GATECREEPER's Eric Wagner picks 5 great non-metal bands for metalheads | Revolver

GATECREEPER's Eric Wagner picks 5 great non-metal bands for metalheads

Southern-rock recommendations and more from death metal's "Dark Cowboy"
gatecreeper_joey_maddon_2024.jpg, Joey Maddon
photograph by Joey Maddon

Some of the best performances on Gatecreeper's recent run of West Coast tour dates were the ones the fans didn't see.

True, the veteran Arizona death-metal quintet brought their A-game onstage, whether dialing into furiously OSDM-inspired oldies or the melodically-charged menace of their anthemic new Dark Superstition LP, but when guitarist Eric Wagner is reached by Revolver just after a soundcheck in Sacramento, he admits that there's been a countrified flavor to the trip, too.

That makes sense, seeing as Wagner's friends have given him the nickname of "The Dark Cowboy." That's in part due to the aspiring rancher holding a degree in rangeland ecology, but it also reflects that he's the guy in the band van generally crankin' C&W, bluegrass and Seventies-era Southern rock.

Consider that a recent behind-the-scenes Instagram story also presented the six-stringer singing George Strait's honky-tonkin' "All My Ex's Live in Texas" in the green room, while a post-show karaoke party at a coastal dive found him howling out the Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away" with Undeath singer and tourmate Alexander Jones, then Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Give Me Three Steps" with their merch guy, and then a duet of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishing in the Dark" with Blackwater Holylight's Mikayla Mayhew, who happened to be in the bar, too. In other words? A night of wall-to-wall bangers

"I feel like Gatecreeper's sets for the last two months were just a practice for that. That was like the Super Bowl halftime show of the tour," Wagner says with a laugh of those extracurricular country covers. "It was a highlight, but no… the tour's been awesome."

While the aesthetic hits different, you could argue that there are commonalities between Wagner's favorite country hits and the overall hugeness of Dark Superstition. The album presents an ultra-charged mix of melodeath ass-whippers ("Oblivion") and arena-made fist-raisers ("Dead Star," "The Black Curtain") that display an increasingly catchy sense of self for the songwriters — and while not mainstream, per se, Gatecreeper's latest block of bangers might have mass appeal. Wagner says people are already singing along to the new songs at the shows. Maybe one day they'll hit karaoke machines.

"I want [Gatecreeper] to become a band that isn't backed into a corner or super niche," Wagner explains of their melodic evolution. "I want to be able to play anything we want, and to have fun with it. And not be stuck doing the same thing for 20 years. It doesn't seem weird when we grow."

With that in mind, while Dark Superstition is rooted in the metal world, it also took influence from Wagner's interest in bluegrass guitar licks and the soaring complexity of a Southern-rock jam-out.

"I think country music can be super heavy," he says. "I love Bluegrass music, too, and they talk about a lot of brutal stuff. Songs about the terrible things in life, but also the good. Songs about death, but also songs about partying. That can be just as heavy as metal. There is some crossover, for sure."

You may not catch it on the first listen, but down below, Wagner reflects on how the influence of Southern rock, proto-metal trailblazers, and Texas' greatest boogie band shaped Gatecreeper's latest album.

The Allman Brothers

Stylistically, they have a lot going on — multiple people singing, multiple guitars doing melodies together, they even have multiple drummers and percussionists. I'm in no way saying that our new record is as good as the Allman Brothers, but I think that we have a lot of different styles on there, and I feel like I subconsciously [got] validation for doing that from listening to the Allman Brothers so much.

"Midnight Rider" is great. It's a slower song, but it's a rock song that has that Southern feel to it. The leads are awesome, but also the song structure. We really worked on trying to perfect our more rock & roll kind of song structures on this record, like "The Black Curtain," for example. That's just a straight rock & roll song, in a way.

With the guitar solo in the middle of Dark Superstition's "Mistaken for Dead," I do the first half and Izzy [Garza, guitar] does the second half. I do the whammy bar, chaos kind of stuff, then Izzy likes to pick notes and rip runs. We refer back to Kerry King and Hanneman — not that we're gods like them, but I love that back and forth. The Allman Brothers have the same thing, whether it's who's singing this song, or doing the guitar playing. It's awesome.

Deep Purple

I've actually been getting Izzy into them more. We've been in the hotels watching old live videos of them, and there's this one show that Black Sabbath played, too, the California Jam [from 1974]. It's a classic live video, and there's a big rainbow [set piece] on the stage.

Of course, the Black Sabbath set is insane, but the Deep Purple set is just as awesome. The bass player [Glenn Hughes] who does the high vocals is doing these metal, almost Manowar screams, and it's so cool.

Richie Blackmore's guitar playing is awesome. It's bluesy, progressive and jazzy-sounding, but it also has a darkness to it. And our intention on Dark Superstition was to make a darker-sounding record. Subconsciously, I'm channeling some of that Deep Purple darkness in there.

The Marshall Tucker Band

I'm starting to see a pattern, but these are all bigger bands that have a lot of stuff going on. The Marshall Tucker Band have a flute player! They have these big, long, jammy songs, [and] so much melody. The way the vocals intertwine with the melodies from the guitars and the other instruments is really cool. It's like a dance...

The two different singers have an unconventional way [of singing together], like the patterns they use and the way they weave them through the music. It's really cool. And I always talk to Chase [Mason, vocals] about that. When we're doing the vocal [arrangements] for certain places, we tend to not have them just hit with the riff. A lot of bands mimic the riff. We try to have it weave through the beat, almost like a rap. And I feel like Marshall Tucker Band does that really well.

And they can make an eight-minute song not seem like eight minutes. Not that our songs are [that] long, but that's something that we think about when we write. We really try to inject some catchiness into everything we do.

Molly Hatchet

The album covers are insane. They have the most brutal-looking album covers, like barbarians on horses and stuff. That alone is awesome.

Every single riff they write is super catchy, and I can sing the solos. If you're a fan of Molly Hatchet, you know all the words, you know the solos, and you know the bass part. Even the drums are catchy.

Flirting With Disaster is an incredible record, and a great song. They actually have a song called "The Creeper," which is funny. I've always been like, "We need to walk out to the Molly Hatchet song 'The Creeper.'" "Cheatin' Woman" from that self-titled record is awesome. That record from '78 is a raw recording, but then with Flirting with Disaster, you could tell they got more money [to record, because] the production is awesome on it.

ZZ Top

Everyone in the band knows I listen to ZZ Top constantly. I screen print [at home] sometimes, and every time my friends come in, I'm always listening to ZZ Top.

ZZ Top is an example of a band that has huge hits, and they are so simple. The drummer [Frank Beard] is so talented, but he never does anything to show it off. He's just really good at playing a straight beat. It almost sounds like a drum machine. We messed around with some of those ideas, like in "Flesh Habit." It's kind of buried, but there's actually a sample of a clap in there. There's also tambourine and shaker in a lot of the songs. If you're not looking for it, you probably won't hear it. But even on the fast songs… I'm pretty sure "Mistaken for Dead" has a frickin' shaker in it!

That's the kind of stuff that ZZ Top always did. They had weird sounds, especially in the Eighties. I'm not saying that the shaker and tambourines are unconventional, but it's something that I would never think to do in death metal. But we wanted to give it a shot.

And Izzy is from Lubbock, so he's not too far from La Grange. There's a little more Texas in the band than there ever has been. So, we've got [that Texas Boogie]. I just love it. ZZ Top is one of the coolest bands ever.