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Originally published at http://suite101.com
If The Gates of Slumber aren't the biggest heavy metal band in the Indianapolis area, then they're at least the most recognized doom metal group in the area. Formed in 1998, the group has gathered acclaim in the underground for its particularly theatrical musical style and strong riffs. But for the group's fifth full-length studio album, a number of changes have occurred. For starters, this is the first album to feature former Sourvein drummer "Cool" Clyde Paradis alongside longtime bassist Jason McCash and founding guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon.
While most of the band's career has been spent mixing their dirge-like sound with traditional and power metal themes in a way similar to classic Candlemass, this is easily their most stripped down album to date. Nothing on here is really simplified or made more accessible by previous standards, but you could say that the album has a rather grounded feel. The riffs are downtrodden, the vocals are mournful, and the pacing is arguably slower than it's ever been.
As other reviewers have pointed out, this album does sound a lot like something that Saint Vitus would've put out in their prime if they were given the virtues of modern production. Opening track "Bastards Born" in particular comes off as a sluggish lament in the vein of the classic "Born Too Late." Of course, there are a few exceptions to the overall rule. Despite the morose themes of alcoholism and cocain abuse, "The Scourge Ov Drunkenness" and "Coven of Cain" are particularly upbeat affairs and the spacy "Castle Of The Devil" conjures the feeling of Candlemass' most recent album with its sombre transitions.
Speaking of themes, the lyrical themes are probably the most noticeable changes of all. For this effort, the band seems to have dropped its previous fantasy themes in favor of much more personal topics. Throughout the album, the listener is bombarded with tales of depression and drug abuse told in a voice that may be a bit more blunt than it needs to be. Regardless, the lines are quite powerful and should be a highlight for listeners that appreciate good lyrics.
But with everything that has changed, the band itself continues to impress and work well with what they materialize. The drums are quite solid and Simon has a pretty sweet Scott Weinrich impression, but it is ultimately the guitar and bass playing that proves to be the album's biggest strength. In addition to the catchy riffs and strong solos, the lead guitar also manages to provide a great foundation and effectively makes one forget that this band is a power trio. But there are also moments where the bass is allowed to stand out on several occasions thanks to this format and sounds particularly powerful on "Castle of the Devil" and the title track.
All in all, this is an incredibly strong album that is hard to fault and may end up being one of the best albums offered up in 2011. Newer listeners should be enticed by the band's full sound and older fans shouldn't have anything to fear due to the awesome songwriting at hand. In fact, I may have to recommend this album alongside such classics as Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and the previously mentioned Born Too Late to anyone that is interested in doom metal. This and the debut album from Premonition 13 should be enough to hold Saint Vitus fans over until they finish that album they've been working on...
"The Scourge ov Drunkenness"
"Castle Of The Devil"
"Coven of Cain"
Perhaps the most formidable faculty of The Gates of Slumber is the band's ability to completely absorb you into its world of leaden and dark nostalgia. Like (70s) Black Sabbath or Cirith Ungol before them, they are so adept at establishing pace and controlling the listener's metallic metabolism that one cannot help but become transported directly into their tales of barbarism, vice, myth and fantasy. Their albums are like being immersed in a virtual reality tank in which the stories of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft collide with the Biblical books of Revelations and Genesis, the fables of various European pantheons while an endless soundtrack of Psalm 9, Master of Reality, Be Forewarned, King of the Dead, and Born Too Late is spun out ad infinitum. Yes, that equates to awesome.
In fact, I don't think these Hoosiers have released one bad record to date. Perhaps not the sort of masterworks to which they themselves pay tribute, but I can't name The Gates of Slumber album to which I've felt no inclination to break out my mead horn, pipe, twenty sided dice, Viking helm and broadsword to face off squarely against some sea serpent or another. And The Wretch, their fifth full-length proves no exception. Karl Simon's husky, smokey tones channel Osbourne into a lower, more workmanlike register, while the guitars lurch along with just the right level of understated distortion to reflect a 70s rock purity. Much of the riffing architecture mirrors Tony Iommi from the first 4-5 Sabbath LPs, but what I find remarkable is just how humble and real this band comes across, as if they were performing for you right in the middle of your washroom or garage. Clean like a Cream or Zeppelin outing decades before its time, but just lowdown and dirty enough to escape any taint of excess pop polish.
