Gatecreeper- Dark Superstition (Album Review)

May 16, 2024


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There are more death metal bands in the United States than one could possibly keep track of, but every few years there are those that are able to break out of the pack and gain notoriety.  Arizona based Gatecreeper did just that with their debut Sonoran Depravation in 2016 and they’ve only gained more traction since then.  The band kept things simple in their earlier days, unleashing a wall of HM-2 riffs that fell somewhere between Entombed and Bolt Thrower with some Dismember added in for good measure.  Sophomore effort Deserted tweaked the formula a bit more, but it was 2021’s An Unexpected Reality that showcased Gatecreeper’s willingness to branch out.  That EP offered short bursts of grind and death metal on the first half and sprawling funeral doom and death/doom leaning track on the second half.  Given that experimentation, I was curious where they would go next, and this year’s Dark Superstition answers that with more of every side of death metal.  There’s a lot more melody, death ‘n roll, and death/doom all rolled into a neat package, showcasing that this band can pay tribute to everything from the genre’s past without merely rehashing it.

Considering that Gatecreeper brought in Dismember’s Fred Etsby to oversee aspects of Dark Superstition, it’s not a surprise that the material bears a lot more resemblance to that band compared to some of the influences that were present on their first two albums.  Opener “Dead Star” showcases that the instrumentals certainly haven’t lost any of their heaviness even with the additional emphasis on melody, as this track progresses at a methodical pace and lets that lumbering HM-2 hit you squarely in the chest.  But by the time you reach “Oblivion” it’s clear Gatecreeper has pivoted towards something a bit different, as the riffs here move between the powerful melodic leads of earlier Amon Amarth and other Swedish death metal while also offering crusty old-school riffs.  There’s still a lot of Dismember and Bolt Thrower present in the DNA, but some of the curveballs the band throws at listeners help Dark Superstition to stand out a bit more.  “The Black Curtain” is the first one that stands out, as the group transitions over to more of a death ‘n roll tempo with a slow lumbering groove that’s heavy but catchy and while that sub-genre brings a love or hate response I found that Gatecreeper pulled it off.  I was also happy to see that some of the death/doom from the EP returned on closer “Tears Fall From the Sky”, and that slow burning melodic lead really gets under your skin.  “Superstitious Vision” also deserves mention, as the heavier tonality suddenly fades out around the two-minute mark and there’s a sudden appearance of cowbell.  I didn’t expect to be reminded of Santana for a minute or so on a death metal album, but it’s one of those quirks that made Gatecreeper’s just a bit more fun.  Admittedly some of the more straightforward tracks do blend together over repeat listens and it’s hard for the band to break away from how much Dismember influence has bled in with Etsby’s involvement, but there is still plenty to keep you coming back for more.

Chase Mason has been with Gatecreeper since the very beginning, and his vocal style has remained consistent across each of the band’s albums.  His primary style is a lower growl that breaks into higher pitched and raspy screams at just the right moment, and this keeps the performance from feeling one-dimensional and becoming repetitive.  The biggest difference compared to Deserted is how the vocals sit in the mix, as they’re a bit more direct and in your face this time versus the more echoey approach utilized before.  Kurt Ballou is once again responsible for the recording and mixing so this slight change likely came down to what the material dictated, but it makes the vocals feel even more intense and destructive.  There aren’t really many surprises to this aspect of the band, but why fix what isn’t broken?

Gatecreeper is still pulling from a slew of older death metal influences, but rather than sticking firmly in one camp they’ve incorporated elements from across the genre’s landscape.  There are still lumbering and crusty riffs, but there are also dips into death ‘n roll and a lot of melodies that tread that fine line between Dismember and the early Gothenburg scene.  It did take a few extra listens for some of the nuances to really grab me and even then a few of the songs still felt too similar, but I like the path Gatecreeper is on and it’ll be exciting to see how they take this solid foundation and really find their own flavor in the years to come.  Dark Superstition is available from Nuclear Blast.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg