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New Orleans will always be best known for the annual debauchery of Mardi Gras, but underneath its "party hardy" façade lurks one of the country's most vibrant metal scenes. Long before Hurricane Katrina laid waste to huge portions of the city and gave New Orleanians a reason to be seriously pissed off, New Orleans was already home to some of the most angry, nihilistic music around.
The New Orleans metal scene began to take shape in the mid- to late '80s, as bands like Exhorder, Crowbar, and Eyehategod started drawing the attention of underground metal fans for their combination of crushing riffs, gruff vocals, and Southern groove. The scene gained mainstream exposure in the 1990s with the formation of metal super-group Down, which featured members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, and Crowbar. Down's 1995 debut album, NOLA, was named in honor of New Orleans and went on to achieve platinum status.
The bluesy, Southern-rock hooks that inflect even the heaviest of New Orleans' metal acts is not lost on Ben Falgoust, lead singer of two prominent NOLA metal bands, Goatwhore and Soilent Green.
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"It's like, all of a sudden, Napalm Death got in a fight with Lynyrd Skynyrd," Falgoust says. "Or with Goatwhore, it's like AC/DC actually met the Devil on the highway to Hell. It does have that. I think that might be rooted in the city being so blues- and jazz-based, but also being Southern in general — the influences of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and CCR that are really Southern-based. Even though CCR was from California, it still had a really Southern feel to it. We all listen to things like that as well. We're not all hell-bent just on metal."
Falgoust is currently touring with Goatwhore in support of the band's recently released fourth album, Carving Out the Eyes of God. Despite spending an estimated nine or 10 months a year on the road in both bands, Falgoust says he still has a "regular" job at a framing shop in New Orleans, which he says is an economic necessity.
"I hate to be a disappointment to the masses, but it's the truth, you know? I mean, you have bands that are big, like Lamb of God, Slipknot. Bands on that level really do well and they make money. Bands on our level, we're still workin' hard. When it's really extreme and it's really underground, it's not the easiest thing, per se. Most of the time, we're out there because we really enjoy doing what we do."
Goatwhore's lyrics often revolve around Satanism and the occult, but the origin of the band's name surprisingly has nothing to do with evil forces. According to Falgoust, guitarist Sammy Duet was at a New Orleans strip club with an unnamed mutual friend who had a penchant for blurting out whatever was on his mind, especially after a few drinks. When they were approached by a particularly unsavory stripper with an elongated, horse-like face, their friend inadvertently came up with their future band name.
"He stood up, knocked the chair over and said, 'Get out of my face, you goat whore,'" Falgoust laughs. "Sammy said from that moment, he snagged that fuckin' title and named the band that."
When the conversation turns to New Orleans' post-Katrina recovery, Falgoust takes a more serious tone. Falgoust's house survived the storm, but his family wasn't as lucky. One of his sisters had to rebuild her entire house after the flooding.
"I think it has to do with time," Falgoust says of the recovery efforts. "Any area of the world where there's a disaster, everything takes a little time to restructure it, maybe even destroy it and renew the area. Overall, things are moving fairly well. I think the scene here got a little bit more close-knit. The idea of, any given hurricane season, we can lose all of this, because you never know what's going to happen."