I will say that The Wretch does not start out on its strongest foot. "Bastards Born" is arguably the most boring track of this bunch, but it still has a decent, central riff and some stops and starts with the vocals that recall something like "War Pigs". Once "The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness" and "To the Rack With Them", arrive, though, it's GAME ON, the former a sweltering, foot thumping barrage of beer soaked bedlam bisected with some bad ass blues (forgive the tongue twister); the latter an incredible barrage of stolid grooves in which one can feel his or her stomach quake to the sheer volume of the butter churning crunch of amped up distortion and the cruddy curvature of the bottom feeding bass. Yet the album gets even more engrossing the deeper one travels, with the slow, suicidal swagger of "Day of Farewell" and the baleful, cautionary "Castle of the Devil" and it's bass-driven bridge and Ozzy counter-vocals standing out as personal highlights of the experience.
Through it all, with the possible exception of "Bastards Born" or a few less impressive moments in the 12+ minute "Iron and Fire", The Gates of Slumber evades the sense of derivative ennui that pervades so much of the modern and retro doom this past decade. The Wretch feels like a record that could have been cut in 1978, and it's that stripped down return to primacy which is so ultimately compelling in much of their work. Granted, the influences are laid bare on the guys' sleeves. No one is going to accuse this band of being highly original, and that's not what they set out to be, but instead masters of the past who offer you gifts of nostalgia in a delicious haze of drugs, dragons, demons and damnation. Along with the mighty Italians Doomsword, who have an admittedly busier, brighter sound to them, The Gates of Slumber have this corner of the stony market locked down.
I have been an advocate for this band for a few years now. Ever since I discovered Conqueror, which was an incredible mix of 1980's style heavy metal and traditional doom, with enough catchy songs to keep me coming back for more. The Gates of Slumber then blew me away again with their next album, Hymns of Blood and Thunder, so it their most recent album from this year was heavily anticipated.
The Gates of Slumber have come through yet again. The band seems to keep getting better. "The Wretch" is their best album that I have yet heard, which is saying quite a bit because each of their last two have been Top 10 of the Year-worthy albums. This one looks to be in that range again this year.
The thing that I think makes The Gates of Slumber such a great band is that their music never sounds forced. They are not playing this type of traditional, old school-sounding metal because it is popular or profitable. They play this because they seem to genuinely enjoy playing it. That comes across very well in their sound. All of their songs are crafted perfectly and easily capture the spirit of the music that the band seems to really love. This is absolutely not "hipster metal", it is heavy metal, plain and simple.
Once again, TGoS have put out an album that is a mix between traditional doom in the style of Cirith Ungol, Trouble, and Candlemass, mixed with 1980's metal bands like Exciter, Manilla Road, and Brocas Helm. Their lyrical themes may be a little cliche at times, but that is all part of the charm, and with music as good as this, it really does not matter anyway. Each song is infectious and done with a sense of fun rather than an overbearing morbidity like many other doom bands.
The Gates of Slumber has once more impressed me. This is easily Top 10-worthy for the year and possibly their best album yet.
Total stylistic overhaul even within a genre can go a good number of ways - more often than not, to Hell. And occasionally back again. Here's an example of where it went to Hell in a good way. The Gates of Slumber claim they aren't in the mood for their kinda epic, slightly heroic trad doom of yester-disc, and the followup to Hymns of Blood and Thunder, The Wretch, is as much of a change in atmosphere musically as it is in the album title. This sounds so much like Saint Vitus it's like a big middle finger to the entire Vitus reunion.
