Gatecreeper: “I’ve gone deep into the ideas of superstition, death, luck and fate”

Gatecreeper frontman Chase Mason gives us the lowdown on Dark Superstition, getting inspired by haunted desert mountains, and how a touch of goth means you’ve never heard his band like this before...

Gatecreeper: “I’ve gone deep into the ideas of superstition, death, luck and fate”
Nick Ruskell

Three years on from their surprise-dropped An Unexpected Reality EP, and five since their excellent second album Deserted marked them out as leaders of a new generation of death metal bands, Gatecreeper have finally announced details of their third album, Dark Superstition. Following on from recent single Caught In The Treads, to go with the announcement, they've dropped the video for killer cut The Black Curtain.

Recorded at GodCity Studio with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, who had previously mixed the band's records, it is, says singer Chase Mason, an album of stepping up and change for the Arizona titans. It's partly why it's been so long in the making.

"We worked on this album for a solid year," he explains. "Even longer, from the very beginnings of writing. I've done something for the record literally every day. We wanted to elevate everything, and make every single part of it the best it could possibly be. It's hard, but I'm very proud of it."

Adding the melodic influence of In Flames, touches of ’80s goth, and a vibe of British doom metal acts like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema to their artillery, Dark Superstition is Gatecreeper exploring every side of their sound. With this also being their first record for new label Nuclear Blast, as Chase reveals, this is the band's shot to do something special.

"The bases are loaded," he smiles. "We have to make this happen…"

You've just released The Black Curtain. Where did the idea for the video come from?
“I wanted to do a video where we’re playing on a set that’s obviously a set, but it looks kind of real. You know the Evil Dead movie, Army Of Darkness? There's a specific scene in there, like a dream sequence. I was watching it last year and had the idea to do something like that, or like Beetlejuice. I was also inspired by the Paradise Lost video for The Last Time. We went to Louisville, Kentucky to film it with Max Moore, and they had this whole warehouse where they built the set. There was real grass, and they were blowing leaves on us and stuff. It was pretty cool. We spent a lot of time making it look like a Gatecreeper video.”

You recorded the album with Kurt Ballou at GodCity in Salem. How was that?
“It was great. He's mixed all of our records, but we’d always tracked them in Arizona. Everything we had ever recorded before this was recorded at this one studio in Tucson, and then we'd send it to Kurt to mix. This time, we travelled to Salem, where he's at, and we tracked with him for the first time. It was awesome, because we were already pretty comfortable working with him.

“It was cool staying there. Salem has its history of the Salem Witch Trials, and it's got a very witchy, supernatural sort of vibe, so that was cool. We had a good time. And I'm happy with how everything turned out.”

Kurt knows how to get a lot of beef out of a guitar…
“Yeah! And especially the HM-2 [Boss distortion pedal] tone. We use our own custom pedals that are HM-2 style, and he’s also got this one pedal he uses. It's a real HM-2 pedal, I'm not sure if it's modified or whatever, but you've heard it on lots of his records. Kurt is the best person in the world to record that guitar tone, because he's done all the more recent bands that have had that – Black Breath, Trap Them, Nails. He’s kind of like the modern Sunlight Studios [legendary Swedish death metal studio]!

“We were fully locked in with Kurt, because he knows what we're trying to do. For this record, we're doing something a little bit different than we've been doing, there's a new direction that we're moving to, and he totally understood, and we got on the same page very quickly.”

There’s a very big In Flames vibe that wasn’t there before…
“Yeah! I mean, I really like In Flames. Our bass player Alex [Brown] is a big fan as well. Me and our guitarist Eric [Wagner] do a lot of the initial songwriting, and we always have different reference points, but we're really on the same page. So mine might be In Flames, and his might be something else, but we always end up in the same place when we're collaborating. So yeah, there's a big In Flames influence in the songwriting and guitars, for sure, but also in a lot of the vocals. Up until they did Clayman [2000], In Flames had choruses and stuff, but not necessarily totally melodic and clean. So for me, there was some influence of how to make the vocals catchy and memorable, without me actually singing.”

