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Local Spotlight Rank and File

Rank and File: The Gates of Slumber

The Gates of Slumber was not only one of the best metal bands to ever come out of Indiana, but also one of the leading group in the 2000s doom movement. While elements of their sound can be directly traced to groups like Saint Vitus and Manilla Road, the group maintained a unique sound no matter what style they were playing thanks to loose yet purposeful structures, rock solid bass playing by Jason McCash, unique performances by each of the group’s different drummers, and Karl Simon’s expressive vocals and guitar playing that ranges from minimalist chords to fuzzed out shredding in classic Dave Chandler fashion. The Gates may have been closed in 2013, and tragically will never open again, but the trio’s legacy lives on in the form of the spinoff band Wretch as well as the various rip-offs paying homage to them (mine included).

Thus, I would like to take a look at The Gates of Slumber’s discography to see how their different sounds rank overall. I will only be looking at their five full-length studio albums for simplicity’s sake, though the numerous EP’s they released also make for fun listens. I personally recommend 2005’s Like a Plague upon the Land and 2013’s Stormcrow in particular.

5) Hymns of Blood and Thunder
Hymns of Blood and Thunder is probably the band’s most experimental album. It is easily their most traditional metal-oriented release as faster songs like “Chaos Calling” and “Death Dealer” outnumber the slower dirges like “Descent into Madness” and “Beneath the Eye of Mars.” The tranquil “Age of Sorrow” and the folky “The Mist in the Mourning” also help keep things interesting. While some may deem this album an inconsistent listen due to the song variety, the solid writing makes it worth looking into. For added fun, take a shot every time they sing the phrase “Blood and Thunder” on the album.

Final Grade: A-

4) Conqueror
The Gates of Slumber’s third album cleaned up the band’s sound quite a bit. It’s not watered down by any means, but the production is much more polished and the musicianship is much tighter compared to the band’s first two efforts. In addition, the vocals are more melodic and the songwriting is more streamlined, resulting in a more accessible album that thankfully preserves the doom. The opening “Trapped in the Web” and “Ice Worm” deserve their status as the band’s best known songs and “Children of Satan” is an excellent Maiden-inspired gallop. It isn’t the band’s most defining album but it may be among their easiest to get a feel for.

Final Grade: A-

3) Suffer No Guilt
If Hymns of Blood and Thunder is the band’s most experimental album, then Suffer No Guilt is their most extravagant. This was where their classic metal influences started coming into play but they were balanced out by a slew of doom metal behemoths and interludes. A near seventy minute runtime does make for an exhausting listen, and twenty minutes of “God Wills It” is a test of endurance, but songs like “Riders of Doom,” “Angel of Death,” and the title track are among the greatest songs in The Gates of Slumber’s discography. It’s a terrific album, but one that I’d recommend once you’ve become properly acquainted with Gates and the more extreme tropes of doom in general.

Final Grade: A-

2) …the Awakening
As expected with a debut album, …the Awakening is easily The Gates of Slumber’s rawest full-length. The production is incredibly gritty, the vocals have a strained yet unhinged quality, and the atmosphere has a dark otherworldly quality compared to future efforts. It may also be the band’s most doom-oriented album, as the bookending title track and “The Burial” are among their most drawn out songs while “The Judge” and “The Jury” feature some of their most muscular riffs. It’s another one of their trickier efforts to get into, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you like your doom metal raw and mean while still retaining melody.

Final Grade: A

1) The Wretch
While The Gates of Slumber would be considered a great band for their first four albums alone, I feel their last album is what truly brings them to a legendary status. After lumbering from drawn out Reverend Bizarre-style drones to classic metal flirtations, The Wretch is the band’s most straightforward album in terms of style. “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” and “Coven of Cain” bring upbeat riffs, “Castle of the Devil” features mournful psychedelia, and “Bastards Born” and the title track are among the band’s slowest dirges, but each track is unified in a no-bullshit traditional doom aesthetic that homages Saint Vitus and the darkest days of classic Sabbath.

The Wretch is also among the most emotional and cathartic albums in the entire metal genre. As if the riffs and atmosphere weren’t depressing enough, the lyrics are the most heartbreaking that the band ever penned with “Day of Farewell” and the title track hitting the hardest. The knife is twisted further when one realizes that the rhythm section that performed here is no longer with us, leaving Karl as the album’s sole survivor. It isn’t quite a swansong as the Stormcrow EP came out two years after this but boy did the band’s run of full-lengths go out on a high note. It is shaping up to still be one of the best albums of the 2010s and I refuse to believe that it won’t end up with a classic status. Absolutely essential listening.

Final Grade: A+

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