Review Summary: Made in Arizona, sounds like Stockholm.
It’s honestly impressive how stubbornly followers of the Stockholm branch of death metal have stuck to the subgenre’s roots. In approaching 25 years, the ingredients have remained largely the same - something which Gatecreeper’s self-titled EP, released back in 2014, overtly showed. Four tracks of detuned guitars, punky influences, the Boss HM-2’s notorious, granular tone and flailing solos highlighted how the Arizonans were happy to stick to their influences rather than try anything wildly out of the box. Now signed to Relapse Records, their first full-length largely leaves behind the breakneck leads in favour of a more riff-oriented approach – its only true surprise, with every other facet oozing pure Stockholm.
This heightened focus does come with its advantages - the importance of striking a balance between aggressive riffwork and catchy lead hooks becomes more pressing when the natural break of a solo is removed (or lessened in importance). This translates well, gifting the verses (more planted in tremolo-picked melody) enough energy to pull each song through, yet also providing track after track of opportunities for some good old-fashioned headbanging. What’s interesting about Sonoran Depravation
’s structure, whether intentional or not, is how the first half feels more wanton, as opposed to the second’s more considered, doomier nature. Comparing the shortest and longest tracks (‘Desperation’ and ‘Grotesque Operations’) illuminates this nicely; ‘Desperation’ is a whirlwind of D-beats, grinding riffs and barely contained energy, whereas the latter sandwiches a similar approach between cuts that wouldn’t sound too
out of place on a classic doom record.
The effect of this is double-edged however – while adding variety, its first 10-15 minutes feel much livelier than its second. While being great tracks on their own merit, the excitement that comes from ‘Craving Flesh’ and ‘Sterilized’ just isn’t there in the same way when ‘Flamethrower’ and ‘Grotesque Operations’ reach their time – and this is part of an overriding issue. Whether it’s the stylistic division towards its end, the eschewing of fast, twisted solos, or simply the stylistic apeing that reduces the album’s total impact is up for debate, but Sonoran Depravation
is, sadly, atmospherically vapid. Still, while the search for ‘something more’ may come up fruitless, at the end of the day, it is
nevertheless a fun way of spending half an hour – and considering Gatecreeper form part of a movement largely unchanged in a quarter of a century, perhaps that’s all I should want from it.