Reviewed: [February 2021]
Released [2021 Closed Casket Activities]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Closed Casket Activities seems to be full of New Year’s surprises these days. Just after Christmas a year ago came the unannounced release of The Acacia Strain’s magnificent one-off EP It Comes In Waves, arguably the band’s finest work. This year, the label has sprung a similarly unhyped special release from Arizona death metallers Gatecreeper, who have just inked a new deal with Nuclear Blast, on Jan. 13.
The 18-minute, aptly titled An Unexpected Reality shows much the same sense of adventure as It Comes In Waves. But where The Acacia Strain took what in essence was a half hour-long sci-fi/doom magnum opus and chopped it into seven interconnected movements, Gatecreeper offer a series of spasmodic fits and starts leading up to the titanic, even doomier about-face of “Emptiness,” which at 11-plus minutes is four minutes longer than the seven tracks that precede it combined.
As with Waves, An Unexpected Reality serves as a gap-filler between full-lengths, and gives Gatecreeper a chance to do some creative venting while they have been cooped up in what has been one of the hottest Covid hot spots in America. And vent they do, especially over the explosive seven first tracks, which mash up Swedish-style death metal grit, Obituary-like swing and chug and the grindcore microbursts of vintage Napalm Death with some hardcore muscle that would make Agnostic Front proud.
From “Starved” to “Superspreader,” the front half of Reality – or “the fast side” if you get the vinyl – is an all-out, breathless assault of d-beats, buzz-sawing riffs and Chase Mason’s belligerent bark. “Amputation” clocks in at a furious 31 seconds and the longest of the songs, “Depraved Not Deprived,” barely cracks the minute mark. There is no let up, save for some heaving hooks, at least until things do a whiplash-inducing 180 with “Emptiness,” aka “the slow side.”
The pace doesn’t so much slow to a crawl as stop altogether as the song opens with the agonized, elongated guitar strains from Eric Wagner and Israel Garza that are right out of the vintage Black Sabbath or Sleep song book before the rest of the band joins in for what becomes a sludgy slog. It’s super heavy and super gloomy, sucking in all light like a metallic black hole. The final third of “Emptiness” does brighten a bit with some dramatic guitar harmonies and leads and black metal shimmer, even if the tempo continues its elephantine plod.
I guess Reality would be the very definition of bipolar, frantic and manic one the one hand, oppressive and depressive on the other. But the unexpected mood swing makes for a winning combination on this equally unexpected release, as both sides of the band’s personality are presented with equal distinction and vigor – albeit with dramaticly different intensity levels. Just wish there was more of it.