I hope some of you took the time to read the first part of this special about the newly released split featuring Eternal Champion and Gatekeeper. This second part focuses on the the Canadians in Gatekeeper. Judged by the quality of the new material on this release as well as the forthcoming split with Funeral Circle, the guys have taken huge strides since we last caught up with them here at Metal Squadron, when the EP “Prophecy And Judgement” was released. As always, guitarist Jeff Black is the one answering our questions, and you can always count on him putting his heart into it.
So this idea to release a split with Gatekeeper, did it come from the bands involved, or was it initiated by the record label?
– This was an idea that Jason Tarpey and I had spit-balled for quite some time. Bands tend to do that – come up with a cool idea for a split release, but then it doesn’t pan out due to timing or budget constraints or laziness or whatever. We made it our mission to make sure that this project would see the light of day, and here we finally are. Once we had our rough mixes in hand, we shopped it around to a few labels. No Remorse were immediately interested and came up with the great idea for the CD/LP versions.
Is this split release just a one off collaboration with No Remorse or will you continue working with them for future releases?
– Working with No Remorse has been great. They are straight to the point and they put everything into a neat and tidy contract with no vague details left unspoken or any trickery. Gatekeeper has always functioned by putting out our releases as one-time licensing deals, but I would love to work with No Remorse again should the stars align that way.
If I am correct, you have a relationship to the Eternal Champion-guys from some years back. Is it about more than sharing some of the same influences, both lyrically and musically?
– Here’s the story: I was looking for an artist to draw the cover of our EP “Prophecy and Judgment” and I saw the art for a 7” by the band Green & Wood on Cyclopean Records’ web page. I couldn’t find any info on the artist myself, so I emailed the label and got a prompt reply from Jason. He put me in touch with Ralph L. Torres, who drew the fantastic piece that we used for the EP. This was when Graven Rite was still a band, I believe. Then Eternal Champion entered the scene, and Jason and I got back in touch. We met in person at the Ragnarokkr festival in 2014 when they played, and it was like we’d all known each other for five years already. Of course, our shared interests in fantasy fiction, music and history is a big part of how we all became friends, but they are genuinely fantastic people and I’m proud to have them as comrades and brothers in arms.
When you do a release like this, how important is it to share it with a band that you have something in common with?
– That’s an interesting question. I think there’s a lot of good reasons to do a split. Maybe the bands share some interesting history together, maybe it’s a cover-themed split, or maybe it’s just two bands who play in a similar style who want to showcase a small amount of material. Those “Hail Brittania”- splits from Miskatonic were awesome treats, and I thought that the split by Candlemass and Entombed where they covered each others’ songs was a really interesting idea.
What is your opinion about the Eternal Champion-material on this release?
– “Retaliator” is a monster of a track! I’ve had access to it for a long time now, and I still listen to it at least a few times a week. I really admire Eternal Champion’s writing skills. They know how to write a metal riff that’s compelling without being over-complex, while giving the vocals ample room to breathe. I also love how Jason leaps into the vocals early. They don’t mess around with lengthy intros or any nonsense, they get right to the point and dig their claws into you without any warning. That ability to keep things compact blows my mind. Their guitarist Blake pulls this off in his other band Power Trip too, albeit in a much more violent way.
Gatekeeper and Eternal Champion are recognized as two of the more promising epic metal bands of recent times. What do you see as the similarities and main differences between the bands?
– That really means a lot, thank you. As mentioned in the previous question, I think Eternal Champion writes much more compact songs than Gatekeeper in terms of song length, number of riffs and chord changes and whatnot, but they have all these brilliant flourishes in every instrument and the vocal patterns. It’s frustrating how good they are. I honestly think Eternal Champion is one of the “purest” metal bands in existence right now, stylistically. Where they nod in the direction of eighties US-metal, Gatekeeper leans into the European spectrum. We definitely take more cues from traditional folk music and epic doom. We’re obviously really into the eighties but I’m probably more influenced by stuff that was coming out in the nineties like Solstice, Scald, viking Bathory and Blind Guardian.I think Jason is a far stronger lyricist than me. He’s excellent at recreating sword and sorcery tales in his own voice and poetic character. I try to do this with mythology but I don’t think I’m as successful, although I’m very fond of the lyrics for “Swan Road Saga.” In the new material I’m writing, I’m trying to draw imagery and influence from myth/fantasy fiction while applying it to my own personal experiences and I’ve been much happier with the results as of late.
