Please understand that the next sentence is for the metal fans out there. Gatecreeper's upcoming record, Sonoran Depravation, which will be released on Relapse Records this fall, is brutal, intense and possibly the best death metal album to ever be recorded in the Old Pueblo.
That last sentence is a doozy when you break it down. First of all, the three-year-old death metal band featuring three members from Tucson, one who just moved from Tucson and one Phoenician (more on that later) have recently signed to Pennsylvania-based Relapse Records, which is a huge accomplishment for such a young band. For those who may be unfamiliar, Relapse is home to a plethora of excellent death, grind and extreme metal bands like Cephalic Carnage, Exhumed and Obituary—and that's just to name a few. For the guys in Gatecreeper, it is entirely possible they are waiting for some evil metal prankster to pinch them and wake them up.
"To be a part of an institution like Relapse is a dream come true," says guitarist Eric Wagner. "It feels so good to be on a label with bands that have had such a strong influence on me. Relapse has such an eclectic roster and I am so proud to be a part of it.
"So far," he adds, "our experience with the label has been wonderful. We have received nothing but support from them and they are all about allowing artists to be in control of their own creative vision."
Wagner helped form Gatecreeper in 2013 with then-roommate and drummer Metal Matt (Arrebollo) and vocalist Chase Mason. The three musicians did not let Mason's Phoenix home address stand in the way of putting together a terrific debut EP, 2014's eponymously titled Gatecreeper, before the band had even played their first show. For Mason, it was something he had to do.
"Initially," Mason says, "I met Matt when he was playing in Territory [which also features Gatecreeper bassist Sean Mears]. I wanted to start a death metal band. We talked about music and Matt was into old school death metal so we started talking about it. I would go down there maybe once every two weeks. I would write stuff and I would demo it out on my computer and we'd send it back and forth, so we were kind of working on it all along."
The band would jam in Territory's rehearsal room. During this time, they got the attention of Ryan Bram (who also plays in Territory) of Homewrecker Studios.
"I stuck around a couple times to listen to the early versions of the songs and was stoked," Bram says. "I'm sure I encouraged them to get in the studio with me as soon as possible right then. I'm a huge fan of Swedish death metal myself, so I knew the sound and vibe they were aiming to get and I was really excited to work on the album with them. I've since recorded Gatecreeper—five separate times now. Gets better every time."
Considering the early (and continued) distance between the band members, having solid songs and an excellent rapport with each other has given the young (in music years) band a solid foundation on which to build their growing success upon. As the live show became a focus, Gatecreeper added bassist Mears and another guitar player, Nate Garrett (who also plays in Take Over and Destroy), to round out the lineup. For Mears, the ride has been good so far in the band's home state.
"Since we released our EP and music video online in 2014, we've had a lot of momentum and have been given a lot of great opportunities in Arizona," Mears says.
Gatecreeper has done three tours so far to broaden their reach beyond Arizona. During the band's 2015 East Coast swing, they made a huge impression on Rennie Jaffe, Vice President/Label Manager/Head of A&R of Relapse Records.
"I had bought the record they did on King Of The Monsters (Phoenix-based underground metal label) last year and saw them in the summer of 2015 when they played in Philadelphia," Jaffe says. "I was a fan of the record. Live, I thought they were killer. We had a mutual friend who had gotten an early, unfinished version of the new record (Sonoran Depravation) a few months back. He sent it to me and it was a huge step forward, and I knew Relapse had to try to put it out."
Relapse has been releasing metal records since 1990 so they know a thing or two about putting out music after 26 years of consistently remaining in business, which is no small feat in the current record industry. Jaffe says the label makes no promises to its artists except to work hard to get the record out there and into the hands of the right people, as well as getting the record out on time.
With a record as strong as Sonoran Depravation, Gatecreeper will undoubtedly get the attention of the record-buying public, especially those who dig underground death metal. How long the "underground" tag will apply is debatable, but the assistance and guidance from Relapse will be huge for Gatecreeper, particularly for Mason.
"It's been great," Mason says. "For me, it's been a little different because I'm used to doing everything. I kind of handle most of the stuff for the band. I'm getting used to not having to do all that. We have a pretty solid group of people who handle most of the stuff for their releases. I feel good about what they are doing and I'm a little bit of a control freak when it comes to the band."