The Gates Of Slumber
Hymns Of Blood And Thunder
posted on 10/2009 By:
The Gates of Slumber’s last album Conqueror was by all accounts a triumph, and hailed by many as the band's best work to date. The downside to releasing such a successful album is that the band is faced with the often difficult prospect of crafting a worthy follow up. However, if the bold title of the band’s new album, Hymns of Blood and Thunder, is any indication, The Gates of Slumber met the task with steel bared and heads held high.
On Conqueror, The Gates of Slumber augmented their slow doom with some up-tempo traditional metal riffs, and they are not forsaken on Hymns of Blood and Thunder. The atmosphere on Hymns, however, is much grimmer and the sound more punishing, as song titles like “Death Dealer,” “Beneath the Eyes of Mars,” and “The Bringer of War” would suggest. The song “Iron Hammer,” which features lyrics comprised almost entirely of classic metal song and album titles, also provides a perfect description of the album's overall sound: Drummer “Iron” Bob Fouts delivers a booming performance that is both masterful and merciless, driving the songs along at a steady, inexorable pace, while Karl Simon and Jason McCash hammer out massive riffs of pure steel.
In between the blood and thunder, The Gates of Slumber do make room for some deeper, more introspective fare. "The Doom of Alcedama" is an eight and a half minute rumination on the fate of Judas Iscariot that successfully casts history’s most infamous betrayer in a pitiable light. The track features one of Karl Simon’s strongest vocal performances and a melodic outro that plays like “Hallowed be thy Name” at half speed. “Age of Sorrows” is a brief, mellow instrumental track that provides a nice breather, but is of little consequence otherwise. “Descent into Madness,” is a different matter altogether: Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “At the Mountains of Madness,” the song is epic pure doom with a throbbing hypnotic vibe that recalls Sleep’s Dopesmoker. The track builds to a thundering climax that is so threatening you can feel the Shoggoth creeping up behind you (you will have to read the story.). " The Mist in the Mourning" is an acoustic track that has a sort of medieval folk feel to it, featuring a duet between Karl and guest vocalist Jackie Palmer. The track is pleasant enough, but much like “Age of Sorrows,” it serves as more of respite from the metal storm, than as an album highlight.
Hymns of Blood and Thunder’s primary flaws, and they are minor ones, lie at the feet of Karl Simon. Simon has made great strides as a vocalist, becoming more confident and effective with each release, but on this album, his reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. Simon was not blessed with a particularly strong voice; he fairs best when he sticks to a gruff mid-ranged bellow. When Simon stretches to sing in a higher register the result is a sort of mournful warble that almost sounds as if he is crying. Needless to say, this sound is a poor compliment to the bellicose barbarism of the underlying music. Similarly, Simon’s soloing has improved, but he is still far from accomplished in this area. Unfortunately, he does not shy away from extended lead breaks, the results of which are often awkward sounding, particularly when he attempts to play fast. Karl’s performance is otherwise impeccable though, and these minor deficiencies should not be hard to overlook.
The long shadow cast by a great work can often dim the light of its successors, but I think Hymns of Blood and Thunder will shine quite well on its own. If Conqueror was The Gates of Slumber’s Reign in Blood, Hymns of Blood and Thunder is the band’s South of Heaven: slower, darker, heavier, and every bit as good in its own way. In a time when so many bands are pushing metal into places far removed from the genre’s roots, it is comforting to hear a record so pure and unadulterated, so heavy, and so fucking METAL.
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