Sunday, 21 August 2016

Wretch – Wretch (2016) / 85%

Wretched Wisdom

Karl Simon is back in full strength with a new doom project after the tragic demise of The Gates of Slumber and the death of his best friend and bassist Jason McCash. This self titled album marks a style departure from his old and now retired band as they explore a different type of doom focusing on a different lyrical theme.

The Gates of Slumber always managed to include many hard rockin’ songs onto their albums but they were also incorporating the sexy loincloth sword and sorcery epic doom sound on many occasions (think of the lengthy numbers “Dark Valley Suite” or “Riders of Doom”). On this self titled album, gone are the Robert E. Howard or the historical influences, the accent is on personal lyrics about death and how he lives with the death of his buddy. Simon said this about the the lyrics on the label’s website: “No more giant spiders or ice worms, There are real horrors that occupy my mind these days.” and while I understand and respect his decision, the epic side of his former band was one of my favorite aspects of their music. While albums like Conqueror or Hymns of Blood and Thunder were branching out into different aspects of heavy metal, from Shelton inspired epics to Iommi inspired riffing, Wretch are going back to the basics and doesn’t bother you with twelve part epics about how Conan killed an entire army by himself.

The decision to play a simplistic and streamlined form of trad doom metal style was certainly a good one too. The songs are tight, focused but still have this terrific jam aspect. At times, it feels like you’re in their rehearsal room when you’re bludgeoned by Simon’s bluesy long-winded solos and his distinctive manly voice. Rest assured though, the production job is terrific and the riffs are thundering. The relatively short album alternates between doomy tracks and ones more rooted in heavy metal like the excellent cover of Judas Priest’s “Winter/Deep Freeze” from their underrated debut album Rocka Rolla. “Rest In Peace” is definitely one of the best tracks of 2016 and his groovy and catchy riff is just stuck in my head.

Set me free, let me rest in peace!

They’re not forgetting the slower sort doom metal though, no sir. Tracks like the long-ish “Icebound” or “Drown” are dirges showcasing the same dark aura The Gates of Slumber were known for. For me, Simon was able to convey the emotional weight of his life without compromising on the heaviness of the material and this is something rare in doom. I’ve rarely heard such combination of mighty doom power and sorrow. The only temporary calm moment we got was the instrumental interlude “Grey Cast Mourning” before we get bludgeoned by the final track.

The Gates of Slumber’s final album The Wretch, the inspiration behind the name of this project, was a transitional album for Simon. It was already exploring some darker lyrical themes and showed that he was ready to take his music to a rockier place. Simon removed the epic heavy metal influences (think Mark Shelton) from his compositions and decided to solely worship Sabbath and Vitus. There’s shittier decisions than this one.

Overall, it’s a strong debut album for Wretch and will please those who want their doom to rock hard. I’ll have to listen to Atlantean Kodex if I want sword and sorcery in my doom.

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