Immediately, you’re probably thinking ‘why?‘ These two bands could hardly be more different without leaving the metal genre as a whole. It was certainly an interesting choice to put a crossover thrash band together with a sludgy death metal band. They do have two joining threads though: they’re labelmates on Relapse Records, and Iron Reagan and Gatecreeper are both at the top of their respective subgenres. Luckily for us, the sound of this pairing comes off closer to peanut butter and chocolate than… uh, ice cream and sauerkraut (unless you like that kind of combo). Seeing as we’re dealing with two bands, fellow writer Jake and I decided to team up to take down this two-headed monster.
What I Thought
Jumping right into it, we get five Iron Reagan tracks. On “Warning”, we get a fiery track with some killer energy. There’s a playful vocal melody that hits at the last four syllables of each verse and is so catchy that the rest of the band joins in with gang vocals. It’s a weird thing to point out, but it drives the song along with some mosh-ready drums and guitars.
“Paper Shredder” is a more lighthearted track – the kind I have come to expect from Iron Reagan. The chant ‘It’s shredding, it’s shredding!’ is heard throughout the song, which is themed around destroying your seedy secrets to cover your tracks. It’s an earworm, and I find myself thinking of the lyrics when I shred stuff at my own job. There’s wonderfully juicy bass and guitar harmony here. The song is repetitious in nature, throwing the same couple riffs at you, but it just goes toward making sure the song is hammered into your head to stay.
Now for “Burn for This”, the final and longest song of Iron Reagan‘s side. It swaps between a buffet of thrashing goodness and a nominally more atmospheric tone with some quick drum fills and higher pitched chords from the guitar. This approach mixes things up a bit and keeps the music from being repetitive and boring. There’s nothing that particularly stands out here from Iron Reagan. If you’re familiar with the band, what you see is what you get and I would put the quality of these tracks on the same level as ones from Crossover Ministry that also didn’t particularly stand out, but were still solid.
With Gatecreeper, we have some of their hardest, heaviest stuff yet, which is wild to say because their debut, Sonoran Depravation, was pretty damn hard and heavy. “Daybreak” is a wonderful opening instrumental filled with dread, as if foreshadowing an impending assault. Guitars grind through the mix like tank treads through rubble and drums progress in speed until they are steadily marching forward with thick double bass. After almost two minutes, the track transitions over to “Dead Inside” which brings out Gatecreeper‘s full-on crunchy death metal sound. Riffs pulverize almost as hard as the war-like drums that carry a catchy rhythm and compel you to embarrass yourself with gratuitous air drumming.
I’ve always loved Gatecreeper‘s guitar tone, which orbits somewhere around Black Breath‘s thrashy, hardcore jamming. “War Has Begun” is a little more contained, but still murderous with guitar melodies and pummeling percussion. The lyrics paints a bleak picture of a grand, violent battle: ‘Ordered to advance/Moving forward/Screaming, rolling iron death/Diesel burns through guts and bone‘. It’s relatively standard death metal fare, but it still fits with Gatecreeper‘s grimy desert aesthetic very well. The Sonoran five-piece continue to be one of the most interesting bands in death metal.
A split like this should not have worked nearly as well as it did, and I’m more than willing to admit that my enjoyment of it is highly biased with the fact that I love both of these bands. I’ll take any opportunity I can get to listen to new music from Iron Reagan and Gatecreeper. That said, this is still a very solid effort from both sides. Neither phoned it in – they both put forth the effort I’ve come to expect from them, and at the end of the day that’s a righteous win for metal. Fans will be thrilled, newcomers might find a new band to gush over. Don’t miss out!
Personal Score: 7.5/10
What Jake Thought
Iron Reagan kicks off the album with all the energy that you’d expect from this Virginia-based outfit. Their first track is “Warning” and it’s one that ticks all of the boxes for a great thrash song: speed, frantic vocals, and chaos. Track two, “Paper Shredder”, is where things move into a catchier, more anthemic space. The riffs slow a bit, and the gang vocals are pure punk rock; it’s a fun song that’ll put a smile on your face. The guitar tone is perfect for this kind of music, and the vocals are wily and strained. It’s hard to imagine it being better.
The best song on side A in my opinion is the final song by Iron Reagan, “Burn For This.” The opening riff is quite nice, and the lyrical content is laced with all of the bitterness they can muster. The main riff is great and the solos are a nice touch as well. This half of the split is nice – no new ground is broken and some of the songs show why they weren’t featured on Crossover Ministry, but if you’re a fan of thrash, then you’ll have a good time. On to the Sonoran Desert.
Gatecreeper are, simply put, one of my favorite new(er) death metal bands. They have been quite prolific since their inception, and their latest set of songs make up side B of this split. The first thing that we are treated to is the track “Daybreak (Intro)”, an instrumental prelude to their other two tracks. These guys are the master of the descending riff; just check out “Sweltering Madness” and “Craving Flesh” from their previous releases. The downward direction of the notes sets the tone for the kind of music that they make, and I love that this is a motif throughout their songs.
The first full track is “Dead Inside” and it’s pure distilled death metal by way of Entombed or Grave. Chase’s vocals are gruff and nigh on indecipherable as the trem-picked riffs prattle on with the bass thumping and random squeals topping off the composition. It’s hard for me not to like this. The second and final full track is “War Has Begun”, and it’s just as much of a banger as what precedes it. The vocals do get stretched a bit more here, with more range than usual. It’s another riff-laden track that’ll get your head banging in no time. This band is the future of traditional, American death metal.
With plenty of catchy tunes and memorable riffs, this split offers a lot. Knowing that this type of collaboration is a great way to publish unreleased tracks and B-sides from previous work, a cohesive experience isn’t really the point. It’s a collection of songs from two very different, but exciting bands. If you like these bands already, you’re in for a treat. If you’re not familiar with one or the other, I think there’s enough here to win you over. And let’s be honest, that’s the point of a release like this: cross promotion. Iron Reagan prove that they know how to party and point the finger at the same time, and Gatecreeper continue to put out fantastic songs and gigantic riffs. Go get it.
Personal Score: 7.5/10
Overall Score: 7.5/10
Notable Tracks: “Paper Shredder”; “Dead Inside”
FFO: Iron Reagan – Municipal Waste, DRI, Power Trip | Gatecreeper – Black Breath, Blood Incantation, Genocide Pact
You can find Iron Reagan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Bandcamp. Gatecreeper are on Facebook and Tumblr. This split EP is available for preorder through either band’s Bandcamp page, and it comes out on March 2!