Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gates of Slumber - Hymns of Blood and Thunder

The Gates of Slumber
Hymns of Blood and Thunder
Rise Above/Metal Blade

Heavy metal has so many genre permutations it’s ridiculous: power metal, doom metal, progressive metal, black metal, death metal, blackened death metal, doomdeath, etc., etc. So I have to raise a sardonic eyebrow to the notion that there has to be a new category, “traditional metal,” to encompass the acts that don’t prominently fly the flag for a particular style. But if there’s got to be a trad metal banner, then the Gates of Slumber is the band to carry it. Like historical predecessors Trouble, Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol or contemporaries Grand Magus, the Indiana trio earnestly combines the atom bomb-heavy crunch of Black Sabbath with the soaring melodic sweep of NWOBHM acts like Iron Maiden or Angel Witch and a bit of Dio’s melodramatic fantasia. On Hymns of Blood and Thunder, leader Karl Simon writes tunes big on deliberate pacing, majestic momentum and, of course, big-ass riffs – perfect for killing zombies, blowing up tanks or leading the conquering hordes. Oddly, Simon diffuses his vocals by clouding them in the arrangements, but he makes sure his guitar solos (which tend to be concise and to the point) are right up front. If you wanted to strap headphones on an alien to explain what heavy metal is, The Bringer of War, Iron Hammer and The Doom of Aceldama are the ones you’d use to do it. Simon varies the mood with Age of Sorrow and The Mist in the Mourning, which sound like ancient folk songs performed in a cathedral over the bodies of the dead. Wrapped in a war-torn barbarian cover that would make Frank Frazetta proud, Hymns of Blood and Thunder smashes its ale stein over goblins’ heads before drawing its broadsword and flaying every headbanging inch of you.

- Michael Toland

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