The Wakedead Gathering - _The Gate and the Key_
(I, Voidhanger Records, 2013)
by: Chaim Drishner (8 out of 10)
Could I, Voidhanger Records be the best underground metal label currently in existence? Look at this (sub-)label's discography; except for maybe a couple of glitches, nothing but the highest quality in extreme music offered time and again by this obscure, exquisite Italian establishment. It spread its dark canopy, under which it had been gathering the finest musical entities out there, each in its own field of expertise, and has enabled them to speak in a variety of sordid tongues, spawning the creme de la creme in funeral doom, black metal, old-school death metal, neoclassical and experimental music; musical expressions that more often than not exhibit a twisted 'something'; there's always an added value to any release adorned by the I, Voidhanger logo. Always.

_The Gate and the Key_ is proof to the above stated assertions. You see, I, Voidhanger has been releasing a few of those -- knee-jerk dubbed as -- 'old-school' death metal albums over the last few years. Serpent Obscene, Aevangelist, Nar Mattaru, Howls of Ebb, and The Wakedead Gathering's previous effort, the _Dark Circles_ EP, have all revealed and introduced some advanced, sharpened qualities foreign to the usual death metal routine; facets we probably didn't realize death metal even owned. It was as if a beast was awakened from a long slumber more self-conscious to its follies and disadvantages, and has decided to re-invent itself as an all the more so uglier, grotesque, extreme and ironically also more sophisticated a monster, incorporating a sort of stargazing transcendental quality to its earth-bound, subterranean existence, but still sounding as raw and as brutish as possible.

Just think for a moment about this American one-man band's name: The Wakedead Gathering. Instead of using the word "undead", which is a very common and uninspired term in metal music's book of nomenclature, the chosen word was "wakedead"; a mere synonym, but one that's rarely been used in the metal context and sounds like something more mysterious and ominous than the usual cliché. This inconsequential example showcases the slightly different musical thinking attributed to bands signed to I, Voidhanger; they always, always possess that little extra something that makes a noticeable difference, distancing themselves from the herd, the albums under the sleeves of which cause an impact to a greater extent than what their peers are capable of. With this innate singularity comes also the importance these albums possess in terms of musical endeavors scrutinized through the prism of metal music's history.

The Wakedead Gathering offer death metal, plain and simple (actually, not so simple). The album owns that familiar, cavernous, foreboding death metal sound of old, tainted by the bizarre and the unorthodox. It mainly focuses on atmosphere and spiritual impact, rather than on heaviness, as its main engine. Even though it may sound like a typical archaic death metal experience, the songwriting is complex and non-linear, the drums (or the electronic imitation of such) display progressive and varied patterns, and the sound is deliberately somewhat muffled in order to convey that underground, ancient feel -- not harming, in the process, the punch and kick of the instruments involved.

Indeed, none of I, Voidhanger's releases display any compromise; they all are what they are to the hilt, their artistic manifestation is extreme on every level: extremely dark, extremely creative, extremely estranged and twisted for the habitual 'metallic ear', so to speak. The adjective 'extreme' follows any I, Voidhanger release; embedded in each album; interlaced into each product. _The Gate and the Key_ is by no means different.

Look at the artwork for _The Gate And The Key_; a futuristic, post apocalyptic homage to H. R. Giger's 'Aliens' series of works exhibiting so many minute details in each and every scene, it perplexes both the eye and mind just to be glancing at those harrowing drawings; not to mention the mental impact experienced when looking at the bleak scenes depicting flesh factories for humanoids and industrially engineered body parts, drawn by masterful hands in grey, black and white: miasmic landscapes of utter dread and inhuman grotesquery.

The music captured on _The Gate and the Key_ is very much on par with the above mentioned sentiments; monolithic and monochromatic, but equipped with an unclean and monstrous hostility that can cater for a dozen albums. The music's slow pace enhances the insidious doom and gloom factor of the dark riffs and those, in turn, own an airy jazzy flair to them, something along the lines of Virus' _The Agent That Shapes the Desert_ (or Howls of Ebb's _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_, for that matter); an innate fuzzy avantgarde that walks the distance from beginning to end, making itself appear on quintessential moments of chaos, dissonance and fuzz in good timing, coloring the fundamental death metal facade with psychedelic resonance.

Occasionally, the music will falter in velocity a couple of notches, its own weight allowing it to become almost essentially sludgy, with an inherent, mildly discernible groove, highlighting the band's polarized sludge / doom / stoner elements; grooves that are so foreign to the death metal on display, so misplaced are they, that ultimately they paradoxically sound like a good match; moments that convey sounds as virile and as massive as the more traditional death metal on display, but probably more absurd.

In the end, beyond the completion of the music, a lingering sense of uncleanliness remains; an unhealthy sentiment one would like to revisit as many times as humanly possible until the listener is able to absorb the enormity of the sounds and matching visuals contained within this curiosity that binds horror-laden antiquity and cosmic detachment, reawakening the beast that death metal could have been -- should have been -- with cryptic, spellbinding, quasi-poetic lyrics to match.


(article published 6/5/2014)

3/2/2013 C Drishner 7.5 The Wakedead Gathering - Dark Circles
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