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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Album Review - The Gates of Slumber: The Wretch

Many of the albums that we review here at Heavy Planet feature an astounding mélange of musical styles and genres. Artists dabble in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, creating truly original soundscapes that defy classification. The Wretch is not one of those albums. You see The Gates of Slumber make no bones about it…they play one style of music and one style only. Their sound is lethargically paced, ominously themed and never strays from heavy. I’ll put it to you this way, if you came to Heavy Planet today in search of doom…well friend…you fucking got it.

Now if you’re at all familiar with this Indianapolis trio’s history, you’ll notice that there are a few differences from the band’s previous efforts. For starters, newcomer J. “Cool” Clyde Paradis has replaced Bob Foust behind the drum kit, joining longtime bassist Jason McCash and of course vocalist, guitarist and founding member Karl Simon in the lineup. Also noticeably absent this time around are the overt references to swords and sorcery and other such fantastical themes and images. One look at the cover of The Wretch and you know this isn’t your typical Conan the Barbarian inspired Gates of Slumber album. Finally, this release marks the end of the band’s affiliation with Sanford Parker, producer of the last two Slumber albums, Hymns of Blood and Thunder (2009) and Conqueror (2008). At the recommendation of their label (Rise Above Records), The Gates of Slumber flew to London and holed up in the attic of Jaime Arellano (producer of Ghost’s acclaimed Rise Above release, Opus Eponymous) to hash out the eight tracks that would become their most raw and honest album to date.

This is apparent right out of the gates (pardon the pun) as we’re introduced to The Wretch by way of its opening track “Bastards Born”, which features a lumbering, Sabbath-like riff and Simon’s Ozzy meets Tommy Victor (Prong) vocals as he bellows “lies are told and curses laid…shame is carried…a debt unpaid”. The song plods along like a drunken Neanderthal (and I mean that as the sincerest of compliments) until Simon breaks the monotony with a blistering guitar solo. One that seems all the more frenetic due to the contrast it creates with McCash’s sluggishly fuzzed out bass and Paradis’ beyond patient beats. To say this song’s pacing is methodical would be a severe understatement. Simon exits his solo and delves right back into the heavy riffing that started this archetypal doom number as he moans “and when your high horse has been brought down…and in your own lies you’ve surely drowned”. Classic!

“The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness” kicks this beast into a gallop, featuring a much more up-tempo riff that also happens to be catchy as all hell. True story…the damn thing grooves so good, I got caught off guard the first time I heard it and was unknowingly spotted by drivers to my left and to my right at a traffic light as I banged my head unmercifully. Fucking embarrassing…thanks Gates of Slumber. In all seriousness, my understanding is that this was actually the song that Karl Simon originally intended to be the title track of the album, but decided against it at the last minute for fear that people may mistake it’s meaning as a “party album”. The true gist of the song, both musically and lyrically is quite the opposite. It is a dark and dismal glance into the dangerous temptations of alcohol. “All your life you’ve cast away…a slave to drink you will stay.”

"To the Rack with Them" keeps the rhythm accelerated and the lyrics bleak. Don't get me wrong though, we ain't talking speed metal here…when I say "accelerated", I mean The Gates of Slumber are moving just faster than a crawl…and that's a good thing. By now, Jaime Arellano's stellar production on the album becomes clear as he allows each instrument to stand out clearly without any one overpowering the others. This is especially apparent here where McCash's thick ass bass lines rumble your guts while Simon seamlessly launches into another fret burning guitar solo and it all flows smoothly through Paradis' beats…not one thing is lost and yet nothing seems overwhelming.

"Day of Farewell" is possibly the most depressing seven minutes ever put to tape. As the song opens we hear Simon groan "I grow tired of this world…I know all there is to know…the fruit is bland and the wine is dry…why continue this lie?" But his pain is our pleasure as the song is another instant doom classic, keeping things slow and low and as foreboding as anything you'll hear. That goes for "Castle of the Devil" as well, which begins with a solemn guitar line accompanied by Simon's wicked prose, until The Gates of Slumber unleash their overwhelming onslaught of heaviness on your eardrums. But wait…just when you think you know where this track is headed, Paradis breaks it down with a funky beat…McCash follows suit…and out of nowhere, Simon starts jamming out on a bluesy solo with brazen disregard for conformity. This willingness to branch out is what makes The Wretch stand apart from other recent offerings by the band's peers.

Believe it or not, as much as I like everything The Gates of Slumber have to offer here, "Coven of Cain" may just be my favorite track on the album. This one is another of the band's shorter, "faster" songs and when they break it down at about one and a half minutes in, I promise you'll be ripping the volume knob off your stereo (or spinning the shit out of the volume wheel on your ipod). The album's title track is over eight minutes of pure sonic drudgery, ploughing its way through your skull. Sample lyric…"I sold my soul so long ago and got nothing in the deal…Imagine what a fool I feel". Pour yourself some red wine, light a few candles and shut your eyes for this one…hell you might even try playing it backwards…see what happens. And then The Wretch concludes with "Iron and Fire", a near thirteen minute opus that grinds its gears from second down to first and back again and features enough of the band's gravid riffage and pure blasphemy to send this one straight to hell.

The Gates of Slumber have created a fine album here, one that doesn't rely on recycled riffs and choruses simply for the sake of extending a song beyond a five minute run time. Every note…every lyric on The Wretch seems carefully crafted and meticulously placed. Furthermore, the band did well to distance themselves from the Dungeons and Dragons themes of their past, replacing them instead with lyrical content that tends to actually say something…even if what they're saying may not be all rosy and bright. The fact is doom ain't a pretty scene…and The Gates of Slumber sure as hell ain't a pretty band. But dammit that's why I love this shit and I can guarantee you if you're still with me this far, you're gonna love it too.

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Track Listing:

01 Bastards Born
02 The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness
03 To the Rack with Them
04 Day of Farewell
05 Castle of the Devil
06 Coven of Cain
07 The Wretch
08 Iron and Fire

Band Members:

Karl Simon – Guitars/Vocals
Jason McCash – Bass
J “Cool” Clyde Paradis - Drums

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