2020 was all set to be Gatecreeper’s year. The response to their 2019 second record Deserted was uniformly positive, and the band found themselves receiving a ton of coverage even from outlets that wouldn’t normally feature a death metal record. They had a full complement of US and international tours on the schedule, all set to bring what they were calling “stadium death metal” to the masses.
Of course you all know what happened next. The band was on the Decibel Magazine tour with Mayhem, Abbath, and Idle Hands when shows started getting cancelled as Covid started kicking off in the US. Soon enough the whole tour was cancelled and, like so many other bands, Gatecreeper went home with tens of thousands of dollars of records and merch in their van, and no idea if or when they’d be back out on the road.
Not ones to sit on their hands, the band used the time to write and record a record on the hush hush, and in early 2021 announced An Unexpected Reality, an 8 song EP of 7 fast thrashers and one 12 minute death doom dirge – all to be released a few hours later via Closed Casket Activities.
As per the band’s previous releases, the tones are gigantic, taking their trademark GED riffs and compressing them into 30 second grindy blasts that come as a breath of fresh air. That is until you hit Emptiness, easily the most epic thing the band has done, combining slow doom, some clean passages, some black metal vocals and a mournfully melodic payoff in the last three minutes that somehow makes sadness almost feel triumphant.
We caught up with Gatecreeper guitarist Eric Wagner – aka The Darkest Cowboy – to discuss the record, dive bombs, and having your buddy check your tones.
Secret release! Was it difficult to keep this one under wraps? I have to assume it’s been in the works for a long while given that all the vinyl is pressed and all?
Chase and I had been throwing ideas around for the record for a while and the pandemic gave us time to work on it. We wrote the songs and actually recorded them back in July. We thought it would be fun to drop the record out of nowhere and surprise everyone.
Having done the big release build up with Deserted and now the “surprise motherfuckers” release with An Unexpected Reality, how would you compare the two? Could you see the band going back to a traditional release timeline?
From the beginning, we looked at An Unexpected Reality as a kind of experimental, side record. We like to release EPs and splits between full lengths, and this is one of those. Something fun for the fans and something extra special for people to enjoy during this crazy time.
We didn’t have the long roll out we usually have because we wanted to make this different. We wanted to experiment with the songs but also the way we released it.
One thing I had noticed was Gatecreeper’s music had kind of slowed down from Sonoran to Deserted, which had a lot of mid tempo to doomy stuff on it. Was the desire to do a ton of short fast songs something of a reaction this?
Some of the songs on Sonoran Depravation were written when we first started the band just so we could play shows. We needed songs for a set and they ended up on the record. Deserted, on the other hand, was written all together and specifically for a record. We wanted to be more melodic and epic with it.
We started writing Deserted and by the end we had something that was more mid-tempo, darker, and way more melodic. When we started working on An Unexpected Reality we had thought about kind of doing a split release with ourselves.
We have short and fast songs, like “Desperation” and “Puncture Wounds”, on previous releases and we always loved how those got the crowed going during live sets. We thought it would be cool to write a bunch of short fast songs that we could throw into the live set.
On the other hand, we love writing songs like Emptiness. I wouldn’t say that this release is a reaction to Deserted, but more of a reaction to the pandemic and what it’s done to live music.
The energy on the first side of the record is an attempt to capture the raw energy of a show. The other side is sad and brutal just like the last year has been.
Something I was thinking about when listening to the record is these songs will make for fun transitions when you play live. Can you see many of them making it into the live set? Or do you see this release more as a fun one off?
We generally play songs from almost all of our releases live. We wrote the fast songs with live sets in mind and so we will most definitely jam some of those live. Emptiness is its own beast. I’m not sure if that’s a live song or not. But maybe one day. Would be half of our set.
The record is just the original trio of you, Chase and Matt – how did that come about? No Sean on this record? And is Israel a full member now?
Because of Covid, it was more difficult to get together and record in our usual way. Things just had to be done to get it recorded.
We are excited to have Israel playing with us. He is an incredible guitar player and a bad ass dude. He fits in so well with what we have going on and he is for sure a full member.
