Gates of Slumber singer and guitarist Karl Simon has always been a metalhead.
His journey through the musical underworld followed a traditional progression for his age. Black Sabbath and Judas Priest by junior high, followed by the titan thrash of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth.
It was after high school when Simon discovered the enervating doom-metal of Saint Vitus. It touched a chord with the Indianapolis native, who describes himself as a somber individual.
“It was just the weight of the chords,” he says of the music. Thrash metal is fine, but, “It lacks that onerous quality. It will never be as good as Black Sabbath.”
Take the self-titled song by Sabbath, those deities of doom.
“It drags you through six minutes of this torturous, tri-toned melody and simple chord progression,” Simon says. “It’s got the really powerful vocals of Ozzy Osbourne. Finally at the end it breaks free. It’s like winding up a rubber band too tight that’s going to snap and spin loose everywhere. There’s always been something about that musical device that’s intrigued me.”
Doom metal’s authentically dark milieu also attracted Simon.
“It wasn’t hokey, like Slayer became after a while, where it was Satan, Satan, Satan,” he says. “It had more of a vibe like an old ’70s horror film. For some people some things just stick and you become a fanatic about it.”
That fascination with doom eventually compelled Simon to form the metal trio The Gates of Slumber. Like most bands, “It was a whole massive drama to get to this point,” the release of its third CD, Conqueror. Simon was playing in the Indy band The Keep, where he met eventual Slumber bassist Jason McCash. Drummer “Iron” Bob Fouts played with McCash in Burn it Down. The three of them solidified The Gates of Slumber lineup after Simon formed an incarnation of the group in Cleveland. He moved back to Indianapolis and recruited Fouts for a European tour two years ago.
“We’re kindred spirits in a way,” Simon says. “But I think Bob and Jason are less fanatical about it than I am. But I’m not as fanatical as I was back in 1998. I’m more open to other musical ideas. These things come through on the new record. It’s not just a one-trick pony.”
The sheer weight of the music can still be felt on Conqueror. But amidst all that force is a striking sweep of melody.
“It’s one of the things that’s always set us apart from the American bands,” Simon says. “We follow a more European trend of being more melodic. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success over [there]. It’s not homegrown, but it sounds like it could be, with an American twist.”
Conqueror is The Gates of Slumber’s first record being released domestically, on Profound Lore Records. Building a European audience while living in near obscurity in the United States has never surprised Simon.
“To be honest, the U.S. was always an afterthought for me and the band,” he says.
He points out how Saint Vitus was making live albums in Germany yet couldn’t get arrested in the States.
“Obviously, the grass was greener on the other side,” Simon says. “Rather than burn ourselves out trying to climb over a wall that seemingly would never have an end, it would be a better use of our collective talents and energies to try to get into a situation where people are going to be receptive.”
That was a lesson Simon learned while in The Keep.
“We burned ourselves out playing in Indianapolis,” he says. “Nobody wanted to hear what we were doing.”
It’s to be expected from a national music scene that’s long favored guttural thrash over more symphonic styles of metal. Couple that with being in the Midwest, where trends have a habit of being slow to arrive, and you have an explanation for why The Gates of Slumber is big in countries like Germany and England yet largely unknown in its hometown.
“I think a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with the music scene in Indianapolis,” Simon says. “I don’t think I’m any different in that respect. I’ve always felt a bit on the outs because I’ve always had a bent towards something that wasn’t happening at all locally.”
Simon hopes that changes with Conqueror. Besides the CD release show and slots at this year’s Dude Fest and Indianapolis Metal Fest, The Gates of Slumber hopes to add to the mini-East Coast tours it’s done in the past.
“Now is the time for us to really start looking to work in the United States,” Simon says. “We’ve got a great-sounding record. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now.”
WHAT: The Gates of Slumber Conqueror CD release show with Lafcadio, Bible of the Devil, Denoggonizer, Apostle of Solitude
WHERE: Melody Inn, 3826 N. Illinois St.
WHEN: Monday, May 26, 4 p.m., $8 with free food, 21+