Right from the off, I need to be honest that writing an unbiased review of this album is going to be a bloody hard thing to do. The Gates of Slumber, Wretch vocalist/guitarist Karl Simon’s prior outfit was one of my all time favourite doom acts, and I still proudly wear on my cut off the patch bought at one of their many London shows I attended, as well as their albums getting regularly picked for play from what you might well imagine is a big old music collection. The passing of that band, and its co-founder and bassist Jason McCash was one rightfully mourned, and it is inevitable that Wretch will be held up for comparison to that legacy.
From the off, the eponymous ‘Wretch’ is a far more personal and emotionally invested album than those that came before, the monsters and demons of the sword and sandals fantasy realms of Robert E. Howard being replaced by the all too real demons of substance abuse, addiction and the tolls they can take on life. ‘Running Out Of Days’ sets the scene for the album as a whole, a terrifyingly personal account of the loss of a long time friend and confederate, Simon’s near snarling vocals managing to both convey a sense of loss and mourning, whilst at the same time an anger towards a life wasted of potential, perfectly matched by the almost uncharacteristically fast tempo of the song that positively sprints past with a speed not normally seen in the sub-genre of doom. This same dark invective continues in ‘Rest In Peace’, again ostensibly a song of loss, but rather than slowing down into the funereal, the whole tone remains one of an almost primal anger, but one that is not just blindly lashing out at the world, but with very specific targets identified within the impassioned lyrics.
Instrumental ‘Bloodfinger’ follows with a psychedelic heaviness, and it is obvious that in Bryce Clarke and Chris Gordon Karl Simon has managed to find a rhythm section able to match his own massively experienced and capable guitar work, as well as supporting the emotion that runs through each track, the tempo slowing for ‘Winter’ that itself bleeds into the more dragged out crawl of ‘Icebound’, a number built of deep of layers of hypnotic riffs and matching beats, again, the lyrics building a picture of loss, waste, anger, and the human cost of addiction. Whilst the whole album has a single overriding theme, and could easily have become a one note, one tone dirge, each of the seven tracks on ‘Wretch’ has their own character, a testament to the skills of the writer, as well as the emotion that is so palpably real rather than imagined or manufactured, and at a surprisingly short thirty-three minutes, it is also an album that demands play after play after play. Even the simple, introspective ‘Grey Cast Mourning’ tells its own tale without having to resort to lyrics, the mournfulness coming through in each plucked chord.
‘Wretch’ is a darkly personal album, and one that will surely resonate with anybody who has ever suffered the loss of someone close in such circumstances, or even just encountered the seamy underbelly of life that is encapsulated by drug use. At the same time, it does not try and preach like some misguided and misinformed right wing bible thumping prohibitionist looking down from an ivory tower; this is an album produced from the heart and very soul of one who has seen the darker side of life close up and personal. A truly stunning album, and one is bound to feature highly in a whole host of reviews of the year.