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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!