Jeff Black, rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist, started Gatekeeper in 2009 as a solo project. The band’s core roots include Manowar, Candlemass, and Bathory among others. One could not ask for a better background for a band to have because if you are like me and the metal-heads I grew up with, skipped school with, and partied with, all of that fun and a plethora of firsts occurred while listening to those very same bands. If I had a dime for every time Manowar was playing…alas, I digress. It was not long, though, before Black decided to form a proper band and roll the dice. The band’s first release was an EP titled Prophecy and Judgement in 2013. Since then, they have released three other EPs, various splits and singles, and last year’s outstanding NWOTHM epic full-length East of Sun. In the spirit of denim, leather, Frank Frazetta, and fire – lots of flames and explosions, Gatekeeper play top-shelf, elite-certified TRUE HEAVY METAL. Capitalizing on the mammoth-sized momentum created, the band are releasing Grey Maiden on February 22, 2019. The only down side to this release is that it is only four songs; however, it is a perfect bite-sized intro to the band for newcomers.
The title track leads things off on the recording and has also been released as a video You can see it here: Grey Maiden video! The song is a concise exposition of all things Gatekeeper. There is a memorable main riff that ties everything together, driving rhythm, and brilliant melodies. The melodies are truly infectious as they seem to attach themselves to one’s mind and like classic tunes, remain there practically indefinitely. These melodies are achieved in myriad ways. During the riffs, the advantage of two guitars is shown clearly as various runs and arpeggios decorate the chunky, palm-muted sections. There is nothing plain or redundant as something of interest, truly inspiring, is always taking place. Some of the best melodic moments are when the two guitars converge to engage in gorgeous Maiden-esque twin harmonies, a feat that occurs often when least expected in all of the songs save for the acoustic-led third track, “Moss,” (which itself is a unique diversion of classically-influenced excellence).
Obviously, the other main force of melody is the vocals. With a more-than-adequate range, Jean-Pierre Abboud sings like the fiercest of banshees when called for and peacefully tranquil when appropriate. One can hear echoes of many classic Metal singers such as Eric Adams, Warrel Dane, and Geoff Tate, but ultimately, his voice has a unique timbre all its own capable of reeling in fans who may be turned off from Death Metal and other extreme styles. With a singer possessing such a wealth of talent, Gatekeeper are elevated above the level of a typical Metal band becoming thoroughly polished.
The many sonic qualities of Abboud’s vocals lead us to the next topic: tone. In fact, tone and skill merge conveniently as the present subject. Obviously, the tone of the vocals is what figures into them standing apart from others. Specifically, he has at the root, a very clean style which is reinforced by his skill, a powerful diaphragm by which the vocals are projected to truly soar. It takes much training and practice to achieve a range as such. The clean basis of the vocal color is finely tuned with a bit of snarl at times, an aggressive approach to match the fierce intensity of the music.
The rhythm sections surely have a great tone as well. The double bass propels the songs along such as in the latter half of the epic closer, “Richard III,” and in that same section, the deep, punchy bass can be heard thumping away complimenting the music rhythmically and melodically. The guitar tone is nothing short of outstanding. It is obvious that a lot of time was taken in choosing the proper gear and tweaking the settings. While the band’s sound is rooted in the classics, the guitar tone takes things further with an updated, modern high-gain sound. Clarity is maintained, though, providing proper note definition, and overall, the tone is unique in that the rhythms are super chunky, compressed, but not screaming with gobs of treble. Rather, the high frequencies are rolled back in favor of more indulgence in mid-range frequencies and the end result is a tone that delivers the blistering skills of the two players properly in an original, powerful manner. Any guitar player and connoisseur of tone will appreciate this album.
It is an exciting time to find younger guys playing in the style of classic Metal heroes. What sets Gatekeeper apart from many others in the genre, though, is that the band is devoid of gimmicks. They are not a tribute band nor some ode to nostalgia. Instead, they use the classics as a jumping-off point from which to create their own original material. Lucky for the audience, the band has now released an EP of four distinct anthems supplementing East of Sun. The future is bright for this band, and for the fans, there are new tunes to blast religiously, playing air guitar to, skipping school to, slamming beers to, speeding down the highway to…you get the point!