The more music I listen to, the more I appreciate EPs. It used to be that I didn’t have the patience to listen to EPs, as much as that sound counter-intuitive. Something about their shorter run-time just annoyed me; I felt like I couldn’t sink my teeth into the music as the album was over well before I had time to “settle into” the sound of the album. But today, with many more albums under my belt, I can confidently say that the EP is often the superior format for many bands. It allows them a sort of clarity born in brevity, condescending everything that works about their music into a more direct and, generally, higher quality offering. This isn’t always the case, of course; I’m not saying all releases should be EPs. But there are definitely whole swathes of the music community that would benefit from shorter releases.
Power metal is a great example, both because the genre benefits from the EP format and also because it is rarely used within it. Power metal, by definition, draws on a broad canvas; it’s over the top and epic and is thus prone to long albums, often longer than they have any right to be, filled to the brim with solo after solo after high-pitched screech. Put that into an EP and much of the fat falls away, leaving behind only the essential and highly effective parts of the music. Gatekeeper‘s upcoming release, Grey Maiden, is a fantastic example of how power metal, and traditional heavy metal in general, can benefit from such a tightening of the belt. Grey Maiden builds on the promise of yesteryear’s East of Sun, refining the band’s excellent approach to power metal through the prism of a short run-time, four sweet tracks hitting on all barrels, all the time.
The incredible “Moss”, one of the most unique takes on a power ballade that I’ve heard in a while, is a great example of this. It’s folk-laden passages would be just another interlude in a longer album but on this EP they represent a fulcrum, a central point around which the rest of the tracks revolve. The extremely powerful vocals on it shine all the brighter for being unique within the context of the EP, appearing in this style only on this track. The medieval trappings of the guitars, the weird atmosphere created by their contrast with their vocals, the tragic tale of power and manipulation being told, they all benefit from appearing once on this release and once alone, laden with strength and conviction.
This is also for the heavier tracks which bracket “Moss” on the album; the eponymous track’s opening and all-powerful chorus is made all the more impactful because it’s still ringing in your ears by the time the truly over-the-top vocals of “Richard III” arrive. These more melodramatic, not to say operatic, vocals might have stood out awkwardly on a longer album, an odd bird in a more traditionally sung album. But here, they represent a welcome and interesting take because there’s less out there to stand in sharp contrast to them; instead, they, and the track in general which is more groovy and straight-forward, work very well as a closer for this EP, ending things on a high and fun note.
At the outset then, Grey Maiden is another strong addition to the traditional heavy metal revival from a band that was already on our map of promising artists to watch within that milieu. Their choice to release an EP following their longer debut was a perfect one, allowing them to stay relevant and release an album that’s engaging, captivating, and which stays fresh even after plenty of listens (and believe you me, I’ve listened to it a lot since I received it). It’s a decision we hope more bands from the genre will make, focusing on impact, punch, and an economic approach to an already frivolous genre that needs, more than anything, some reining in from time to time.
Grey Maiden releases on February 22nd. You can head on over to the Bandcamp page to pre-order it.