Another point that makes the connection between the two bands on this split even stronger, is the fact that your material is mixed and mastered by Arthur Rizk of Eternal Champion. Would he have been the one even if this wasn’t a split with one of his bands?
– Arthur is fantastic. He has a beautiful grip on the fine art of reverb, and he was able to give us a production that was competitive, but not a mechanical jumble of triggered clickings and buzzings.I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Arthur before Jason put us in touch, but I was familiar with some of the records he had worked on, such as the latest Inquisition. I can’t remember the exact time-line of events, but Eternal Champion were recording with a different drummer, Van Darden, for this split, so Arthur may not have been in the band when he approached me to mix the Gatekeeper material as well. He was already a fan of the band which was very flattering to hear. When these new splits are released, I will have ten physical releases under my belt. I say with confidence that these new Gatekeeper tracks are the best-sounding recordings I’ve ever been a part of.
I know that you’re also waiting for a split with Funeral Circle to be released. I was really impressed by the song you will contribute here as well, “Bell Of Tarantia”. Was it a hard task choosing which songs to use for which split?
– Not really. We recorded all four of the new songs at once, and I had in mind to use “Bell of Tarantia” for the Funeral Circle split from the start. Matt (Pilgrim) from Funeral Circle heard an ancient demo of that song on our old Myspace page and loved it, so I figured it’d be an appropriate match. Funeral Circle have also put their track from the split “Hades Triumphant” on YouTube, and I urge everyone to check it out. It’s incredible epic metal with dynamic vocal stylings and brilliant lyrics.
I believe the second part of “Vigilance” was used as an intro on the tape only-release “Shadow Over Calgarae”. Was the track “Angelus Noctium” written specifically for the split, or was it chosen amongst already composed songs?
– “Vigilance II” is what we open our gigs with, though we’ve also played “Vigilance I” over the speakers before we go onstage as well. I’m really into the “experience” of live performance, so in addition to playing the songs we try to find other ways to turn the stage into our battlefield. We have hand-painted banners with our wolf logo and some other nifty stuff. The only song that was written specifically for the purpose of the split was “Vigilance I”, the rest of them were all previously written. I generally write a bunch of songs and present them to the band, then we sit down and pick the best one(s) to play live and record.
A while ago, you mentioned a release called “Vigilance Of The Guardian”. Why did this release never happen?
– Back when Gatekeeper was just a solo project, this was certainly the plan of action. It was going to be an EP, featuring the songs “Where the Sea Meets the Sky”, “Bell of Tarantia”, “Vigilance” (part two), and “Field of Blades”. These are the first songs I ever wrote for Gatekeeper. The first song was scrapped, though I may reuse some of the riffs in the future. The next two songs are being used in these new releases. “Field of Dreams” appears on the bonus material from the Eternal Champion split.The reason this release didn’t pan out is because I got the live lineup of the band together, which completely changed the dynamics of what I was doing. Plus, I’d kept writing newer songs. Also, those super old songs ended up sounding far too similar to Atlantean Kodex, haha!
Talking about the demo material included on the split, what can you tell me about it? Some of the songs are already known, but will we see some of the others properly recorded for future recordings?
– Basically, No Remorse asked me to send them whatever I had. I scoured my hard drive for random demos and they picked what they wanted from the lot. There is an old verion of “Tale of Twins” which features Dan (Striker) on vocals and Oskar (Samandriel) playing a guitar solo. “Field of Dreams” appears, featuring vocals from myself and drumming from Mario (Atlantean Kodex) There’s also the old demo of Vigilance, plus a little acoustic interlude called “The King’s Ghost” which never got used. I wrote some liner notes for the songs in the booklet of the CD disclosing some more details. I’m not sure if “Field of Dreams” will come back as a properly produced track. I feel like the new stuff I’m brewing up is much stronger, though there are a handful of bits that I really like and might lift to use somewhere else. But you never know what the future holds.
I have to say I am quite impressed by the new songs you offer on these two splits. Better performed, more melodic and with a stronger identity, are some keywords.
