As the temperatures outside begin to change from winter’s doom and gloom (come back!) to the spring time’s vibrant warmth, Relapse has provided us with a furious split merging the sounds of each across twenty minutes of brain-bashing metal. In one corner, we have Richmond, Virginia’s Iron Reagan (responsible for last year’s Crossover Ministry, an undeniable plume of old school greatness) which brings together members of Municipal Waste, Mammoth Grinder, and Cannabis Corpse for some of the most glorious Suicidal Tendencies-like conscious/crossover thrash being produced this half of the decade. Sitting opposite of them is Arizona’s Gatecreeper, a fierce name known by all thanks to the runaway success of 2016’s Sonoran Depravation and an extensive run on the road with Cannibal Corpse and Power Trip last year. With Iron Reagan’s fun, summer-festival “it’s 100 degrees but I’m still going to open up this goddamn pit!” mentality, and Gatecreeper’s raw spin on beefy, old-school death metal, this is a split combination that you don’t think would flow as naturally as it does, but you quit worrying about that about halfway through when the sweet riffs are regurgitating your face into an alternate dimension.
Wisely saving the heavier stuff for later, the split opens up with Iron Reagan’s “Warning,” an instantly infectious track that comes in with a melodic riff before smashing into a whirlwind of speed and a group of guys shouting “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!” down your devastated eardrums. Before even being able to catch your breath, the proceeding songs, “Paper Shredder” and “Take the Fall,” commence to follow up with more of the same kind of self-indulgent speed metal, bearing the cross of brevity for the sake of playing loud and having a good time. With riffs that worship the thrash gods of old, power chords fret-hopping between Tony Foresta’s nasally bark, and an unmatched feeling of energy surging throughout their hardcore anthems, Iron Reagan’s music makes you feel front and center at the chaos of a house party punk show, probably right after you downed some of Jenny’s questionably strong homemade punch and forgot how the coffee table got smashed in half. Iron Reagan’s mission statement is clear from the outset and they absolutely live up to it, finishing strong with anti-propoganda punk etiquette on the minute long “Proudly Unaccountable” and “Burn For This,” a two minute crossover extravaganza that ends with a hell of a groove.
Wasting zero time to kick into gear, Gatecreeper’s side of the split fires up with “Daybreak,” a heavy and dour intro track that repeats one of the simplest yet most infectious riffs I’ve ever heard them put out. It is of course accompanied by the band’s usual songwriting-suspects: pummeling grooves and a sludge-fueled tone. This intro leads into “Dead Inside,” a song that carries a lot of hidden weight; I didn’t realize it was probably my favorite song on the album until the second or third listen. Flowing from the band’s signature, chunky, dirge-like sound into faster segments highlighted by inaudibly distorted tremolos and a dive-bombing lead guitar solo, the song ends with a breakdown hot enough to scorch water. The song’s lyrics also strike a particularly deep cut. “Irritated by the world/Withdrawn and broken/Too sick to care.” They are simplistic, completely down-trodden, and exactly what the music calls for. Their side closes out with “War Has Begun,” another churning punch to gut that earnestly goes for the throat and doesn’t care about letting go. I spoke with someone recently about how “heaviness” in a song is not a matter of how low you can tune your guitar (as a lot of young bands seem to think) but really just a feeling that is produced through the raw power of the music. Going off that train of thought, Gatecreeper wield the power of heaviness in their music with a clenched titanium fist.
Wrapping up in less than twenty minutes, Relapse should be proud to have bands of this stature consistently churning out new music for them. Iron Reagan’s “just-add-water” brand of instant-classic crossover thrash barrels its way through all competitors within moments of touching the needle. Conversely, Gatecreeper’s songwriting sounds even more refined here than on Sonoran Depravation, weaving through multiple progressions while remaining tied together by similar motifs. Each band’s unique identity serves as good of a foil for each other as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The short pace of the whole split can be soon as either a positive or a negative. While I would have loved one more track from Gatecreeper (two songs and an intro track feels a tad unjust), I love even more the ability of a band – or two in this case – to get in there, destroy posers with marksman-like precision, and abruptly exit. That is exactly what happens here.
Iron Reagan/Gatecreeper’s Split will release on 3/2/2018 and is available for pre-order from Relapse Record’s website.