Gatekeeper from Canada is one of those new bands that you can bet they will shake the foundations of underground metal. Been also fans and active part of underground, they've seen already many battles and Geoff Blackwell, leader and keeper of the gate talks to Crystal Logic about everything!
" I started writing music for Gatekeeper in 2010 while living in Edmonton. It originally started as a fun way for me to teach myself guitar and play some barbaric heavy metal riffs that were different from the other bands I was playing in at the time. As I was writing songs I figured it would be fun to get a couple friends to play on it, maybe some guitar solos and some singing, anything I couldn't do myself. I put up some demos on YouTube and MySpace and had a logo made up and was playing the super-cult, obscure card because I was into those sorts of underground bands and wanted to do something similar. I wasn't taking it too seriously at the time.
As time went on, some people in bands that I admired and respected started getting in touch with me about the band. Eric from Argus was the first, then Matt Barzegar from Funeral Circle and Manuel Trummer from Atlantean Kodex as well. After talking with these people and hearing other positive reactions, I figured that it might be worth making Gatekeeper into an actual band. So I called up some friends who were playing in other bands and get them on board to record our first EP and play the first batch of live shows. It was just a side-project for everyone at this point.
After a few more years and a handful of other smaller releases I made the decision to move to Vancouver and both the split vinyl records with Eternal Champion and Funeral Circle were released during this time.
After about a year of living on the west coast I met the guys who would eventually become the current Gatekeeper lineup. David (bass) was playing in the awesome band Manic Strike and he was already a fan of Gatekeeper to begin with. When Guardians of the Northwest asked us to play their festival in Portland, USA we decided to put together a live lineup. This lineup was Tommy and Kenny (drums and lead guitar), and we called up Jean-Pierre who had been living in Vancouver for a few months while working on Spell's album and he agreed to sing for us. We took two months to rehearse for the shows and the madness began. "
You have released split singles, EPs and more stuff over the last years, but 'East Of Sun' is the first full-length album of the band. What took you so long?
I think the main thing that held us back was timing, and how serious we were. It took an incredibly long time just to record the first EP and there were so many problems with that process. So even though I had a lot of songs written and demoed, I felt that trying to record a full length album with the old lineup wouldn't have been worth it. Smaller releases suited our work-flow better.
When we got back from that first tour with the west-coast lineup, Tommy and Jean-Pierre both expressed their interest in staying with the band full-time. In fact it was actually JP's idea to record a full length album. We had some border trouble going back into Canada on our way back from the first tour and JP was forced to stay behind in the USA. He called me after getting held at the border for hours and told me how much fun he had with us and that he wanted to do an album with as soon as possible.
We started working on the full-length from that point onward. I think we all saw a lot of potential in what we had done in our short time together and it reamy bandmates, I started hearing “OK, how do we pull this off?” We started writing some songs as a group, rehearsing twice a week and JP even moved to a different city for us. He actually lives with me in Vancouver now.
Some of the songs included herein like 'North Wolves', 'Bell Of Tarantia' and 'Swan Road Saga', are known to the ones that follow the band. When was the majority of the album written? Did you have a "plan" when you were recording the album that it should move to a specific direction?
We really wanted to take advantage of the momentum of the band and when it came time to hit the studio, we decided that the album should be a complete representation of what the band sounds like now, at this period of time. We had a couple new songs written by the band as a whole, and I had older, unused material which the rest of the band helped me arrange. Lastly, we decided to include a few previously recorded songs because they were still commonly found on our live setlist. I'm personally much happier with the newer versions of the songs. The performance on the band is stronger and JP really delivers on his vocal performance. He even re-wrote the vocals from 'North Wolves' from scratch and now I think it's one of the coolest tunes on the record because of it.
So to sum to the first part of the question, the songs for the album date back as early as 2010 or 2011 and come all the way into 2017. However, the arrangements of all the songs are fresh and even more inspired to me than when I first wrote them.
How was the recording process of 'East Of Sun'?
It started out great. We booked four days in the studio with Mike Rogerson to do the drums and we ended up getting drums, bass and early takes of rhythm guitars and vocals in that time, plus the two cover songs. After that it was more painful as we were working through a recording school and our schedule was limited—we had to work around the students at the school and often had to wait for weeks or even a month between sessions. I did many all-night recording sessions for the guitars. I would work all day, then record my guitars from 9pm to 6am, go home, make breakfast, go back to work, repeat. It was insane but thanks to the tenacity of the band and our incredibly talented assistant engineer Angelo Boose we got it done.
Your musical inspirations are quiet obvious and they are not just from classic 80s bands like Omen but also from newer bands like Atlantean Kodex. Tell us about them and how would you describe your music to someone that is not familiar with Gatekeeper?
