There is a long history of great, aggressive metal coming out of Arizona. Flotsam & Jetsam, Sacred Reich, Sicmonic, Beats The Hell Out Of Me … the list goes on and on, but one must consider adding Gatecreeper, and to be honest, they are already the best death-metal band to ever come from our state.
Strong words, sure, but give the Phoenix/Tucson band’s last two releases on Relapse (yes, “that” Relapse, home of Mastodon, Red Fang, Suffocation, and that’s just a few) Records a listen and tell yourself there is a better metal band in, or from, Arizona right now. Sure, death metal isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea, but Gatecreeper are a band who are able to transcend genre limitations because of two things: The song writing is just that good, and they have taken their influences and combined them into something that both pays tribute to the past and pushes American death metal to new heights.
“Heavy” is an overused word when it comes to describing metal bands, but Gatecreeper are the textbook definition of heavy in sound. This starts and ends with the stellar work of drummer “Metal” Matt Arrebollo. The guy is simply nails at keeping the beat tightly in the pocket while driving the assault at the same time. When Arrebollo and bassist Sean Mears lock up, it allows the rest of the band to fully shine, so the rhythm section of Gatecreeper merits first mention here.
Case in point: Check out “Desperation” off their first full-length record, Sonoran Depravation (Relapse Records, 2016) for an example of how Mears and Arrebollo drive the assault. The song is full of killer riffage and singer Chase Mason delivers some blasts of pure anger, but without the locked-in-tight rhythm section, it would fall far short of the heights it reaches.
Brutal is another word one can use, whether to describe Mason’s voice or the band behind him, which bludgeons the listener like a well-oiled machine on Gatecreeper’s most recent release, a split EP with labelmates Iron Reagan. From a guitar standpoint, the dual attack of Eric Wagner and Nate Garrett conjures thoughts of bands like Entombed, Dismember, and Demolition Hammer on the split, which balances Gatecreeper’s heavy and ominous vibe with the more thrash-leaning sound of Iron Reagan quite nicely.
Mason is excited about how fans of both bands have received the split.
“It’s been really good. I think there is a pretty good spectrum of people that listen to either band, so we get a little bit of overlap from people that have heard them (Iron Reagan) and vice versa. We recorded that stuff last summer. We did a session where we recorded those songs and the songs for a 7-inch called “Sweltering Madness” that came out at the end of last year,” says Mason.
“Sweltering Madness” is a song that death metal fans will undoubtedly love with its slow churn and burn and Black Sabbath-esque intro. Mason sees the split EP, which features three tracks from Gatecreeper, and the Sweltering Madness 7-inch, as one unit.
“In my mind, I kind of consider it all the same thing even though they came out in different releases and several months apart,” says Mason, who started the band in 2014 with Arrebollo and guitarist Eric Wagner.
With Mason living in Tempe and Arrebollo and Wagner living in Tucson, there was a fair number of miles to cover for practices, but being from both cities allowed the band to have two hometowns to work out of while establishing Gatecreeper in the Arizona metal scene. The band released their excellent self-titled debut in the summer of 2014 before Mears and guitarist Nate Garrett joined a bit later to round out the sound.
This sort of dual citizenship is a point of pride for the band.
“We’re from Tucson and Phoenix playing heavy music because we love and live for it,” says Wagner.
While it definitely takes dedication to your craft to drive 99 miles, each way, every week or so to jam out and build your sound, the band has continued to remain steadfast to their goals as their popularity begins to grow around the world. Mason is often quick to point out his gratitude for all that has come along since the band signed to Relapse in 2016 a mere two years into their existence.
“We’ve had a lot of good opportunities since the record came out, in terms of touring with bands that we like and are friends with. It’s really cool that the record is still, even though people have short attention spans, being discovered. It came out a year and a half ago and people are still finding it and buying it. We have been putting in a lot work to put ourselves out there,” says Mason, at home in Tempe between tours.
In the past two years, Gatecreeper have crisscrossed the U.S. multiple times, sharing the stage with bands like Pallbearer, Cannibal Corpse, and Mammoth Grinder, as well as doing their own headlining tour in Europe in 2017. Despite a few members dealing with some illness, the Europe tour was an incredible success.
“We got to go to Russia and that was cool. The whole experience was awesome. It is kind of a testament to the power of the internet. People are hungry for good music. In our case, metal, just like we are over here, all over the world. A couple of us got really sick, but other than that, it was a great experience. We’re definitely going to be going back,” says Mason.
For the next month, though, the band will hit the road in the U.S. with labelmates Full of Hell, who are from the Philadelphia area. The band are excited about the tour as they have developed a good camaraderie with Full of Hell after meeting them at a show here in 2013 at Rocky Point Cantina. From there, Gatecreeper and Full of Hell have gotten to share the stage a few times before the calendars finally lined up and allowed the bands to schedule a four-week tour.
“I’m glad that they signed to Relapse. I’ve had a really good experience with (Relapse) so far. They are already a legendary label, but they are still relevant and signing new, cool, interesting bands. I think Full of Hell is in that category. It’s really cool that the show (here in Phoenix) is at Crescent Ballroom. I like going to shows there,” says Mason.
Gatecreeper perform at 8 p.m. Monday, May 28, at Crescent Ballroom, 308 North Second Avenue. Tickets are $11-$13. Visit crescentphx.com.