July 20, 2011 | , | 4.5

The Gates of Slumber, The Wretch

I’ve never been a big fan of The Gates of Slumber. There was just something about them that never really reached out to me. I’m not sure if it was the stigma of the fantasy imagery associated with the band’s music or what, but I just couldn’t ever get into the band’s previous material. The Wretch, however, calls to me. Perhaps the group’s abandonment of dragons and swords (for a more personal focus) is all it took for me to see the light. Perhaps it’s a new drummer (Clyde Paradis). Perhaps it’s the more developed songs — songs that both smother and breath simultaneously.

Whatever the reason, the eight songs on The Wretch pull me into their welcoming embrace like no other release I’ve heard in some time. Though the album has a fairly polished and clean production, the music within is raw — it’s stripped of any pretense and presented as plainly yet as powerfully as the band is able.

The slowly churning monolith of album opener “Bastards Born” carries the weight of The Obcessed and St. Vitus as The Gates of Slumber finally allow their music to breath, taking on a life of its own and weaving its way deep into your core. The lead around the four minute mark is soulful, despondent and dark — the perfect accompaniment to the trudging riffs and heavy handed drums. The opening track is followed up with “The Scourge ov Drunkeness,” a song with more of a gallop and catchy riffs that is infectious, sticking to your ribs long after it has moved on. It is followed by the equally catchy “To the Rack with Them,” a song that has a heavy groove thundering through it. Again, the leads throughout this album are sick as hell and fit perfectly within the song they are meant to highlight.

The morose and self-reflective “Day of Farewell” is a glimpse into the band and their own personal demons. It’s a dark track that is solemn, yet leaves a glimmer of hope at its frayed edges with a sound that is deep and doomy, but also somewhat airy. “Coven of Cain” is a rambling, raucous and galloping song with catchy guitar work and plenty of memorable moments. It’s certainly some of the more up-beat material on The Wretch. And speaking of the title track, the slow moving monstrous riffs create an oppressive air of solitude and despair as they crawl along the tracks’ eight minute playing time before shifting to the dynamic album closer “Iron and Fire.” The final track has some aggressively played moments that are tempered with a few solemn passages, making for an excellently balanced song to listen to — it’s got a little bit of everything.

The Wretch may be a relatively slow moving beast, but it’s still a beast nonetheless. Monstrous riffs and heavy-as-hell doom ooze from the stereo with the unrelenting force of a crawling, but unstoppable avalanche. Nothing can outrun it’s all consuming nature, much like the melancholy and solitude that are packed within the eight tracks on The Gates of Slumber’s latest piece of masterful metal. The band has made a convert out of me and I can’t stop playing this damn album despite the oppressive heat of Summer to pull me out of the glooomy shroud that enfolds whenever this album is spun.