Goatwhore owe its longevity?

It all starts and ends with consistency. We are consistent, and we work to put out quality records. And then we get out there, and we consistently play quality shows. We give 100% in everything we do, which shows in everything we do. We’ve worked our asses off by touring constantly and ensuring we get ourselves out there in front of the fans.

It’s important to us to hit markets that don’t often have shows, and I think that has made all the difference for us, too. People living in small towns are stoked when we come through because they don’t have to drive six hours to the nearest major city to see us. That goes a long way when you’re cultivating a fanbase. And really, the fans are why we’re here, so why shouldn’t we do that?

Lastly, Goatwhore has always been a polarizing group. What is your message to your haters?

I think that people can see that while our music might be serious and dark, they can tell we’re enjoying it and having fun with it. And we encourage our fans to do the same thing. A lot of people like to focus on what they call “negative subject matter,” or whatever, but there’s more to Goatwhore than that. There’s a genuine brotherhood and a real home within the music – within the metal – that draws us all to each other.

So, people bash the band before ever taking a moment to understand that, but that’s their problem, not ours. That’s their mistake, and we don’t worry about that. We’re more inspiring than the haters would have anyone believe, and we feel strongly about what we do. We love the fans and each other; that inspiring side of it all has kept us alive and will continue to.

Goatwhore Let Rip New Song 'Death From Above' Off 2022 AlbumImage credit: Stephan Cabral

Andrew Daly (@AJDWriter88) is a contributing writer for Metal Castle and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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