Gatekeeper - From Western Shores: Is It the Best NWOTHM Album Ever?
Updated: Jul 9
When I first heard this album last week I had planned to add it to my short-running-but-beloved-by-none series of articles, Is It Worth X Minutes of Your Life? But after spending some time with Gatekeeper's From Western Shores, I've decided it's worthy to be the first combatant to enter the ring of the brand-new-but-soon-to-be-slightly-less-new series, Finding the Best NWOTHM Album. Which means that yes, I think this album is damn good.
Possibly even the best NWOTHM album ever.
Well, actually probably not. But it's at least worth talking about.
Don't take my word for how good this recording is though, just look at that epic cover art. When I see two and a half massive, phallic-shaped towers sprouting from the ground and stabbing skyward with vein-like growths bulging around them, it tells me right away that – actually, I have no idea what it tells me. I just think it looks like some dicks on the cover.
Also, down near the scrotum of the towers is a gate with a portcullis in it. But why is it there and who is it stopping? There is no road, and if there were, it would be blocked by those big boulders to the left. And if there were no boulders, the path would still end at the outcrop a little farther ahead anyway. And besides, a person could simply walk around the gate since there's no wall attached to it to block anyone anyway.
There are, however, some corpses dangling from the penis towers, which is cool! I guess. Are those like notches in the bedpost for the evil sorcerer who lives in there? Does he capture people who attempt to free-climb the shafts and hang their bodies out as a warning to others?
Are the hanged bodies like a "no trespassing" sign to wandering spring-breakers that the penis towers are not a tourist attraction, but just a strangely placed evil beach fortress?
Also, if you look closely, there's a tiny little barbarian man standing on a rock shouting at the towers. Is he the next victim? Or will he be the first to reach the top and ride that sweet little cable car back and forth?
I don't know the answers to these questions, maybe you do. The cover art is clearly over my head, but we're not here to talk about that (too much). We're here to listen to some epic fucking heavy metal created with an old school thrust, and Gatekeeper pounds out eight more-or-less fantastic tracks that will penetrate your very metal soul. So strap on your best headphones and prepare to ride one of the best traditional metal albums of the 21st century.
As always, I'll be inspecting Gatekeeper's heavy metal wares through the lenses of Songwriting, Musicianship, and Production.
Let's do this.
The hard-hitting question I'm seeking to answer in the songwriting section is, "Are these songs cool or what, bro?"
And I can tell you with the complete authority of a random guy on the internet that yes, indeed, these songs are cool, bro. With maybe one or two exceptions, every track on Gatekeeper's new album shines with a unique and memorable character. Exciting guitar riffs open each song, strong vocal hooks fill the choruses, and the music flows incredibly well from one moment to the next.
There's a big variety of songwriting approaches here that ensure From Western Shores stays engaging across its running time. It's intensely satisfying to move from a high-energy piece like "Death on Black Wings" to the low-key, vocal-driven opening moments of "Shadow and Stone," or shift from the patient, head-bobbing groove of "Nomads" to the upbeat, born-for-FM-radio-if-radio-didn't-suck "Twisted Towers." (Is that song about those sinister penis towers from the cover?!)
From Western Shores has the clear DNA of creators who were inspired by what they were making and had the skill to fully capitalize on it.
The only thing that makes me sad is that some of the slower songs can start to feel, well, slow, and I'd love a bit more detail or nuance in them to justify their subdued pace. ("Desert Winds," I'm looking at you, buddy.) But honestly, that's a nitpicky thing when the majority of the album is so damn enjoyable.
So, songwriting, good. Me like. What's next?
Ah yes. Musicianship. The section where I, as a failed guitarist, knowledgeably assess whether other people possess more skill than I ever had. And yes, I can tell you with great certainty that Gatekeeper play their instruments like people who actually know what they're doing.
Now, nothing on From Western Shores is going to melt your face or any other part of your personal anatomy. That's not the point, this isn't Hellripper, after all. The music is methodical and firmly rooted in a late-'70s and early '80s hard rock/heavy metal vibe, and though the boys do kick up the tempo now and then, it always stays within the realm of fully coherent tunes with well-performed vocals leading the way.
That said, Gatekeeper plays this style extremely fucking well. There is such strong intention behind every note of this recording; a total creative clarity that feels fully realized in the final product. Just listen to the first minute of the title track and you'll feel the band's epic heavy metal roots coming through with strength and clarity.
Tell me that drummer doesn't look like he's freezing.
And the singer. Holy shit, quality traditional metal singers are few and far between these days, but Gatekeeper has one of the best. This dude fucking wails, pitch perfect approach to the band's style with some great versatility between darker, more aggressive tones and melodic approaches.
As with everything else about this album, the production on From Western Shores screams intentionality. The music has a slightly stripped-down quality that gives me some late '70s vibes every time I hear it. And it perfectly complements the band's playing style. No need for insane distortion or massive vocal effects here, this is straightforward, no-frills heavy metal done to perfection.
Conclusion About Gatekeeper's From Western Shores
So, is this the best NWOTHM album ever?
Well, it's really fucking good. This recording completely surprised me, and it has grown on me more each time I've played it. Plus, I love me some "raise-your-swords-in-the-air" epic metal, and this has that in spades. So, it's certainly top-tier heavy metal. But is it the best?
I mean, no, probably not.
Since I'm being completely, wildly subjective about all this anyway I'll just throw it out there that although I love this one, I'm personally not sure I would put it in my top 5 or even top 10. BUT, let's keep things in perspective: there are thousands of NWOTHM albums released since the late 2000s. Just hop on YouTube and look at new releases and it is shocking how many come out almost every single day. So the fact I'm even musing about whether this would be in my top 10 or not is basically just my snobby bullshit way of saying this album fucking kicks ass.
I have deep love and appreciation for Gatekeeper's From Western Shores, both on a purely musical level but also on a general creative level. The album is dope to listen to, and it represents some dudes who have worked hard at their craft and made the leap from a relatively unremarkable first album to a dragon-slaying, penis-tower conquering second release that is well worth the time and money of every traditional heavy metal fan.
It's a reminder that none of us start out great at anything. (Well, very few of us anyway. I did see this little girl on youtube one time who could yodel like a boss and that was badass.) But we all have the potential to be great. We just have to keep working, ignore internet shitheads like me, and focus on our passion, and we will steadily improve at our craft. And that's awesome.
So cheers to Gatekeeper. For my money, this is definitely one of the best NWOTHM albums.
Like Gatekeeper? Check out more epic and awesome heavy metal bands of the new era in my NWOTHM playlist – updated regularly since 2014.