New year, new reviews. Well… sort of. I was dead set on picking on some freshly released January 2021 records, but while perusing some popular new releases, I noticed that there were a couple of bangers that slipped my attention at the end of 2020. One of those is Gatecreeper’s An Unexpected Reality. Gatecreeper is a band that I neither hate nor follow religiously. I have enjoyed them when I have listened to them and am generally a fan of this new revival of old-school death metal. That being said, I have never been an avid follower of the band. I went into this album completely neutral expecting a deluge of moderately exciting chugs and growls but what I got was far from what I expected.
The album is almost a two-part affair. The first seven tracks being, all more or less, one-minute death-grind tracks while the last track is an epic, eleven-minute, death-doom, funeral march. I want to clarify up front that none of what you will be hearing on this album is that new or innovative but I do think that following a set of grind tracks with a lengthy and morose doom piece is something I have not heard often, if at all. This was the first thing that caught my attention about this EP, and it was something that stuck and caused me to replay it many times to get my head around what I genuinely thought about it. I can confidently say, without reservation, that this is my favourite Gatecreeper release by far. Although the compositions of the tracks are not wholly unique, the juxtaposition of styles is alluring.
Thematically and lyrically the music is a bit bland. The lyrics for the grind tracks are short and sweet, as expected, and rather generic in terms of content. The only real topical lyrics are the ones for “Superspreader” and I guess everyone can imagine what that is about. The lyrics and content are “by the numbers”, but it works and they aren’t objectively bad so I guess they score a passing mark.
The production on the album is quintessential Gatecreeper. Scooped and over-compressed guitar tones add to the metallic and shiny quality of the mix. I generally prefer muddier and warmer tones in my death metal, but much like the lyrical content, it is by the books and it works. The performance is top-notch on all fronts. The guitar and bass playing is tight but not too flashy. The riffs sound good but are rather generic. In terms of virtuosity, the drums are taking centre stage, but my favourite performance on the album has to be the vocals. They give the music some character which is generally felt to lack.
This review puts me in a strange position as I thoroughly enjoyed this album but can’t really say it’s that unique a release. Other than the stark genre shift, the EP is everything it is expected to be, and not much more. Maybe it is a comment on my expectations when it comes to metal and particularly death metal releases, but somehow throwing two contrasting genres together is enough to turn an average album into a good one. Maybe that’s a shallow analysis, but it is what it is.
The first seven tracks are the equivalent of running a gauntlet lined with sadistic agitators who are armed with mildly pain-inducing weapons and a vested interest in causing you suffering. The album starts and you are set off running as cattle prods and barbed whips goad you onwards. These grind tracks are relentless and palpably violent. You can taste metal in your mouth as you race to the finish line which seems only meters away but just out of reach. The music gives you a sense of depersonalisation yet excitement. I’m damn sure these tracks would go down great in the pit. Although I labeled these tracks initially as death-grind, they also have some elements of cross-over thrash/hardcore. As the minutes fly by the tracks blur into one another and before you know it you are bloody and bruised and just past the finish line. My favourite of them has to be “Amputation” just because of the catchy growl that we hear at about 20 seconds in (also known as the last third of the song).
The doom cherry on the cake, “Emptiness”, is really what the whole album seems to be leading to. The track is death-doom with traditional sentiments reminiscent of acts like Draconian. The music is sullen and forlorn yet exuding emotion, like the dying breath of a 19th-Century Romantic poet. The piece has some great dynamics, unlike what came before, and features some acoustic guitar that brings some freshness to the audio spectrum. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for depressing doom music, but this track just hits the spot. The sun could be shining outside, but all I see is grey fog and the splattering of rain on my window. Although the lyrics aren’t too special, somehow the simplicity of them combined with the dredging riffs brings a subtly warm yet sorrowful feeling to my chest. Like recalling a happy memory that can never be re-lived. Bewitchingly desolate.
This EP is not a masterpiece, nor is it a must-listen, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. The odd genre shift is enticing, and I can safely say without it I would not have given this a second listen. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Gatecreeper has defied at least my expectations, and that’s probably worth a spin or two.
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