I don't recall hearing this particular switch in tact with a doom band before. Gone are any harmonized choruses, galloping drums, 'Mob Rules' and 'Pray for the Dead' style charges and folky interludes. Gone is any semblance of anything that might even slightly resemble victory, hope, happiness, optimism, or even daylight for that fucking matter. This is like all the darkest moments of Born Too Late and Mournful Cries distilled into a thick stout of antipathy and numbness. Coffee followed by Guinness. Next to this, tracks like 'Clear Windowpane' sound jolly. They bleed black, basically.
"As you walked away, my hands they went numb."
Although I was pleased with previous Slumber records, I never thought they would come up with a suffocating Vitusian guitar tone and crushing, mammoth-like pace like this. The Chandleresque riffs stomp forth with agonizing deliberation. These riffs have to literally heave themselves into every next chord, as if being forced into unwilling locomotion, almost like catching your breath before uttering the next words in an exchange you know is ruining you. The quivering riffs in the middle of 'Bastards Born' sound like corrugated iron vibrating in a storm.
Karl Simon has acquired a taste for combining slightly psychedelic guitar solos with turns of scorn and tragedy. As many of the tracks feature solos sounding a bit like Roger Waters as do Dave Chandler's wah-abusing screeches. The former influence really comes out in the mellow opening to 'Castle of the Devil', thoughtful like Pagan Altar, clean guitar melancholy leading into one of the album's more depressed pieces, in the vein of a Lord Vicar epic. The end of the nearly thirteen-minute closer 'Iron and Fire' rouses itself into a bleak series of creaking riffs like something from Reverend Bizarre's III: So Long Suckers, or at a stretch, from the earlier annals of My Dying Bride. Titanic drum climaxes and utter desperation, lovely.
This is so soaked in old school doom metal misery it should have been put out by Vitus in place of C.O.D., especially considering the vocals have a Chritus-like quality during some of the more rocking moments. Chritus (check out the vocals on 'Coven of Cain', then listen to Fear No Pain) meets Wino ('Bastards Born' and the title track in particular have huge vocal and lyrical similiarities) is still a decent way to describe what Karl Simon does, but staying in something of a mid-range here, sounding bitter, coarse and pissed. Both meanings. The drums are more crushing than ever they were on the band's war anthems, McCash battering them into a rocking and heavy-as-shit rhythm on cuts like 'The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness'.
"All the lies I told myself...make the truth so hard to take."
After a middling 2010 (Wheel and Procession being the two major takeaways) 2011 is shaping up nicely for traditional doom, with this and 40 Watt Sun being mandatory. And all because the dudes from The Gates of Slumber are completely fucking miserable for some reason. Sorry, but they can stay miserable. I have never said this before so categorically, but I hope this band never goes back to their old style of music!
The Gates of Slumber have been a highly recommended band recently, by Metallattorney as well as others. So I decided to check out this Indiana band's latest.
The Wretch finds the Indiana band playing traditional doom metal--traditional as in a tried-and-true formula, not as in "retro". It's very much in the vein of Saint Vitus and (the criminally ignored) Lord Vicar. In other words you should know what to expect: slow- to mid-paced, heavy Sabbathian riffs, verse-chorus-verse structures, clean vocals, and a solo in every song. It's certainly nothing new. But when the music is this good, it doesn't have to be.
The band's sound is the perfect match of traditional doomy tones with a more modern, heavier production. The riffs are catchy and memorable, and the vocal hooks sing-along-worthy, especially on the slightly more uptempo numbers like "The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness" and "To the Rack with Them". The solos are appropriate enough, and always have an effects pedal to set them apart from the rest of the song. The vocals are whiskey-soaked, conveying just the right amount of emotion while they tell a story.
Plus, it works perfectly as an album. There's a good variety, with moods that range from vengeful, to slobbering drunk, to sobering self-pity, among others. Regardless of their varying lengths, the songs are all captivating. And the runtime of just under an hour is perfect, rounded out with the sprawling "Iron and Fire".
The Verdict: It's not consciously retro, it's just done this way. It's just catchy doom metal with good riffs and great songs.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/