– I’m so happy with the response for the new material. We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from our original group of fans, and the new tracks have gained us so many new ones. I even got a handful of emails from a few music heroes of mine complimenting “Bell of Tarantia.” One big factor with these new tracks is that we’d been playing together as a band for two years. Our debut was recorded on the fly as everyone learned the songs which was, in retrospect, a terrible way to do things. We also upgraded our gear, our drummer Tyson busted his ass to make sure everything was recorded in the most pristine way possible, and then Arthur’s mix as the final touch. We made a lot of mistakes recording “Prophecy and Judgment” and we tried to fix them for this new stuff. I’m really thrilled and excited about it.
Last time we spoke, you told me that EP’s, splits and compilations fit your schedule better than the thought of releasing a full length. Is this still the status? Apart from the split with Funeral Circle, are there other releases planned?
– I was really gung-ho about just recording smaller releases and not worrying about a full-length at first. As time has passed, I’m starting to wonder about the wisdom of that. Many metal fans/promoters, especially in Europe from what I’ve noticed tend not to take bands seriously until they’ve put out a full-length record. I’ve got enough material to fill out maybe 80 minutes of music, so I’m considering the idea of doing a proper record.
Not being able to record full length album is one thing, but are you, similar to for instance Solstice, looking into releasing your music in other formats and thinking outside the concept of making albums with 8-12 songs?
– Yeah, I think Solstice are doing a smart thing. They’re all older dudes with families and whatnot so if putting out shorter releases helps them get new music out sooner and more consistently, I’m all for it. For me, I don’t like many albums that are over 50 minutes. I don’t want to be one of those bands that crams over an hour onto a record when only 40 of the minutes are worth hearing, so I’m trying to be very critical of my own work. I’ve got nearly 14 new songs written, or half-written, and if I did a full-length, I’d probably only use eight of them.
Apparently “Bell Of Tarantia” is based on “Hour Of The Dragon” by Robert E. Howard”. What can you tell me about the lyrics to “Angelus Noctium”?
– Yes, that’s correct. Specifically, it’s based on the capitol city of Aquilonia, which Conan is king of in that story. There is a bell that only tolls at the death of the king, and a really cool battle scene that takes place in that area. Reading that bit gave me shivers, as did the ensuing carnage that took place in the rest of the story. “Angelus” was my answer to the classic Evil Woman song, but it ended up going in a strange direction. I came up with the lines of the chorus (“Angel of the Spire/Harpy of Desire”) first. I liked the contrasting imagery of Harpies and Angels, circling these towers that are spearing up through cloudy skies. At it’s core, the song is about lust, loss and bitterness.
“Swords Of Steel” is an anthology featuring fantasy/horror from heavy metal musicians, including yourself. How did you get the chance to contribute?
– Dave from DMR Books approached me in person at Ragnarokkr after the Eternal Champion performance and told me about the book he wanted to release. I loved the idea and immediately offered to contribute, as I’d started writing stories the year before as a hobby. I’d bought a handful of old fantasy novels from him online a year before, so that’s how we initially got in touch.
Do you feel that this goes hand in hand with writing lyrics, or is it something different?
– Lyrics are certainly a different beast than sitting down and penning a whole story, but it’s not without cross-over. With lyrics, (which are essentially poetry, there’s more room to be free with language and grammar. Of course you’ve always got the song itself in mind as the actual background, or foreground, depending on your point of view, for the words. Since you have less space to use words, you’ve got to make each one count. Of course, you don’t want to waste words in prose, but you definitely have more room to stretch out in an actual story. It’s kind of hard to talk about lyrics and poetry and prose without falling into weird meta-linguistic mumbo-jumbo, haha! Basically, everything I write, regardless of genre, tries to take you somewhere far away from your boring, shitty job or your annoying spouse or your insufferable children or the ugly chemistry exam looming on the horizon. You should be able to take a stroll in someone else’s shoes and learn something about them and their world, and maybe learn a bit about yourself as well. I like words and stories and songs with movement and action and tension. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but writing and playing music have been at the same time the most difficult and rewarding tasks I’ve ever undertaken, and you can be sure that I won’t stop until I draw my dying breaths.