Right now, Arizona’s Gatecreeper are arguably the most talked-about band in death metal, pioneers of their cavernous sound and underground darlings across all of heavy music. Both of their full-length albums, 2016’s Sonoran Depravation and 2019’s Deserted, were major events within the death metal scene, and helped vault them to greater levels of renown. Unless they totally abandon their previous material, anything these dudes put out is going to be awesome. Why wouldn’t they d0 shitloads of promo for a new album?
“I didn’t want to just drop crumbs like in a normal roll-out, to break [this album] up like that,” vocalist Chase Mason says of An Unexpected Reality, Gatecreeper’s new eight-song EP that dropped today with less than 24 hours of notice to the public. “And also I just think that right now, with everything going on in the world, people are a little fried. There’s attention fatigue, and I didn’t want to try and hold someone’s attention for three months until the record came out. So we didn’t let anyone know we were working on it.”
In truth, the EP didn’t really need any hype. An Unexpected Reality is a beautifully furious statement by a band at the top of their game. Side One is seven one-minute tracks that show Gatecreeper at their most rabid. Though their oozing groove is still ever-present in Eric Wagner and Israel Garza’s guitars on tracks like “Rusted Gold” and “Depraved Not Deprived,” the riffs are tight jabs tempered by throttling blastbeats from drummer “Metal” Matt Arrebollo. Side Two is just one song, “Emptiness,” an eleven-minute death-doom epic that sees Mason’s vocals going more guttural and unhinged than ever before. Given how well their formula has been working for them (and how many bands have imitated it since their emergence), skipping both the traditional album roll-out and changing pace is a risk for Gatecreeper — but one Mason thought now was the time to take.
“I mean, our sound has pretty much always been the same — the formula for it has maybe morphed and expanded, but we’re not an experimental band,” says Chase. “But in this format, we can expand on things that we’ve touched on. Staying within the Gatecreeper sound, we’ve just explored different details in either direction. I’m hesitant to use the word ‘experimenting,’ because I don’t want people to thing we’re becoming a progressive death metal band. But it’s definitely an experiment for us. That was part of the whole idea for it, because for me, creatively, it really lit a fire under my ass in terms of what we were trying to do.”
Was this album always going to be surprise-released, or did you guys just decide to drop it out of nowhere as the release date approached?
This record was an idea I’ve had for a while. I didn’t think we would actually be able to do it, with last year being a year we were going to tour more than any year before — Deserted had just come out. I had this idea in my back pocket, so when everything got canceled and we were able to tour, I just figured, Well, now’s the time. I didn’t want to put it out into the world with some huge roll-out, as the new Gatecreeper full-length.
Was there any pushback from the people around you — label folks, publicists, and so on?
No, not at all. We did this record with Closed Casket Activities, and Justin (Louden) who runs the label is a good friend of mine. We almost put out our first record on Closed Casket, so we’ve been talking ever since then, and we did a 7” with them in 2017. So when the idea came up, I asked him if he wanted to do it, and he’s been on board with any ideas I’ve had. It’s been cool to work with him, because I’ve been very hands-on, and we both have the same kind of vision for it, so there hasn’t been any blowback at all.
How much of An Unexpected Reality was written or planned out before COVID hit in March?
I had the idea earlier for writing a lot faster songs than we usually play, and a lot slower than we usually play — both ends of the spectrum. At the very beginning of 2020, before shit hit the fan, me and Eric started working on some faster songs. I think we only had one or two sessions together playing, and demoed out one or two songs, and at that time, we were gearing up to be touring for the rest of the year. So we did start at the beginning of 2020, but then the majority of it was written starting in March and April, and then recorded in July. It was completely done and completely recorded in the pandemic.
When you say ‘fast’ songs, is that fast for Gatecreeper, a traditionally mid-paced band, or full-on grindcore fast?
It’s definitely fast for our band — I do think we’ve had faster parts in our songs, more punky parts, but our normal pace is pretty mid-tempo, and we don’t really have blastbeats. Not even the technical blastbeats, but just a quick one-two — there’s not a whole lot, if any, in our songs. So we just thought, Let’s lift that rule and just run with it. And then the B-side, the slow song, is longer than any Gatecreeper song before, and definitely slower.
So if this isn’t the next full-length, is it an EP? Where does this lie in Gatecreeper’s discography?
I would say it’s an EP, because even though it’s eight songs, it’s under twenty minutes. Depends on how you classify it — some bands have full albums under 20 minutes. It’s not our next full-length, and why I say that is because we’re experimenting a little bit, and I don’t want it to be like, This is what Gatecreeper sound like now. They’re changing their sound. It’s more of an exploration, and maybe a little bit of a detour, with us trying out this new format.
Wow, when you were talking about fast songs, I figured three minutes here, four minutes there. But this is the Napalm Death school of fast.
Yes, absolutely. There are seven fast songs, and they’re each about a minute long. It’s definitely goth that older, early grind stuff, but very punk influenced too.
Is the track “Depraved Not Deprived” a dig at people misspelling the name of your first album? As a journalist who was constantly misspelling it, that song title definitely cracked me up.
Yeah! It was definitely misspelled a lot, and those two words are similar, but they have very different meanings. That might’ve been an oversight on my part, because I did notice that some word processors would automatically correct it from ‘Depraved’ to ‘Deprived.’ We kind of shot ourselves in the foot with that, but whatever.
Another song title that struck me as interesting was “Sick of Being Sober.” As someone who’s very far along in their sobriety, and has discussed recovery openly, did you write that about your own experience, or was in a bigger, overarching idea?
With the lyrics, I took a much more personal approach on this record. And with that, the title is purposefully kind of tongue in cheek, but it’s definitely in reference to feelings that I’ve had, especially during the last year. It would be nice to have a chemical buffer of some sort during all of this. It’s me keeping it real, I guess. I’ve definitely in the past been very open about my sobriety and being in recovery and all that, and it can be very hard-lined, very all-rainbows — but it’s not. I wanted to write that song that said, Yeah, I’m sober, but it’s not always fun. I’m proud of being sober because of what I’ve had to overcome, but it sucks sometimes.
Gatecreeper’s An Unexpected Reality is available for purchase via Closed Casket Activities, and can be streamed below.
Words by Chris Krovatin