Metal in general, but trad metal especially, is a divisive style of music, which, if I had to guess, comes from how unabashedly itself it is. It is a genre completely lacking in subtlety or nuance; when it comes to the high-soaring, epic sounds that come under the umbrella of “traditional metal,” what you see on first approach is absolutely what you are going to get. You can accuse trad metal of being many things: it is nerdy, it is goofy, it is sometimes serious and self-aggrandizing to a hilarious fault, it is absolutely one of the cheesiest genres of music there is, it is unbelievably dorky. The one accusation you can never level against traditional metal, though, is that it’s trying to be something that it’s not.
Sometimes, that’s what gets in the way of peoples’ enjoyment of traditional metal, and I completely understand that. I’ve just accepted that it’s not a sound that everyone can appreciate; you have to be willing to compartmentalize any area of your psyche that worries about appearing cool in order to fully appreciate what the genre has to offer. Shit, sometimes even I have trouble with it. But then, of course, a band like Gatekeeper comes along, catching me totally off-guard, and any part of me that worries about what my roommates or boyfriend or friends or anybody that caught me jamming out to this would think is completely annihilated.
East of Sun, the debut album from this long-lived Vancouver epic metal band, has a glimmer of genius in it that rarely shows up in genres so dedicated to preserving and recreating the past. From the immediate New Wave of British Heavy Metal-worshipping bolt of energy that is “Blade of Cimmeria,” to the doomy, Cirith Ungol-adjacent epic “Nine Muses,” everything present on East of Sun sparkles with a reverence for the giants that inform Gatekeeper’s songwriting tendencies. These guys have certainly done their research and steeped themselves in both the past and present of the sonic niche that they occupy: for every moment that recalls classics like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, there’s something else lurking just around the corner that smacks of Blind Guardian or Atlantean Kodex. That is to say, Gatekeeper doesn’t just embody the best of old or new traditional metal – they embody the best of trad metal, period.
Everything about Gatekeeper is absolutely the real deal when it comes to the up-front nature of heavy metal: there are wailed falsetto vocals galore, explosive guitar solos, propulsive riffs that crackle with bright energy. Gatekeeper doesn’t exactly do much that’s inventive or forward-thinking, but hey, that’s not exactly what they’re here for, is it? Fact is, East of Sun is an endlessly entertaining romp that’s an excellent treat for anyone looking to find the nerdiest parts of their inner selves. Play this loud, and play this proud, because Gatekeeper are here to rock.
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East of Sun is available now through Gatekeeper’s bandcamp page.