I tell people that we play sword-swingin' Heavy Metal. Bands such as Omen, Manowar, viking-era Bathory, Manilla Road are key influences. Of course Atlantean Kodex and Solstice were also massive inspirations to me, especially in the early days. Another massive influence is the great Twisted Tower Dire, one of the best US-metal bands ever. I have huge respect for them. And then there are the Sword Brothers, Ironsword and Doomsword.
These days I try not to be too specific with where I get my influence and ideas from—I'm listening to a lot of different stuff these days and I want to stretch our Epic Heavy Metal tag as far as it will go. I don't think we'll ever totally break away from that area, but we want to push the boundaries of it. Lately I look to Dio, Fates Warning, Savatage, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and Return To Forever for inspiration.
There is a new wave of epic metal bands coming from United States (and Canada) with Gatekeeper, Eternal Champion, Visigoth and more. How is the current metal scene in North America? Which bands do you distinguish? It appears that there is something boiling and ready to explode but do you think that it will break through or it will remain underground?
There are a lot of cool bands in the North American underground right now. The scene has been blossoming a little bit these days with lots of cool festivals popping up and bands starting to get more notice and appearing on European soil. There aren't many other Epic Metal bands in this part of the world but Cromlech and Emblem come to mind and Smoulder is good, a bit more doom metal. For more traditional metal I like Substratum, Riot City, Skelator and our friends from Spell. Manacle from Canada is also very good with an authentic 80's metal sound. JP also did a demo with the band Traveller recently which is very well done, it's got members of Hrom and Gatekrashor. And of course, Night Demon are the busiest band on the planet right now and doing fantastic work for the metal scene as a whole.
If I'm speaking honestly, I don't think that North America, on a geographical and cultural level, is set up for our kind of music to succeed. We're seeing a resurgence now and it’s pretty great but I don't see another 1983 US Festival happening anytime soon. It's the cycle of life in culture and fashion—an object becomes popular and has mass value. Then it becomes old, is discarded and becomes niche. It might get picked up again and reclaim retro value, but that's a different kind of value.
The good news is that there will always be young people out there. This kind of music can always be fresh and new and exciting to someone, so I hope that people continue to do their part by showing their favorite music to their friends and loved ones. Play your favorite albums for your kids, buy them a guitar for their birthday, send them to music lessons, go see a gig.
However, speaking of underground, do you think that underground can be the new mainstream and what's your view on "underground" and heavy metal music nowadays? There are many many new traditional metal bands out there, various festivals appear everywhere, older bands reunite (even with just one "cult" album), there is a vinyl hype, and cassette tapes return and everything 80s-related seems cool...
To me this idea of the “underground” becoming “mainstream” is an illusion. It has its retro appeal and it's stronger now than it was 20 years ago which is great, but all the numbers that these bands and festivals deal with are small, relatively speaking. I don't really have an issue with any of these things returning—they were a part of my growth and I think they're pretty cool to begin with. I'm more worried about the glass-ceiling effect of our niche scene and the effect this might have on newer and younger bands. I also worry about people who pigeonhole their sound too much from the start and feel the need to start a completely different band if they want to express even something remotely different. I know people in Vancouver who have four different projects going that sound similar enough that they could have taken all those ideas, effort and budgets and turned them into a single, more interesting band. I feel like most local scenes these days consist of a crew of people playing on each other’s solo projects. I'm more interested in hearing collaborative efforts—bands that become more than the sum of their parts.
The other side of this question concerns what people place value on. I feel that nostalgia is one of the greatest cultural exports of our generation. People in my age category will spend days’ worth of free time re-watching some shitty sitcom that aired when they were a kid just to feel some twinkle of childhood wonder again. People love to look backwards. It's comfortable and reliable and you generally know what to say or think about the past because it already happened. The future is unpredictable and scary, so I don't blame people for this behavior. Sometimes though, you just gotta look at a new development and ask yourself “what would Miles Davis do?” and embrace it. Unless it involves beating your wife. Don't do that.
What does it take for a new metal band to survive?
Tenacity, discipline, motivation, a willingness to sacrifice, a team-player attitude, rich parents, government stipends, a bassist with a generous car accident settlement, a sugar-momma/daddy, a liver made of concrete and the ability to find the joy and humor in every situation no matter how bleak or boring or shitty it might be. I like to think that it also helps to not be a crazy asshole too.
On February 22nd, 2019, Cruz Del Sur Music will release Gatekeeper's "Grey Maiden" EP and Sanhedrin's new album "The Poisoner".
Both releases will be available in time for the tour A Shadow Over Europa where both bands will storm the gates of cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Newcastle, London and Athens.