Gatecreeper – Dark Superstition

A canyon-sized, accessible death metal epic…

For the uninitiated, the recent history of death metal has been defined by self-reflexive contortions. Throughout the noughties, deathcore had become the dominant and much-reviled style in the genre. Its over-the-top intensity and knuckleheaded breakdowns polarised the metal community, though traces of its bloody-nosed influence can be heard in today’s ultra-heavy hardcore bands like Knocked Loose and Jesus Piece

This cacophonous approach eventually became so overwrought that the genre basically temporally-imploded. Reverting back-to-basics, the last five or so years have seen the ‘old school death metal revival’ gather steam – a retrogression to a traditionalist ideal of death metal defined by more simple, riff-driven down song craft, a cavernous production style and omnipresent buzzsaw guitar tones.

This revivalist era has had its ups and downs. There’s also a whole other discussion to be had about whether or not music genres should operate according to a boom-and-bust logic and why it seems to have happened so often as of late. What we can say for certain is that a ton of fun and riff-heavy bands have come out of this era, few of whom have achieved Gatecreeper’s level of success. 

The Arizona five-piece play a style they’ve self-described as ‘stadium death metal’. This tag would have once made genre purists baulk, however, it’s a sign of our genre-smashed, musically-open-minded times that the description has been embraced. ‘Dark Superstition’ is the band’s most widescreen realisation of the aesthetic yet; ten exhilarating tracks that possess the sonic schematics of a vast canyon in the band’s scorched desert homeland.

Gatecreeper gigantic take on death metal isn’t strictly ‘new’. Plenty of death metal greats made mid-career albums that felt, to varying degrees, more ‘accessible’ than anything they’d done previously. However, what feels so fresh about ‘Dark Superstition’ is its ruthless commitment to the band’s sweeping vision. Gatecreeper have figured out how to modulate these ten songs so they retain an internal logic whilst tilting between fast/slow and heavy/soft(er) polarities. The best tracks, particularly ‘A Chilling Aura’, fuse everything the band are capable of, culminating in a thrilling and soaring melodic death metal masterclass. 

The likes of At The Gates and In Flames loom large over ‘Dark Superstition’, however, the other, more surprising, sonic reference point is Parkway Drive. The Australian band have undergone a similar, if more extreme, transformation in recent years; from raw metalcore to arena-filling hard rock. ‘Dark Superstition’ is many degrees heavier (and better) than Parkway’s last few albums, but listening to the mid tempo headbanger ‘Caught In The Treads’, it’s hard not to see the swaggering similarities. 

Much of ‘Dark Supersititon’s scintillating scope can be attributed to the skills of venerable producer Kurt Ballou. Alongside an endless array of gnashing guitar tones (see this video for proof of his expertise on death metal pedals), Ballou captures crisp, roomy drums like very few others. The maniacal blasts and fills of ‘Masterpiece Of Chaos’ sound as lucid as the mid-tempo grooves of ‘Flesh Habit’, adding up to a sharply elegant but also crushingly heavy sound that must have been tricky for the production team to correctly gauge.

While you probably won’t see Gatecreeper headlining the big metal festivals any time soon, the ruthlessly cohesive ‘Dark Superstition’ succeeding in nudging death metal’s borders open by a couple of inches. It’s as likely as any pure death metal album in recent memory to pull a ‘Sunbather’ and convert non-metal fans to its cause. In this era of increasingly broad-minded musical tastes, anything feels possible.

8/10

Words: Tom Morgan

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