Just when we were beginning to think it was a law that all metal bands from North Carolina south to the Florida border had to sound like Mastodon or Baroness, we discovered Wretched and their new album Beyond the Gate (with that very cool Dan Seagrave album cover). Not that we have anything against Mastodon or Baroness. In fact, we’re fans. But Wretched ain’t cut from that cloth, not by a long shot.
Instead, in their new album on Victory Records, North Carolina’s Wretched are wearing the mantle of melodic, technical death metal with some interesting progressive threads woven into the fabric. Think about bands like The Faceless, Veil of Maya, and Black Dahlia Murder, and you’ll start to get close to Wretched’s musical territory. But there are also some big surprises in store.
Seven of the album’s 11 songs are fast-paced and feature shuddering rhythms with jolting staccato bass lines and weaponlike drumming, intricate math-metal riffs, and fire-breathing guitar leads and solos. The vocals are predominantly mid-range growlers, but they occasionally drop lower or vault higher into cutting shrieks.
But those seven songs aren’t simply exhibits in a case of “let me prove how fast I can play.” They’re actual songs, with structure and melody, that happen to be executed with a lot of fancy fretwork and blazing double-kicks. Wretched also spices up a few of those songs with some attention-grabbing surprises, like the brief extract from a Cuban folk song at the end of “Birthing Sloth” or the cello-and-guitar outro at the conclusion of “The Talisman”.
But there are four songs left to be discussed. They’re all instrumentals, and they’re not at all what you would expect from the musical style of the other seven. (more after the jump, including a sample track and more examples of Dan Seagrave’s eye-catching album covers . . .)
Three of the four are sandwiched in the middle of the album, surrounded by those technical blasters. “On the Horizon” sounds like a symphonic overture. That may be because it’s performed by The University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Yes, it does create one of those “where the fuck did that come from?” moments.
“On the Horizon” is followed by “Part I: Aberration”. It’s a mixture of extreme metal pounding, acoustic flamenco guitar, and a clean electric guitar solo that preserves the Spanish-style melody, plus an exotic, wailing vocal.
And then comes “Part II: Beyond the Gate,” which may be the most interesting song on the album. It also features an acoustic, flamenco-style guitar melding with a swirling electric lead, some extremely cool guitar solos, and at about the 5:00 mark, everything stops except for a slow acoustic guitar, which is eventually joined by a violin, to end the song on a beautiful, reflective note.
The fourth instrumental track is the one that ends the album, “Eternal Translucence”. It’s a slow, ominous song that’s carried by a dissonant lead guitar and the solitary pounding of the drum — and then the electronically distorted drum alone finishes the song.
The diversity of the songs on Beyond the Gate isn’t random. Instead, it’s explained by the fact that this is a concept album, which tells a story about an alchemist who opens a gate into another world, where his soul is stripped from his body. To save himself, he strikes a bargain with the guardians of that alien realm to return to his own world and bring back with him a talisman of power — that he will either then surrender or use to destroy the forces that once trapped him.
Some people might find the divergence in the music during the middle of the album and at the end a bit jarring, but we thought it was cool. With their second album, Wretched have proven themselves to be as ambitious and musically adventurous as they are technically skilled. Beyond the Gate is an intriguing mix of high-powered tech-death and melodic instrumentals, and marks a big step ahead for Wretched. This is a band we’ll continue to watch with interest.
Here’s a track from Beyond the Gate for you to sample. The album is available from Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere.
P.S. Since we’re suckers for cool album art, and continue to believe that it should not be allowed to die out regardless of how music gets distributed, we’ve got to say that the cover for Beyond the Gate is awesome. A typically eye-catching piece by Dan Seagrave and a typically wicked logo by Chris Horst.
And while we’re on the subject of Dan Seagrave, how ’bout some more of his covers? See if you recognize them. The bands whose album covers we’re showing are listed in order at the end.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
BECOMING THE ARCHETYPE