Tell me about the tones! What were you using on this record? Did you change up your gear from your Deserted setup at all given there was so much fast stuff on this record? The tone on Emptiness sounds quite different to the fast side, what are you using on there?
We always record at Homewrecker Studios in Tucson Arizona with our buddy Ryan Bram. Ryan is the tone king and always has great ideas for us. He has a ton of heads, cabs, and pedals in his studio.
We for sure have a specific tone we like but we always mess around to hone things in for whatever we are working on. Once we find a starting point Chase and Ryan, and I, adjust stuff until we are happy. We made the tone more raw for the fast songs and then changed up settings and added effects for the slower side.
The tones are a mix of a few heads and cabs all set up in the live room. We ended up having an Ampeg VH-140c hooked up to a Marshall cab, a Marshall Super Bass head on an Orange cab, and a Yamaha T100 through a Marshall cab. For pedals, we used a Lone Wolf Audio Left Hand Wrath, a Left Hand Wrath Deluxe, and a Lone Wolf Audio Plague Rat.
Both sides had the same equipment, just different adjustments. We used LTD and ESP guitars with EMG 81 pickups.
What’s going on with you and Lone Wolf Audio? I see some rumblings online about something coming soon. Anything you can reveal as yet?
I’ve used Lone Wolf Audio distortion pedals since day one. We recorded our first EP with them and everything since. They are great for the studio and nail the sound live. I am working on something special with Joe at Lone Wolf and I’m super excited to reveal it once it’s ready. (editor’s note: the pedal was released January 18th and sold out within hours)
You have one of the best HM2 type sounds going, can you share any of your secrets? Have you gone through a lot of pedals to get to where you are, or did you find your Lone Wolf silver bullet early?
I like things simple. I have a Left Hand Wrath into my Ampeg 5150 head and Orange cab with a Michael Klein Lonely Ghost (reverb, delay, boost) in the FX loop. I set everything on the Left Hand Wrath to 10 except for the presence between 6 or 7.
My secret is having Chase stand at the front of the stage during sound check to let me know if my head needs more treble or not.
You are quite the dive bomb master, do you have to do any extra setup on your guitars to get the range you need, especially at such a low tuning?
I use a Floyd Rose Tungsten Sustain Block on all of my guitars. It makes the tone darker and heavier. I also put bubble wrap behind the springs on my Floyd. The wrap helps the sustain of the dives.
My buddy Baby Face, who manages guitars for Cannibal Corpse on tour, told me that a guitar “is just a piece of wood with metal on it” and that if it sounds good and feels good then it doesn’t matter how you set it up. Just try things until you like it. Don’t be afraid.
One thing I noticed when I saw you guys with Cannibal Corpse is your signal seems heavily gated, do you have any good noise gate pointers for people trying to pour on a ton of gain?
Once again, I like things simple. Also, if it works it works. I have a Dunlop DVP4 Mini Volume Pedal on the end of my chain. I just turn off the signal when I want it silent and turn it off and on when they’re pauses in songs.
When we first started I just couldn’t find a gate that I liked and so I just got a volume pedal.
Fun stuff – for Gatecreeper fans who might not be as familiar with the crusty/dbeaty/Converg-y style of the fast songs on this record, what are some bands or records you would suggest they check out?
The faster, grindier stuff was inspired by classics like Napalm Death, Terrorizer and Repulsion. Scandinavian hardcore punk like Anti-Cimex and Totalitar had a big influence as well. Some records to check out are Jigsore Terror – World End Carnage and Death Toll 80k – Harsh Realities.
Conversely, what are some good funeral doom or death doom bands/records people should check out if they’re digging Emptiness or Absence Of Light from Deserted?
The slow side of the record was influenced by lots of death doom or funeral doom bands like Evoken, Asunder, and Ahab. Mournful Congregation – The June Frost is a classic and had a huge influence on “Emptiness”. Another favorite death doom record to check out is Morgion – Among Majestic Ruin.
Finally, for people who might not be as familiar with Gatecreeper but want to learn some of your stuff on guitar, what are some songs you suggest they start out with that are fun to play?