For a movement often maligned as cookie monster goofery, the death metal underground’s diversity is undeniable. With distinct regional scenes there’s many legendary forebearers to inspire newer acts like Arizona’s Gatecreeper. Whether it’s the Swedish guitar tone and melodies or chunky American riffing, these guys have no problem crossing various death metal subgenres. That was enough for the band’s 2016 debut LP, Sonoran Depravation, to make a splash within the metal and hardcore communities. Gatecreeper’s songs remain simple, hard-hitting and infectious on sophomore outing Deserted. There’s little in the way of innovation, but the band has clearly done its homework.
A chainsaw guitar tone and lumbering grooves at the start of “Deserted” sound like Grave covering Bolt Thrower. As the riff develops alongside harmonized tremolo picking and well-placed double bass drum rolls, vocalist Chase Mason channels his inner John Tardy with some anguished gurgles.
Gatecreeper is more concerned with primitive brutality than prog rock shredding. The simple drum patterns and caveman riffs of single “From The Ashes” have more bash than flash. What’s interesting is how the bulldozing chugs seamlessly evolve into a melo-death conclusion worthy of At The Gates. Gatecreeper knows exactly where to display its various influence.
The other two singles, “Everlasting” and “Boiled Over,” give a good summation of what Deserted has in store. Gatecreeper clearly wrote these songs to burst eardrums, with every drum hit and detuned guitar note hitting like a rocket-powered freight train. Both songs’ tough-as-nails grooves could appeal to fans of hardcore bands like Xibalba or Jesus Piece, but the riffs are obviously informed by death metal’s multi-decade history. None of this feels like filler before the breakdown. It’s all a great time. In this way, “Puncture Wounds” never loses steam as guitarists Eric Wagner and Nate Garrett juggle leads reminiscent of Carcass’ Heartwork and Autopsy-esque thrash parts over mid-tempo punk beats.
Gatecreeper also knows how to properly use Sean Mears’ grimy bass tone, best exemplified on “Ruthless.” He’s integral to the low-end crunch pervading Deserted and without him that massive intro wouldn’t have hit nearly as hard. In fact, it’s often the production that makes these old-school death metal numbers so satisfying. The Swedish-style licks and unrelenting drumming of “Barbaric Pleasures” are nothing new, so the memorability comes from the song’s balance of crushing weight and pummeling aggression. Gatecreeper doesn’t need technicality to be meaner than a horde of rabid minotaurs.
“Sweltering Madness” makes more use of bombshell blast beats, but ultimately centers on a sludgier downtempo feel. Much of this album recalls Bolt Thrower’s The IVth Crusade. It’s a great vocation for Matt Arrebollo’s vicious drumming and you can hear the velocity of his sticks, visualizing him sweating in the Arizona heat.
There’s something addictive about each salvo Deserted dishes out, even with deep cuts like “In Chains.” Albums this one-dimensional often get boring, but Gatecreeper knows exactly when to switch it up with a mosh riff for the Nails crowd or chaotic guitar solos and tasty guitar hammering for the old-school fans. The album is well-equipped to destroy everything in its path.
Closing cut “Absence of Light” ends Deserted where it started—buried under mountains of filthy distortion and stomping beats. If Sonoran Depravation was earth-shattering, this thing can obliterate galaxies. Those who’ve been listening to death metal since the get-go might prefer the classics, but for Gatecreeper to faithfully carry the torch is hardly a slight. In terms of authentic heaviness, Gatecreeper is two for two.