Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tombs of the Blind Drugged
Rise Above/Metal Blade
I remember well the last time I was trolling the swamps, looking for dead alligators so I could keep the off-brand shoe business going. The moon was high and clear that night, the wetness glistening on the reeds. Suddenly the temperature dropped; despite the humidity in the heat of summer, the air was near freezing in an instant. I instinctively looked around for the cause, thinking I was being silly – after all, changes in temperature aren’t precipitated by the sudden presence of…Something Else, right? But I was wrong.
It was rose from the fetid waters, scattering frogs, birds and snakes in its wake. It was horrifying to look at, seemingly constructed of leaves, mud and, most prominently, Moss, as if a piece of the swamp itself had come alive and detached itself to wander. I was stunned, riveted to the spot as it slowly, so slowly, drew closer. Then a sound began to emit from it, and I realized to my horror that, deep in the recesses of the mossy strands at its apex, it had a face. And from that face issued a sound of pure pain, as if every shuffling step it took in my direction was utter agony; indeed, the sludge from which it was formed seemed to have its own viscous sonic flow. It shrieked and roared, and words could barely be discerned – something about Skeletal Keys, Tombs of the Blind Drugged and some kind of Eternal Return. It halted briefly, then began again, lamenting painfully about I know not what. As it inched its way through this horrific performance, I couldn’t move – repulsed by its suffering, I was also strangely absorbed by it, as if I was witnessing the destruction of something holy, making it impossible to look away as it twisted my soul.
After nearly 40 minutes, during which time it seemed to draw no nearer, it fell silent; the spell broken, I made my escape, not looking back. I vowed never to return to the swamp and to seek my fortune elsewhere. And yet…and yet I feel compelled to return, to confirm the thing’s awful presence, to prove to myself it wasn’t a hallucination, to experience once again its frigid, mossy embrace. Pity me, dear readers, for I am in the grip of something stronger than I, and if you see a faint trail of moss and swamp water behind my feet, please, I beg you…lend me some hip-waders.
- Michael Toland
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