Gatecreeper – Dark Superstition


Gatecreeper are the poster boys for the new wave of old school death metal. The main innovation of this movement is to look towards hardcore for its backbone. Their 2019 Deserted album achieved enough critical acclaim and hype to turn people against them, which is rare in metal these days. No wonder Nuclear Blast snapped them up in 2022. This is a band with pretensions to be the first recognised stadium death metal act, and there’s nothing arrogant about this. What they mean is that death metal can be anthemic and severe, yet catchy and perfidious. It may explain why they’ve changed their sound for album number three.

Unlike their early material, the five members of Gatecreeper show great concern for finding a sorrowful lament among their chunky riffing and gory vocal projections. Take out the Obituary-inspired voice in ‘Dead Star’ and this could be Paradise Lost circa 1993. Here, Chase H. Mason roars into the microphone and punctuates the riffs with a glorious death grunt like his life depends on it. Yes, you can detect the exaggerated malevolence of old school death metal among the catacombs, but follow up, ‘Oblivion’, is like Carcass playing D.R.I. songs. Clearly, Gatecreeper are happy to be custodians of death metal rather than the new innovators, but that does not devalue what they do. You can even whip out the air guitar for these songs.

Like when you hear a Cockney or a New York tough guy speak, you wonder if they’re living up to the stereotype, or if they really speak like the people portrayed in the gangster films. It’s the same with Gatecreeper – could a band be so enamoured with death metal that they make it sound like a love affair, or is there a hidden tongue-in-cheek humour at play? Yet you can appreciate how Gatecreeper have evolved since 2019 if you insert a melodramatic gothic voice into ‘The Black Curtain’. Could their brand of stadium death metal reach the masses? They’re keen to make their music as sour as possible in the off chance that anyone outside the underground tunes in for a listen. 

The main question here, though, will be how the fanbase react to their heroes turning into a melodeath band. There’s no denying this transition when you hear the likes of ‘A Chilling Aura’ and ‘Caught in the Treads’. Normally, this would be a retrograde move, but their turn towards England (Carcass and Paradise Lost) rather than Sweden (In Flames and Soilwork) is what makes it more enthralling. The energy levels are high, the guitars weaponised with a new chivalry not seen on previous records. Listen to the crunch of the riffs as you feel the drool sliding down your chin in ‘Superstitious Visions’. The use of the cowbell in the middle eight could be from the 1996 Carcass album that everybody used to hate.

Gatecreeper’s mission is to rid death metal off its monotonous elements rather than bring it to the mainstream. Their new formula is Obituary meets Paradise Lost with Chase adding his vocals to sound like a man undergoing heart surgery from a fifteenth-century Mayan chieftain. Yet you can already see a possible future direction in closing track, ‘Tears Fall from the Sky’. If this isn’t the death-doom of Hooded Menace, what is it?

This band used to be in the same bracket as Power Trip, but now they pivot towards the fist-waving heavy metal festivals. Not everyone will be pleased with this evolution. Gatecreeper make you believe that vampires exist, and you can kill them with an overdose of garlic. Can they become the Steel Panther of metal’s most popular extreme sub-genre while maintaining a solemn exterior?


Verdict


Release Date: 17/05/2024

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Oblivion, Superstitious Visions, Caught in the Treads

Suggested Further Listening: Baest – Necro Sapiens (2021), Paradise Lost – Icon (1993), Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell (2021)