I haven’t reviewed death metal in a good long time, so I thought I’d get back on the dead horse with upstart Arizona act, Gatecreeper. For their Sonoran Depravation debut they’ve crafted a style mixing equal parts of the D-beat Swede-death style made famous by Entombed, the grit and dirge of Asphyx and the bastard war grind of Bolt Thrower. Sounds tempting, eh? It is, and the way these young pups put it all together will surely satisfy your ghoulish appetites. This plays like the work of accomplished vets rather than a debut by unknown bangers, and I was fairly impressed on the first listen. It’s all here: throat cutting riffs, gurgling vocals, creepy solo-work, anger, rage and testosterone. You’ve heard this stuff before and you’ll hear it again in the future, but it’s done well enough to make a dent even in my jaded skvll tank and that thing has thick armor!
Opener “Craving Flesh” makes a good impression almost immediately with its slick blend of ballsy Entombed buzz n’ gallop and Asphyx creepy crawling. It wastes no time proving the riffs are going to be loud, ugly and confrontational and Chase Mason’s vocals are lovingly gruesome and guttural. The doomy plod around the 2-minute mark onward is sweet victory and before you’re ready, the song snuffs itself out. “Sterilizing” also hits that rotten sweet spot by adding Morbid Angel distorted string bending to the basic Swede-death and letting the riffs bully you around the fading playground.
Later cuts like “Stronghold” take Bolt Thrower‘s classic mid-tempo grind and make it feel new and exciting again with some razor-sharp riff-work. This one is definitely music to roll over dead bodies with, in case you’re ever in need of such a thing. “Patriarchal Grip” is also highly engaging, starting off with heavy doom riffs that remind of Saint Vitus‘ Die Healing days, before churning back into ramming speed and roaring off to battle. The riff at 2:50 is a dozy and worth it’s weight in C4 and the whole song has that “don’t fuck with me” vibe that death metal needs to be 110% effective. Even the rudimentary chug of “Lost Forever” will get you up and moving because the band knows exactly what buttons to push to make everything sound urgent and spine-breaking. That’s good stuff.
At just over 33 minutes, this is a short and sweet piece of fanny paddling with nothing I’d call filler. The songs themselves are all tight and concise, running between 2 and 4 minutes with only one exceeding the 5-minute mark. The production is a tad on the loud side with the bulk of the space occupied by the guitar, but it really doesn’t hurt the overall experience. The riffs are like intergalactic battering rams and though the bass is usually lost in the fog of war, the drums have a satisfying thud and the overall mix is respectable.
Since the guitar is such a focal point, it’s fortuitous that Eric Wagner is a very accomplished riff-smith. He’s loaded the album with a plethora of cracking leads and though many are unapologetic Bolt Thrower worship, a nasty riff by any other name still smells like gunpowder and trench-foot. Chase Mason has a righteous death croak and really adds a lot of phlegmy oomph to the barrage. He reminds me a lot of Karl Willetts mixed with Martin Van Drunen and John Tardy, and they’re obviously good company to count oneself in. The entire band is super tight and the writing is tighter still, and that makes a big difference when peddling recycled death like this.
Gatecreeper reminds me a lot of Predatoria – neither are doing anything remotely new or original but they do it with such skill and conviction, that seems less important somehow. If you miss Bolt Thrower (and you had better), Sonoran Depravation may make their recent passing feel a little less tragic. This world needs more World Eaters.