Sweden used to be the country that defined melodic death metal, and with good reason. The history of the scene that started in Gothenburg is undeniable, with legendary names like At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and so many others all emerging from that one area. However, in recent years, an American melodic death metal scene has begun to form, taking a whole new perspective on the subgenre by adding elements of thrash, hardcore, and technical metal into the core sound. This merging has resulted in a highly talented group of young bands playing very technical metal with solos and breakdowns in equal measure. Bands like Woe of Tyrants, Conducting from the Grave, and At the Throne of Judgment stand out from the sprawling metalcore and deathcore scenes with their unique blending of speed and brutality. Newcomers are starting to catch on to this style as well, including the North Carolina-based quintet Wretched. The band’s sophomore album Beyond the Gate is another example of just how good this new style can be when played properly.
Those who are familiar with Wretched’s debut album The Exodus of Autonomy already know just how diverse the group’s style is. Beyond the Gate is a continuation of that diversity, with a good deal of fine-tuning and enhancement. This album may seem like a deathcore album at first, with the blinding speed and impossible heaviness of “Birthing Sloth”. But while the band may incorporate some deathcore elements into its sound, most of its influences (outside of melodic death metal) are based in classic thrash metal. Nothing is better evidence of this than the precise solos by Steven Funderburk and John Vail, who sound like younger versions of Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman in their prime. Wretched also has lots of appreciation for technical death metal bands like Arsis and Into Eternity, evidenced by its use of split-second time changes that those two bands helped to popularize.
The real crowning achievement of Beyond the Gate, though, is the twelve-minute instrumental break in the middle of the album. Composed of the tracks “On the Horizon”, “Part I: Aberration”, and “Part II: Beyond the Gate”, these three songs combine to form a massive epic that is unlike anything that one could hear outside of progressive metal. The total effect almost has the feel of a classical symphony, aided in part by the use of symphonic parts in “On the Horizon”. Very few bands dare to compose something so experimental and untraditional. It works amazingly well for Wretched, though, showing that it has the confidence to try different things and avoid resorting to the easy methods of getting noticed.
Beyond the Gate is a massive step forward for Wretched. The quintet has completely avoided the “sophomore slump” and instead delivered a top-quality album that stands head and shoulders above many albums released by its peers. Of greater significance, though, is what this album proves about the new form of melodic death metal taking shape in America. Daring to buck trends and work outside the box, Wretched has brought a whole new level of complexity and progression to this growing scene. One can only hope that the band’s contemporaries are bold enough to do the same.