Inside the Cult of Gatecreeper

Arizona’s Gatecreeper is one of the hardest-working bands in death metal right now.
Arizona’s Gatecreeper is one of the hardest-working bands in death metal right now. Hayley Rippy
Deep in the desert, the sound of distortion rattles windows. It’s nothing new to the locals, but to those hearing it for the first time, it’s understandable if it causes alarm. The “ughs!” and “bleghs!” emitting from the space are accentuated by chainsaw guitars and bone-rattling drums. The intensity makes you feel as if you're descending into sweltering madness.

Comforting to some, chaotic to others, the sonic monster in the rehearsal space is Arizona’s new-wave death-metal band Gatecreeper, which is preparing for a nationwide headlining tour with 200 Stab Wounds, Narrow Head and Fearing. Gatekeeper makes a stop in Denver on Saturday, May 7, at the Marquis Theater. Vocalist Chase “Hellahammer” Mason, the man behind the guttural growls, recently took some time away from rehearsing to discuss what it’s like being in one of the hardest-working acts in the scene.

It’s almost impossible to go to a metal show nowadays without seeing at least one person repping Gatecreeper. The band’s ever-flowing stream of merch, such as the free “Honk if you’re horny for Gatecreeper” stickers or the one-off local gig posters, is as synonymous with its brand as its sound at this point. That’s not by accident, Mason says.

“As far as in metal, punk and hardcore, cool shirts and merch have always been a part of the culture, whether it’s official shirts or bootleg shirts," he explains. "You can go to a metal festival, and there will be several vendors who are selling different bootleg shirts or whatever. It’s just part of the culture, and something that I’ve always been into. I bring that into the band, like, ‘What would I want to buy?’"

While he designs some of the shirts and posters himself, Mason enjoys working with artists from across the country, especially when the band is touring. For example, the current tour includes custom show bills designed by local artists for each stop, and the band has already released two new shirt designs since packing into the van.

“Since I’m interested in that sort of stuff, I’m always looking for new people to work with,” he says. “If you’re seeing us multiple times, we’re going to have something new each time.”

Staying true to the band’s DIY death-metal roots, Gatecreeper posters look as though they’ve been physically cut out and pasted together and then photocopied several times; in some cases, they have been. Such images can be found on Gatecreeper's shirts, as well. The lo-fi quality and commitment to such an ethos since the band formed in 2014 has been aided by social media, where the band regularly promotes its upcoming stops and latest offerings, including the previously unannounced 2021 album An Unexpected Reality.

Mason explains that the band went “dark” on social media before dropping the album, which was a byproduct of the pandemic and the inability to tour. The unexpected release created a buzz within the metal world, and physical copies quickly became hard to come by. It would appear that social media can have the same effect as tape-trading did back in the day, only quicker.

“It’s a very important tool, but you need to do what’s right and what fits for your band,” Mason says about musicians using social media. “When we released An Unexpected Reality, it was a secret — we announced it the day before it came out. For a lot of 2020, we went completely dark on our social media. ... We didn’t have tours to post about or shows, so we just went dark until it was time to release that record so it kind of had a bigger pop for the surprise.”

The album showcases the band’s sonic spectrum, formed by Eric “The Darkest Cowboy” Wagner and Israel Garza on guitars, Matt Arrebollo on drums, and Alexander Brown on bass. While there’s a good serving of old-school death metal that would sound at home on a 1990s Swedish release, there’s also an eleven-minute-plus track that’s as death-doom as it comes. It’s a sound the band wanted to explore more, Mason explains, and may experiment with moving forward.

The fans haven’t been the only ones to take notice of Gatecreeper’s growing cult presence, as the band has already toured with several genre titans, including Cannibal Corpse back in 2017 and Obituary earlier this year. Hanging out with Corpsegrinder and the Tardy brothers is still a bit surreal, Mason says, but being able to play with them serves both bands' audiences. It’s also something Gatecreeper wants to pay forward with its headlining tours. (Mason warns that 200 Stab Wounds is insanely brutal, and it won’t be long before they blow up.)

“Those bands are able to stay relevant now because they pay attention to what’s currently going on. It benefits them because they’re bringing in the younger kids and maybe introducing the older metalheads to the new stuff,” he adds. “I’m grateful that those bands take us out and that we get to tour with bands that we’re influenced by and the greats of the genre — that we get to meet them and play with them every night.

“I almost have to pinch myself sometimes. I have to almost stop myself from going into full punisher mode and ask them a bunch of questions because I'm a fan. To treat someone like that as my peers is very weird in a cool way, but we’re in it together.”

Gatecreeper plays the Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7. Tickets are $18.
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