Written by: Blackie Skulless
2018 saw Canada’s Gatekeeper indulge in the epic leanings of the traditional metal style on East Of Sun. Being a tougher approach to sell me on as is, I wasn’t overly impressed. Switching to the other side of the compass, From Western Shores would quickly change this, as the band not only sounds refreshed after five years, but also has matured and cemented their narrative in a more compelling manner. Coming in at almost fifty minutes, these eight songs pack loads of ingredients in nice and snug, without trailing off.
Naturally, a step forward in songwriting quality is realized, particularly in the album’s varying ideas. Moreover, stepping away from the Europower glazings from time to time helps, although its presence is still important for much of the runtime. Strong chorus melodies that insert themselves between beefy riffs and emotional solos become a vital part of the foundation. It pairs well with the tendency to progressively intertwine the different angles within the same song, showing Gatekeeper’s ability to transition smoothly.
So it should be no surprise when you find yourself stumbling upon epic tunes that fit its aesthetic of faster aggression, and slow power alike. “Shadow And Stone” showcases this nicely, using the emotional spectrum to tell its story. Beginning like a ballad with melancholic passages, it gradually melts into a doomy stomp. On the opposite end, “Death On Black Wings” shakes the foundation with speed metal riffing that settles the boiling energy into a firm gallop, a wonderful tactic for this type of mythological poetry. “Twisted Towers” basks in sweet harmonies and endorphin fuel, while the closer “Keepers Of The Gate” offers some pristine vocal layering in the record’s longest song.
Gatekeeper’s ability to make all of this fit the vocals regardless of the direction is what truly seals its fate. Shifts between operatic howls and traditional, high-pitched belts organically fit the emotional reaches, and never once do they fall out of clean territory. “Exiled King” is one of my personal favorites, as it sets the stage with rumbling bass to pair with the vocals and steadier drums, yet together they collectively contrast the fast riffing. It works in a build-up fashion before giving way to “Nomads,” a more straightforward break that nonetheless is built on muscular tones, raking in repetition to its advantage followed by erupting solos.
Fans that require the stripped-down energy of early heavy metal acts likely aren’t going to have any time for From Western Shores. Perhaps this can feel overwhelming at times, but it’s well worth the patience, despite me typically gravitating towards the former. Several listens may be required to fully absorb the epic tales, but really, if you can handle the latest couple Judas Priest records, you can handle this. Truly a strong example of a band taking something decent but uninspiring and turning it into a stellar work of art.
Gatekeeper - From Western Shores was released MArch 24th, 2023 via Cruz del Sur Music
Gatekeeper can be found:
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.