Gatecreeper Speak to Spirits on 'Dark Superstition'

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished May 23, 2024


Metal is often about posturing and comparing. Who's the loudest? (I'm the loudest!) Who's the fastest? (I'm the fastest?) Who's the heaviest? (I'M THE FUCKING HEAVIEST!) There's a sense that bands are always trying to one-up each other, overtake each other, outperform each other. Of course there's camaraderie, but it's also no surprise that metal is often seen as a genre of gatekeepers, when instead it should be seen as a gatecreeping genre, where bands of all styles and types can infiltrate the scene, make an impression and excite fans and critics alike. In recent years, the band that best exemplifies this ethos has undoubtedly been, well, Gatecreeper.

Formed in 2013, Gatecreeper (Chase H. Mason on vocals; Eric Wagner on guitar; Matt Arrebollo on drums; Israel Garza on guitar and Alex Brown on bass) are a powerhouse of a band. Swapping virtuosic dexterity for a leaner, more punishing Old School Death Metal sound, Gatecreeper have spent the last decade rising through the ranks of underground metal. On the strength of their self-titled 2014 EP and a roaring live show, the band signed with Relapse Records and released their highly acclaimed full-length debut, Sonoran Depravation in 2016. This was followed in 2019 by Deserted, as well as the surprise pandemic release, An Unexpected Reality, in 2021.

Fortunately, like all good bands, Gatecreeper have continued to evolve and have expanded their sound to include more melodic and experimental elements, and with their third full-length, Dark Superstition, they've melded all of their influences into a sprawling, stunning yet always explosive 10-song affair that's sure to go down as one of the year's best metal releases.

On Dark Superstition, the band worked with American producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou at his God City Studios, and drummer/songwriter Fred Estby of Swedish death metal titans Dismember, whose undeniable influence can be heard coursing through the musical veins of some of the best death metal bands making music today, including Gatecreeper.

On album opener "Dead Star," the band wastes no time introducing their unique melding of these transatlantic influences: booming drums, melodic guitar and bass lines and Chase's authoritative bellow crush and command, while the winding solo is reminiscent of the best of In Flames. Similarly, "Oblivion" is a long-lost Slaughter of the Soul classic played by a battle vest-clad gator. The mixing of these two distinct styles of death metal — Floridian and Swedish — is what makes Gatecreeper so appealing, so instantly recognizable, so damn fun. It's complex yet thick, dragging one knuckle while using the other to play an intricate air guitar riff.

Although Dark Superstition features a more melodic and diverse sonic palette, the band hasn't lost any of their subterranean heaviness: "Masterpiece of Chaos" features a torrent of pinch harmonics and some of Mason's most tortured screams, while "A Chilling Aura" is absolutely relentless, evolving through multiple sections and featuring crushing double kick, tremolo riffing and a blistering tempo that's certainly going to inspire some circle pits. "Caught in the Treads" is pounding through-and-through, with every instrument pummeling the listener. It feels like the song is sitting on your chest and forcing you to headbang, and it's impossible to deny its demands. "Mistaken for Dead" is the album's fastest, most aggressive song; a ruthless, thrashtastic ripper with a solo made for throwing up the Horns.

The album title references the Superstition Mountains in the band's home state of Arizona; according to Mason, the mountain range is "surrounded by tragedy and legends of hidden fortune." Unsurprisingly, the album deals with divination, the supernatural, fear of the unknow, and trust in magic and chance, with lead single "The Black Curtain" exploring themes of purgatory and the soul. It's quite possibly the band's most accessible track yet, groove-heavy and slithering along on a greasy bass line and a lean but highly effective (and hummable) guitar riff. Similarly, "Superstitious Vision" has a death-rock intro/chorus ready-made for the pit and dancefloor — certainly not something you often attribute to a death metal band but very applicable here. There's even a cowbell. Death metal needs more cowbell!

The album ends on an almost six-minute death-doom epic, "Tears Fall from the Sky," which stomps along on harmonized guitars and a slow but deliberate rhythm section. As the song fades out, you're left in a state of unsettled menace. There are no answers and no resolutions: the darkness is here to stay.

With Dark Superstition, Gatecreeper have cemented their place as one of modern metal's most visceral, exciting and endlessly-listenable bands, and the album is a more-than-worthy addition to their already-accomplished catalogue. You can party to it, you can seance to it, but most importantly, you can repeat-listen to it ad infinitum. Press play (again and again and again) and let the spirits take you.

(Nuclear Blast)

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