There’s also a bit of classic British doom in there, like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride…
“Yeah. It’s a tradition for us to end our records with a slower, doom death sort of song. That's definitely the reference points that you're talking about, My Dying Bride, and we’re fans of that Peaceville [Records] stuff, that’s definitely a big influence. On [2021 EP] An Unexpected Reality, there was a song like that, Emptiness, which was the long-form version of us making a funeral doom song. For this one, we wanted to do kind of the same thing, but make it a little bit more skimmed down so that we could actually play it live, instead of being, like, 12 minutes long.

“I always love hearing people pick up on those references. A unique thing for this record that's new for us is that there’s some very specific goth and post-punk influence. On The Black Curtain, or on Flesh Habit, for me there's a very heavy Sisters of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim influence in the vocal patterns and just in the general songwriting. I think it’s cool when people pick up on things like that.”

Caught In The Treads was the first track you released. Why that one?
“That's one of the songs where we had a specific idea in mind of a song that was ready to be played at European outdoor festivals. We were like, ‘Alright, here's gonna be the part where everybody goes, hey, hey, hey!’ We had our first experiences of those sorts of things, and that influenced our songwriting because we saw what works when we're playing on a big stage like that. So from the beginning, that's what we had in our brains – playing Wacken or something.

“We felt like it was a good intro track to the album, where it was showing a little bit of something new, but not showing you the full picture. Our plan for the rollout of the album is to give a taste of the different flavours that are in there. After there’s three songs out, you might not have a full picture of what the album sounds like, because it's pretty varied, but we want to show the different sides that we're capable of. On that last EP, we were experimenting, trying out shorter songs, longer songs, whatever, and I think we freed ourselves by doing that. We established that we can do whatever we want. If we want to do a 30-minute doom song, or a 30-second grind song, we can. We took that precedent and just ran with it.”

Where are you going thematically?
“So, the album title, Dark Superstition, is a reference to the Superstition mountain range in Arizona. It’s not a huge mountain range, but it has its own mystique around it. There's supposedly hidden gold and treasure that people have died trying to find. I was looking into that to tie into the Arizona theme, and I kind of went deep on it. I went deep on the idea of superstition in general, and all the things that it could entail, and most of the lyrics are somewhat centred around superstition in some way. I also incorporated some personal feelings or experiences and mixed that with fictional things and topics like death and luck and fate.

“For the EP, I wrote the lyrics a little bit more personal than I usually do. I used to avoid writing in the first person at all, or would just keep things very vague and fictional. But I enjoyed it, and I carried that over to this record. The lyrics are a good mix of fictional and personal experiences, sometimes in the same song, sometimes one is kind of veiled by the other. I think they’re the best that I've written, for sure.”

You worked with Fred Etsby from Dismember, right?
“Yeah, he lives in the U.S. now, and we met him several years ago when he used to do live sound at some venues in New York. We caught up with him at Obscene Extreme festival a couple of years ago when we were starting work on the album, and asked if he’d like to work with us. He used to work at Sunlight Studios, and his credit list is pretty crazy. We flew him out to Arizona and we hung out for the weekend, and we showed him all the songs we'd been working on, and he had ideas for pretty much every one. We'd already written the songs, but he definitely helped us dial them in. And even on songs that didn't change too much, or he didn't have any suggestions for, the fact that Fred from Dismember was there and was like, ‘This song is really good’ was very fulfilling. We knew we must have done something right if he liked it!”

What does this album mean for Gatecreeper in the big picture?
“I think this is the next a big step up for us. The songwriting and everything is elevated, but also this is our first record on Nuclear Blast, so we're on a different level now. There's a lot of expectations for us as a band at this point, from outside, and then internally we have a bunch of pressure that we had to make this record really good. We've been a band for 10 years now, and only recently has everybody started doing it full-time. We're taking this risk, we're quitting our jobs, we have to make this record – it's a big deal. This is our ‘statement’ record.”

How do you feel now that it's announced and you’re finally starting to get it out there?
“I love making records, but it's also very draining. I'm very happy when it's done and the process is finally over. I’m a person who, if I had the opportunity to keep tinkering with something forever, then I probably would. I'd still be writing Kurt emails about some tiny thing in the mix. At some point, I have to just let go and be like, ‘Alright, it's done.’ But that was six months ago, so now I've just been sitting and waiting, and the closer it gets to coming out, you start to get a little bit nervous, like, ‘Alright, well, there's no turning back now…’”

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