I must admit that it takes a couple songs for Gatekeeper to find their footing on East of Sun. Lead single “Blade of Cimmeria” and “North Wolves” aren’t bad songs at all, but the former’s vocal lines can be a little too forceful, especially during the chorus, while the latter’s structure gets rather meandering. Fortunately, the gallop and comparably memorable chorus on “Warrior Without Fear” picks up the pace and allows the Vancouver group to show what they’re truly capable of.
The album’s second half is where it becomes truly noteworthy. The title track stands out for its soft introduction and charging verses, and “Oncoming Ice” makes for another highlight, closing the album out with another epic track that showcases the band’s slower, more somber side. I also can’t help but find it funny how the album’s most badass, triumphant track has a title like “Swan Road Saga.”
But no matter how the songwriting differs, the band’s musicianship remains tight. The vocals are quite strong, generally opting for a classic Manowar-style baritone with occasional raspy moments that recall Pharaoh/Control Denied’s Tim Aymar. The guitar work is also solid as the duo works off each other well and offer plenty of tight riffs. The rhythm section is a little low in the mix, but the drumming remains serviceable.
Also worth noting are the two cover songs that the band included as a bonus. The take on Omen’s “Death Rider” is solid and “Hall of the Mountain King” is pretty good despite my inner Savatage fanboy having a couple nitpicks with it (You gotta have those backing vocals on the pre-chorus, guys!). If anything, it’s nice to see Gatekeeper highlight some of their influences in tasteful fashion.
East of Sun would’ve benefitted from a shuffled track order, but it’s a great first full-length album for Gatekeeper after a near decade of mostly releasing EPs and splits. The time that the band spent finetuning this material makes it even stronger than it would’ve been otherwise but there’s still enough to work with on future efforts. It’s safe to say that in the world of modern traditional metal, Gatekeeper lives up to its name.
“Warrior Without Fear”
“East of Sun”
“Swan Road Saga”