I have only the vaguest memories of listening to Ghoulgotha’s debut, The Deathmass Cloak. Whether it was a case of too much music too little time, or simply that The Deathmass Cloak was unexceptional, the album failed to make an impression on me. In light of this, listening to the group’s latest album, To Starve the Cross, I am, in effect, hearing them again for the first time.
What is most striking about Ghoulgotha’s style of murky doom/death is the band’s pervasive and inventive use of melody. Goulgotha frequently uses dueling melodic lines to create a richly textured sound. These phrases are not always the straightforward harmonies of, say, Iron Maiden, but frequently something more akin to the adventurous and occasionally disjointed early-At the Gates material, where different but complementary parts intersect and diverge to create more intriguing, and occasionally chaotic harmonic patterns.
The heavy riffing on To Starve the Cross is the iron-fisted yin, to the melodies delicate yang. Typically, the guitars and drums march in a plodding lock-step with beats and notes striking like simultaneous hammer blows. Though typical death metal tremolo riffs crop up to provide a little melodic movement, the overall effect is largely rhythmic, and consequently short on memorable themes.
To Starve the Cross is definitely front-loaded with the album’s best material. Opener “Village of Flickering Torches” has perhaps the most memorable melodies on the album and the band does the best job of integrating light and shade here, while leading the listener on a harrowing ride through shifting themes and tempos. Track three, “The Sulphur Age,” is notable for the dizzying swarms of notes that turn a track of otherwise crawling doom death on its head. Track four, “Abyssic Eyes,” finds the band it is most aggressive, beginning with a boldly-striding mid-paced riff and accelerating from there into a chaotic whirlwind of riffs that approaches grind territory.
However unique Ghoulgotha’s brand of doom/death might be, there is no getting around the fact that To Starve the Cross grows tiresome well before its 55 minute running time is up. Ghoulgotha has quite a few neat tricks up its sleeve, but there’s no denying hat its compositions are not always particularly cohesive or memorable. Furthermore, for all the tempo changes and twisted melodies on To Starve the Cross, too much of this album seems to get mired in some rather uninteresting doom. It’s a bit of a paradox, but despite being a doom/death band Ghoulgotha fairs best when it plays relatively fast. Intensity can hide many sins.
If nothing else, with To Starve the Cross Ghoulgotha has definitely made an impression on me. That impression is one of a talented band that has its own unique sound, but still lacks some polish in the songwriting department. To Starve the Cross is brilliant and captivating in fits and starts, but ultimately fails to weave those brilliant and captivating moments into a cohesive and consistently enjoyable whole. This isn’t a great album, but it is interesting enough to hold out hope that Ghoulgotha might yet make a great album.