The members of Gatecreeper are totally stuffed. It's 2:30 p.m., and they've just returned from Grill 'Em All, the notorious metal-themed burger joint on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The proprietors have created yet another Gatecreeper burger, this time to celebrate the release of the band's killer new album, Deserted. This is actually the second time the meat lords at Grill 'Em All have paid tribute to the Arizona death-metal squad — the first was back in April 2017, when Gatecreeper played two sold-out L.A. shows with Nails and Toxic Holocaust. But this latest burger might be the most adventurous.
"It was awesome," Gatecreeper guitarist Eric Wagner says of the stunt food he just crushed. The half-pound burger is topped with honey soy aioli, marinated Spam, sushi rice and wrapped in nori. "It was so good. And they had a dessert, too — a Deserted dessert. It was, like, a fried pudding with cheese on it. It was intense but awesome."
As it turns out, Wagner and his bandmates — vocalist Chase Mason, guitarist Nate Garrett, bassist Sean Mears and drummer Matt Arrebollo — were Grill 'Em All fans before Gatecreeper even existed. Especially Wagner and Arrebollo, who have Grill 'Em All tattoos. "If you get tattooed, you get 50 percent off for life," Wagner beams as he rolls up his sleeve to reveal the tattoo on his right shoulder, which features the Grill 'Em All logo — crossed spatulas behind a gigantic burger — with "Metalica" intentionally misspelled above it.
"Matt and I got them together, before the band even started," the guitarist says. "He paid for mine. Metallica spelled wrong is my ode to detention in high school. But now we get free food, so I don't even need the tattoo."
Revolver is hanging with Gatecreeper at the Airbnb they've rented for the night in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. There's a handwritten sign in the living room listing the rules of the house, punctuated at the bottom with the slogan "Make Good Choices" in bold magic marker. At the moment, those choices include Mason hitting a tobacco vape while Mears dozes on the sofa in a Vio-lence T-shirt.
Deserted has been out for exactly three weeks when we meet up with the band, and the reviews have been glowing. The consensus seems to be that Gatecreeper have taken another leap forward with their old-school death-metal sound, another step closer to the "stadium death metal" level that Mason has been touting in interviews lately.
"We put the term 'stadium death metal' into the universe and people are picking it up," the vocalist enthuses. "The point is that you can make death metal that's catchy but still extreme. People get that confused, like extreme music can't be enjoyable and still be 'true' or whatever. But it can be gross and insane sounding and still be memorable. Look at Deicide's Once Upon the Cross — there's hooks all over that."
"When I started getting into death metal, it was the late Nineties or early 2000s and technical death metal wasn't as blown out as it is today," Arrebollo says. "Initially, I was like, 'Whoa — those guys can really play.' But at a certain point, that kind of music just got too complicated and involved for me. At the end of the day, I just like stuff I can bang my head to or groove to."
"It's the whole attitude, too — the rock thing, the stadium thing," Mears says when he wakes up. "We're willing to be the band that does the next thing to get bigger and bigger."
As such, Deserted stands out among recent death-metal releases with more melody and the unabashed use of pop song structures. "I don't care about doing something that's never been done — or being a technical band or a progressive band," Mason says. "That doesn't really interest me. I like some of that music, but I'm not trying to create it." Gatecreeper got even closer to the pop world when chart-topping superstar Post Malone wore the band's shirt onstage in Arizona last year. Mason and Garrett were at the show and delivered the shirt personally. "Our friend that works with him hit us up and said she was in town with an artist — she didn't say who," Garrett recalls. "I just wanted to see her 'cause she's a homie. The artist turned out to be Post Malone. I'd never heard of him, but we met him and he was cool. It seems like he loves music more than anything else in the world, and he's good at what he does."
"He likes metal," Mason points out. "He's talked about bands like Power Trip in the media. So, our friend, the one that invited us to the show, played him Gatecreeper and he was into it. Not long before that, I went down a Post Malone rabbit hole on YouTube and saw him singing along to a Biohazard song — and he knew all the words."
"I saw this wardrobe breakdown someone did for him online — $200 pants, $400 shoes, $15 Gatecreeper shirt," Wagner adds. "It was so funny."
While tonight's show and Gatecreeper's upcoming tour schedule is their current focus, Garrett and Mason also play together in the acclaimed trad-metal outfit Spirit Adrift. Originally started as a solo project by Garrett in 2015, Spirit Adrift now have three albums under their collective belt — including this year's excellent Divided by Darkness — and recently welcomed Wagner on second guitar.
With Garrett on vocals and guitar and Mason on bass, Spirit Adrift's alignment is obviously a bit different than Gatecreeper's. But Garrett and Mason's relationship in sobriety remains consistent. As a former alcoholic and heroin addict, respectively, they've got each other's backs. As do the rest of Gatecreeper. "When we're at home, me and Nate will go to the same meeting together, but we all support each other," Mason offers. "We don't even think about it anymore — it's just part of who we are. I was sober before I started this band, so it would be more of an explicit concern if there was a change. But if I was at a show and was like, 'I want a drink,' it wouldn't be OK. Everyone would be like, 'What are you doing?' But it's an unsaid thing."
Meanwhile, Garrett and Mason have engineered a delicate balancing act between Gatecreeper and Spirit Adrift, both touring- and release-wise. But with demand for both bands only increasing in the wake of successful 2019 releases, changes are likely afoot.
"Starting in 2020, we're figuring out how we can do it so both bands can go full force," Mason explains. "Up till now, it's gotten more and more difficult with both bands putting out records this year, but it's worked. But we need to figure something out so we can do both at the same time, whatever the formation is. These bands are not a side thing for anybody. In order to make it work, we'll have to choose personally. But it's already kind of separated that way."
What Mason means is that he and Wagner will likely stick with Gatecreeper, since they started the band and write the bulk of the material. Similarly, Spirit Adrift is Garrett's baby. "Chase and Eric hinted at there possibly being some logistical changes in the future, and whether I'm still playing with Gatecreeper or not, I hope it's still the most successful death-metal band in the world," Garrett offers. "We're all family at this point, and we've put a lot into it. No matter what happens in the next few years, we should all be very proud of what we've done."