Written by: Heavy Grinder
When a friend tells you a band is a mash of Tool, Rush, Jerry Cantrell, plus some post-Black, well, the only appropriate response is “I’ll fucks.” You are virtually obligated to give it a spin and see if the hype sticks, as it is a no-lose situation. If the band lives up, well then you have gold in your ears. If not, you have an opportunity to rib your buddy for being overly dramatic.
The over-dramatization wins in this case, as Gates to the Morning is not a perfect mash of the above legends. That does not mean it disappoints either, because the above combination is a unicorn sasquatch, never to be seen in the flesh. Gates presents an intriguing mix of styles not normally associated with one another. The progressive element clearly is dominant throughout, and the Black influences end up being only a small part of the piece, leaving echoes of an old early 90’s alternative feel to balance out the sound. The melodies in "My Star" and "Two Winters" would fit right in on a Toad the Wet Sprocket LP if played on a backbeat in 4/4. That’s no insult, Toad is a great band and I loved how well Gates gels their influences together.
Return to the Earth starts particularly mellow. I got the distinct impression I was listening to a reworked version of "Patterns in the Ivy," as the arrangement is quite similar. It leaves with an inviting, albeit simple tone, which left enough intrigue to keep me interested. "Terra Incognita" introduces the progressive sound and closes with a choppy rhythm that portends the more progressive elements to follow.
The album really starts to shine with "My Star," a short preamble to the four standout tracks ending with "Crestfallen." The casual listener might have already tuned out due to lack of immediate epics, but they would be missing out on the following if they did; "Crossing the Abyss" a post-Black melodic punch, "Freezing the Sundials" one of their best melodies, "Chapel Perilous" a gothic-guided meditation, and "Crestfallen" one of the heaviest offerings that closes with a rather epic ending. This is clearly the best stretch of the album, and it lives up to the promises made in the opening tracks.
Return to the Earth is also highly relatable and accessible to the passerby and prog die-hard alike. The time signatures never get too complex, the lyrics never esoteric, and all presented in a production style easily absorbed. Most of the tracks have at least one melody that will attempt to sink its hooks into you, and were several times successful in my case. And with lyrics such as “Untended and free, It speaks the language of the heart,” it is hard not to find common ground and submit for a moment.
It is not without its flaws and my hopes for a more perfect expression were dashed at several points. 35% of the album tracks are instrumental which, coupled with the several fades, really breaks the flow and takes the listener out of the zone. This, despite it being presented as a “14 track concept album”, really doesn’t feel like a true concept piece. Some of those shorter songs and instrumentals don’t add much, and I would have liked more development of the standout tracks or at least better flow and transition between them.
The gem and most impactful point of the album is the brilliant closer led by the same female vocalist (Meg Moyer) that helped make "Crestfallen" burn so brightly. It culminates a trio of songs to close the album that seem designed to uplift and motivate. The slower tempos of earlier sections are replaced with riffs and melodies calling to action like a battle cry for an army of one. Punctuated with the most exceptional lyrics on the album, they light a path to walk for those who love to crawl within themselves and see what is inside.
The occasional pedestrian moments of Return to the Earth will keep the discerning or non-prog listener grounded, but for those with their heads in the clouds there will be plenty to keep aloft. Just shy of a truly epic album, it is highly recommended and well worth your time.
Gates To The Morning - Return to Earth was released July 2019
I'll catch you when you’re fading
My heart will always sing your song
Earth is the place you belong now
And when you’re weak, I am strong
It’s not your time to leave it all behind
This is not your curtain call
Stay with me
Stay with me……
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.