Coming off of a very strong Dark Circles EP in 2012, Cincinnati one-man death project The Wakedead Gathering seemed poised to turn some OSDM heads. Doer-of-all-things Andrew Lampe has a certain knack for melding several angles of the old school while dipping it all in deep atmosphere. With The Gate and the Key, the project makes less of a step up as an intriguing-but-frustrating step sideways. Lampe’s riffery is as potent and primitively brutal as ever, and his ideas have expanded to take on a mildly conceptual feel, but studio miscalculations and the types of errors that might be erased with cooperative songwriting hold the album back from what it very well could have been.
While Lampe swaps out being speedy, blasty, and lazily-techy with a doom-laden, guttural, and bottom-feeding side, his music never stops feeling just plain dark. However, in spite of this darkness, he is at his best when the wonk is increased (“Autochton”) or the riffs get nice and twitchy (“Hypgnosis”). And even during the purely malevolent or seemingly derivative passages there is a little something extra going on, often due to Lampe’s deft skills with the drum set. There is no direct comparison for the project, but if a man is forced a man might say that this is some sort of Incantation/Autopsy/early Immolation hybrid greased up with Blessed Are The Sick.
And on The Gate and the Key, “greased” may be the key word; this is slippery stuff in the production department, often to a fault. Where Dark Circles had a deeper, somewhat raw sound that benefitted many sides of Lampe’s material, the treatment here seems to somewhat flatten it, particularly during moments that really seem as if they are trying to stretch the dynamics (latter parts of “Hypgnosis”). While many a long-in-the-tooth fan will appreciate the cleaner tones – and to be fair, the drum sound is ace – few would deny that the thin lead guitar tone and general lack of smooth mixing damages some of the reined-in passages, such as the beginning of “Vertex I – The Gate.”
The Gate and the Key also brings up some key issues that come with going it alone. There is obviously some conceptual stuff going here, especially when compared to the previous EP, but it is in these moments when a second set of eyes/ears may have assisted Lampe in fleshing out his vision. In particular, the false start oddballery during opener “Outer Veil” just doesn’t work, and the almost whimpering album finish is equally perplexing. Perhaps another band member would have found a way to edit or better integrate these ides; perhaps not. It’s impossible to tell. Add in a band member with too strong a will, and Lampe’s generally solid ideas might be squashed in band squabbles. Such is the balancing act.
Overall, the problems of The Gate and the Key are by no means terminal, as this album was really only a few fixes from being something quite nice. This is the sound of a good metal artist underachieving, and because of this, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this flawed-but-solid album could and should have been much more.