There’s a simple reason why old-school Swedish death metal still works, and it’s not that the HM-2 guitar pedal is awesome (though it definitely is). The style is one of the purest ways to offer musical punishment in the form of gloriously heavy riffs. Thanks to groups like Trap Them, Nails, and Black Breath, the style has seen crossover success in the hardcore scene as well as a renewed life. Arizona’s Gatecreeper split the difference between the style’s forefathers and a more modern Entombedcore style a bit with their debut full-length. It’s both a love letter to the band’s influences and a reminder of how to effectively channel the past and still sound fresh.
Sonoran Depravation is much more metal than hardcore; however, there is a definite influence from the latter that makes Gatecreeper that much more savage. Sure, there’s the d-beat machinations of all post-Entombed Swedecore groups, but there’s also something a little bit more malicious and mosh-y. I don’t know that I’d call much of anything on the album a breakdown, but the grind-like freak-outs and excellent metallic hardcore shouts of Chase Mason lend extra punch to an already brutal experience. Like the best bands that transport the listener to 90s-era death metal, the influence of Dismember, Bolt Thrower, and Obituary weighs heavy throughout, as the album’s sound is equal parts crushing, melodic, and out for blood. It’s crusty, doom-soaked death metal at its finest. Gatecreeper’s best attribute is an ability to be equally effective regardless of speed. They are pensive in the doom-influenced moments and absolutely hellacious when they let their hair down. “Desperation” is an easy highlight, with its razor-sharp melody undercutting a glorious series of riffs.
The riffs. It’s important to note how accomplished Gatecreeper sounds throughout this easy-down-the-chute 30 minutes; this album is more akin to a band’s third or fourth than a debut. However, while the band is impressive at songwriting and maintaining a solid balance between the vicious and the destructive sides of its sound, Gatecreeper are truly experts at crafting riffs. There are a couple moments when things fall just below stellar, but rarely doesSonoran Depravation lack in the riff department. Guitarist Eric Wagner is wise beyond his years at this stuff, and this debut might be his masterpiece.
Overall, this fast, furious, and fun debut might be one of the best death metal records you’re going to hear this year, and that’s actually a mighty feat in 2016. Gatecreeper know how to craft retro-styled Swedish death with just the right amount of hardcore influence to make it sound rather fresh. Sure, it’s not exactly the most original thing in the world, but when it’s done this well, who the Hell cares?