Determined to ride the high from last year’s long awaited debut album East of Sun, Canada’s Gatekeeper are already set to release a new EP later this month titled Grey Maiden. It’s been well under a year since we last got material from the band and given the historically long droughts between releases, this is certainly a welcome surprise!
Despite being only four songs long, Grey Maiden cycles through a number of sounds and shows off Gatekeeper’s ability to adapt. The core, Atlantean Kodex-inspired style of epic heavy metal is still present, but Gatekeeper are continuing to solidify an identity of their own. East of Sun was the first time I really felt Gatekeeper carved out their own sound, and it’s evident from the opening track of Grey Maiden that they intend to continue in this direction. The EP’s self titled opening track is a mid to fast paced banger filled with memorable riffs, breathtaking dual guitar melodies, and some of JP’s best vocal lines to date. It’s everything I could possibly want from a song in this style.
Following up the opening track is an immediate transition to the other side of the spectrum with “Tale of Twins”. Gatekeeper take us back to their epic doom metal origins with this slow paced song originally from 2013’s Prophecy and Judgement EP. This new recording is more tightly executed than the original in virtually every way and reminds us that they’re just as comfortable slowing it down as they are speeding it up. The next track, “Moss”, takes us in yet another direction as Gatekeeper shows off their gentler side with this acoustic. Its folky nature and composition immediately bring to mind Solstice‘s New Dark Age, but the tasteful addition of violins and JP’s vocal style add extra dimensions and push the acoustic in its own direction. It’s masterfully done and quite frankly it’s a bit unexpected. “Moss” is one of the best acoustic tracks I’ve heard in years and entirely unlike any Gatekeeper song prior – a track or two like this on the next full length would be a welcome addition.
Closing the album out is a cover of Tredegar’s “Richard III”, originally performed for a NWOBHM compilation on Skol Records. Tredegar were a band formed by Ray Philips and Tony Bourge after their departure from Budgie. Stylistically, Tredegar were a much heavier band than Budgie and utilized much bigger and more epic song structures – a perfect fit for Gatekeeper. They do justice to the cover and add just enough of their own flair by changing bits and pieces of the instrumentation to keep it interesting. Musically, “Richard III” would find itself home on any Gatekeeper release and serves to highlight a shamefully forgotten and undderappreciated band.
In just four songs Gatekeeper show us how diverse they can be. A fast paced banger, a crushingly slow epic, a beautiful acoustic, and a well executed cover that sounds fresh while still paying homage to an excellent band – Gatekeeper bring it all. Grey Maiden is a very nice listen that shows off the band’s talents, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed at the lack of original material here. The title track is undoubtedly my favorite Gatekeeper song to date, but the fact that it’s the only original metal song on this EP leaves me wishing there was more. I think just one more new metal song would have rounded Grey Maiden out perfectly and made the release more impactful, but even as it currently is, the EP is very worthwhile.
Much like last year’s Wytch Hazel album, Grey Maiden demonstrates a band that’s really starting to mature. Gatekeeper is working together better than ever before and it’s evident in the quality and diversity of the songwriting found here. If Gatekeeper’s next album continues on this trajectory, then we’re in store for something truly great.
Release Rating: 88/100
Favorite Track: Grey Maiden
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