THE GATES OF SLUMBER, The Wretch (2011, Rise Above)
This is just a beautiful cover. An ancient skull, rotting like old wood, shrouded in shadow and cradled in leaves. The blue/green palate is mysterious, almost poisonous, and the simple scene conveys perfectly the sort of eldritch malice I think the band was hoping to evoke. If all skull covers were like this, we’d have to take the “dumb” out of Big Dumb Skulls. Fortunately for us, almost none of them are.
As regular readers of this site will know, I’m not much of a fan of Sabbath-style doom metal, but that’s exactly what The Gates of Slumber play, and I’m alright with it. I couldn’t tell you why this band is good when all those others are not. Maybe it’s because I saw them a couple times in tiny rooms and they seemed like cool dudes. Maybe it’s because a good friend of mine loves them so much that his affection has rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s because they’re obsessed with Conan and the other classics of swords-and-sorcery pulp fiction. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s their awesome cover art. While The Wretch is their best cover, for obvious reasons, most of their art is spectacular. Anyway, who cares? I don’t have to explain my random shitty taste to you! Suck it. The Wretch is the the band’s full-length (forever – they’ve recently broken up) and it’s their best, although all their albums are more or less the same mix of early Sabbath and slow trad metal. The vocals are the worst part; they’re badly doubled in that typical doom metal way, and Karl Simon’s voice wouldn’t be particularly interesting in the best possible presentation, but I’m somehow able to forgive them, or at least ignore them, long enough to just dig on the riffs and the atmosphere, which is heavy and unpretentious. It’s probably for the best these guys called it quits. They never really changed, and while they always got a little better from album to album, there’s clearly a limit to how far this sort of thing can be taken, and maybe they found it.
— Friar Johnsen