Rose Funeral – Gates of Punishment (2011)

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Music

If you asked me where to find the gateway to hell, the last place I would have thought to look would be Cinncinati, Ohio. Cleveland, maybe – but not the ‘Queen City.’ But apparently the passage way to the land of fire and brimstone lies firmly in the closet of Rose Funeral’s front man Ryan Gardner, and he and his band mates have been making frequent trips between worlds over the last four years.

After their well-received EP (re)release in 2007 – Crucify. Kill. Rot. – the band was quickly signed to Metal Blade Records and released their first full-length in early 2009, Buried Beneath The Blood. The album was an unexpected success for the label, and ferocious touring built the band a solid reputation amongst new fans and death metal purists alike.

With such an impressive launch, you would think the band would have gotten caught up in their own web of hubris, but such is not the case. Instead, the band was intent on delivering the hardest, fastest, most brutal album of their short career.

Now, death metal at this level is rarely an easy listen. The indiscernible lyrics, frenetic guitars and rapid-fire drums aren’t made for the casual listener, and unless you live near a college that has a radio station that plays this stuff for an hour late at night on the weekends, chances are you haven’t heard anything this severe. But let me be the first to tell you, if you haven’t heard this album, you are missing out on something amazing.

Everything that was done well on the last album is improved upon here. The intensity is unmatched and the absolute menacing nature of most of the album makes you feel like you’ve committed a major sin just by listening to it. Granted, there has been far more intense lyrical content from a ‘satanic’ perspective over the years from other bands, but the approach Rose Funeral takes here is not to over-work the message. Instead, the evil content is matched horn for horn with some pretty devilish sounding guitar work and drums.

The church bells that open “Legions of Ruination” are as haunting as it gets, and sets an ominous tone for the explosion of brutality that follows. Immediate attention had to be given to the absolute precision of the drums. It’s hard not to be completely buried alive by the raw power of Garner’s vocals, but the opening track – as well as the entire album – show an unexpected balance. The guitars from Kevin Snook drill away at demonic speeds, and the bass from Julian Kersey lurks heavily in the background. The album is a complete assault on the senses, and stands tall as one of the best death metal releases of the year.

What intrigued me beyond the crushing nature of everything here was the occasional, well-placed black metal elements. A little piano or keyboard every once in a while, or a vocal shift from Garner to a shriek from a growl added new darkness to the band’s style. Most of the time, though, the band didn’t stray to far of the path, and followed up with a beefy breakdown or cannon-blast of guitars to keep it from getting overly black.

The band runs the gamut of all things barbarous during the 45 minute onslaught, but a couple of tracks deserve some special attention along the way.

First off, Steve Tucker (ex-Morbid Angel) makes a guest vocal appearance on “False Divine.” The track isn’t anything ‘above and beyond’ the rest of the album, but it maintains the brutal-as-fuck definition the rest of the record deserves. Why it’s interesting (at least to me), is that his inclusion here comes on the heels of Morbid Angel’s disastrous release Illud Divinum Insanus just a few months back. Take it for what it’s worth, but a statement that was surely intentional. An excellent way to plant the flag and announce a changing of the guard in the death metal scene.

“Malignant Armor” also features guest vocals, but not in the manner you would expect. This time, the microphone duties are shared with opera singer Kate Alexander, whose beautiful, melodic voice gives the perfect counterweight to Garners aggression.

Then there’s “The Desolate Form” – the standout track of Gates of Punishment. Every glorious element on this album culminates here – from the tempo shifts, the energy, the vocals, the melodies – and get a healthy bath in blood before being pieced back together. Performance-wise, it’s fucking perfect from the first guitar lick and doesn’t come up for breath till the last note leaves the exit wound through the back of your skull.

2011 might end up being remembered as the ‘Year Of Death Metal’ with so many massive releases – but it seems that maybe the best was saved for last, as Gates Of Punishment can exchange blows with any of the other heavyweights, and just might be the last band standing.

9.5/10

Tracklist:
01 – Legions Of Ruination
02 – Grotesque Indulgence
03 – Beyond The Entombed
04 – False Divine (Feat. Steven Tucker Of Morbid Angel)
05 – Arise Infernal Existence
06 – Malignant Amour (Feat. Kate Alexander)
07 – A Recreant Canticle
08 – The Desolate Form
09 – Entercism
10 – Amidst Gehenna
11 – Gates Of Punishment

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