Tuesday 8 April 2014

Choice Cuts : The Gates of Slumber- Hymns of Blood and Thunder

Album Line-up :

Karl Simon | Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Jason McCash | Bass (R.I.P)
Bob Fouts | Drums

A tribute to Jason McCash

It is with a rather heavy heart that I write this particular entry in the Choice Cuts canon. Sadly, Jason McCash, ex-bass player with The Gates of Slumber died on Saturday 5th April, leaving behind a wife and three children. I did not know him and we never met, but I certainly respected his creativity and contributions to the genre of doom metal. Back in 2009 TGOS released their, for me, definitive release: Hymns of Blood and Thunder. It was released on Rise Above with fantasy artwork and a foreboding set of song titles.

I first picked up the record in early 2010, a couple of months ahead of the Cathedral show at ULU in London- Church of Misery played too and it made for a very memorable and diverse evening of doom.  The band I was looking forward to that night was TGOS- I simply loved Hymns... and I still do. For me, it is an absolute metal classic. It changed my life for the better and played a large part in inspiring me to start playing metal again.

Chaos Calling kicks things off with a meaty and analogue production- I adore the drum sound and the playing of Iron Bob Fouts; a class act with excellent phrasing and ideas. Karl Simon's voice is in true doom style- a plaintive wail, full of melancholy and drama. TGOS are perhaps often seen as Simon's band- the voice, the guitar riffs and traditional leads, but McCash was just as important- his bass work is inspired and meaty, underpinning every track on this remarkable record. Indeed, without a second guitar player, McCash can be heard clearly under most lead breaks and he contributed some excellent writing to the record. His liner notes make very interesting reading- particularly as they cover the two doom epics on the record- The Doom of Aceldama and Descent Into Madness.

Chaos Calling is followed with another up tempo number- Death Dealer. It is a strong one-two combination to open with before the album expands its horizons with the absolutely superb Beneath The Eye of Mars. Essentially, the Roman empire's militaristic ethos is summed up over the course of its six minutes. Richly evocative and well paced, it is heavy metal heaven. The Doom of Aceldama follows with a doomy intro and then tempo changes with an excellent vocal from Simon. A very fine piece of writing. Musically, there is a fair bit of Saint Vitus within TGOS, but there is also a fair bit of Priest and Cirith Ungol too. Yes, there are fantasy themes and homages, but there is also a sense of human sorrow and drama in their best work- this track exhibits their tendencies well- even allowing for an acoustic passage to bring light to the shade.

Age of Sorrow is a maudlin instrumental that bridges the first and second half of the record. According to the liner notes, it pre-dates the album recording sessions, its gestation actually dating to the “Conqueror” release. The lead work from Simon is a treat- soaring and sad at the same time. The Bringer of War has a huge main riff and stop start arrangement. Another excellent riff marks the middle section and a memorable vocal passage tops it off. The second of the album's two epics follows with Descent Into Madness sounding exactly like its title. Taking its inspiration from HP Lovecraft's “At The Mountains of Madness” tale, the piece is classic doom all the way- slow, but not too slow, great hooks, great lyrics, great riffs. Musically, the track has something in common with earlier material, such as the “Suffer No Guilt” album- epic lengths, lots of ideas and musical shifts.

Iron Hammer is a celebration of all things metal; Trouble, Metallica, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Sabbath, Maiden, Slayer... they all feature. The track is great- propulsive rhythms, great central idea. Pure metal. The Mist in The Morning is the album's oddball- a short folk song with Jackie Palmer supplying haunting backing to Simon's voice. Lyrically it is a reflection on loss, made ever more poignant by recent events. Listening to it now, I am moved to reflect on the lyrics like never before. 

The title track rounds out this astonishing achievement of a record- traditional metal is hammered out with aplomb- the tenth track of an album that is a great listen from start to finish. The sound is unified, the themes varied, the vibe just right. This is doom, this is metal, this is great music.

Yes, it would be true to say that I loved this album from when I first heard it. I then collected the back catalogue on whatever format I could find and waited for the release of “The Wretch” in 2011 (another great record). I love all their other albums too, but this is the one for me. I own the CD, the vinyl and I also literally bought the t-shirt. I feel privileged to have seen the band live and to have been able to anticipate a new album from them. Sadly, I will never be able to do that again. To say that Jason McCash's passing leaves a hole in the doom metal community is an understatement. To quote: “How dark is it now? How lonely the day?” It is a question that I cannot adequately answer. Hail and farewell to Jason McCash- metal warrior, family man and purveyor of the finest doom. He will forever live on in The Book of Heavy Metal but his chapter has ended far too early.

Words & Recommendation by : Richard Maw

Album Details :

Hyms of Blood & Thunder was the 4th Full Length album. Released by Rise Above Records in 2009

Track list :

1). Chaos Calling
2). Death Dealer
3). Beneath the Eye of Mars
4). The Doom of Aceldama
5). Age of Sorrow
6). The Bringer of War
7). Descent into Madness
8). Iron Hammer
9). The Mist in the Mourning
10). Blood and Thunder

Recorded in Chicago's Semaphore Studios with producer Sanford Parker (Nachtmystium, Pelican)

Released on CD and on three different vinyl 2x12" editions.
1) Regular gatefold LP (x300 clear, x300 transparent grey, x300 deep red).
2) Deluxe boxed LP (in glossy box with insert, x300 black)
3) Deluxe boxed die hard LP (in glossy box with back patch, A2 poster and insert, x300 on transparent brown (disc 1) and transparent claret (disc 2).

Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Jason McCash's loved ones, friends and band mates. May he rest in peace and may his music forever touch the hearts of those who loved him.