Review: Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality

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Gatecreeper is one of those bands I wish I could fully sink my teeth into. Their 2016 debut, Sonoran Depravation, was an interesting display of Entombed-style death metal with seasonings of hardcore and gloom. 2019’s follow-up, Deserted, was a solid enough death/doom record, but neither record lived up to the massive hype built around these Arizona natives. That’s not entirely their fault, as it seemed like every major publication was building hype around them. Still, I can’t help but feel disappointed by the directional change we saw between these records, as leaning into the doomier side of their sound saw the band lose a good chunk of what made them so interesting to me. This leads us nicely to An Unexpected Reality, a crossroads between the two styles the band has flirted with. Besides that, this is a pretty unconventional release for any band. It has been described by the band as “8 brand new songs” (via) as opposed to a traditional album, it’s a split genre record inspired by the half-and-half formula of Black Flag’s My War (via), and it clocks in at just 17 minutes.

So, in a Defeated Sanity-style split with themselves, Gatecreeper has delegated the middle ground of their two distinct sides (the chugging death/doom and the hardcore/death assault) to this pseudo-album. As far as the first side goes, the grinding HM-2 blast at work here is plenty enjoyable in the moment. It’s punchy, intense, and plenty fast but I’d be lying if I said that it was completely satisfying. Maybe it’s just how similar this sounds to many of the band’s metal-punk peers (they were very obviously listening to quite a bit of Nails and Mammoth Grinder-type acts) or maybe it’s just that, beyond some flashy guitar work, not much substance seeps through an overwhelming amount of style. It’s all very speedy and busy, but nothing really leaps out as particularly strong or interesting. This said, the band certainly hits the nail on the head when it comes to making a good time for the first few songs.

It’s the latter section of the record that I’m not crazy about. The relative behemoth that ends this record is an 11-minute death/doom send up to your Cianide and Asphyx types. There’s plenty to like about “Emptiness,” the riffs are thick and meaty, the pace is fittingly sluggish and groovy, and there are some interesting ideas at play (that pace switch around the 5:30 mark is pretty damn cool). Like the first bit though, there’s a piece missing. I’m not exactly sure if it comes down to the composition of the song or the very stiff style of playing, but something drags this track down from menacing to borderline plodding. Whereas the quick-paced nature of the first side helped mask any lackluster elements behind a wall of adrenaline, “Emptiness” feels naked in its slow runtime. It’s an underwhelming performance from a band who has proved in the past that they’re capable of writing a good death-doom flavored song.

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My negativity throughout this review is not lost upon me and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I don’t think An Unexpected Reality is a god-awful record—there’s some fun to be had with the hardcore-spiked death metal of the first half and, while not great, the final song has some cool ideas going for it (as well as a frankly awesome production job). It’s just that I found myself growing bored of this record quickly as I relistened, trying to find something to grasp onto. Ultimately, it’s a pretty middle of the road effort from a band that I genuinely feel can do better. I wish nothing but the best for Gatecreeper and look forward to what the band will do in the future, but An Unexpected Reality is an experiment that could’ve used more time in the oven.

2.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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