19. Gatecreeper, Deserted (Relapse)
After deliberately distancing myself from “extreme metal” in 2016-2017, it was interesting to see what aspects of that music would click with me again. The last couple years have marked a triumphant, joyful return to death metal for me, especially the groovier, slower stuff reminiscent of Swedish bands like Unleashed and Grave. 2019 was a banner year for the subgenre, too, featuring knockout albums by Tomb Mold, Blood Incantation, Outre Tombe, Nile, Vastum, Amon Amarth, Immortal Bird, Venom Prison, and so many more. It was Phoenix’s Gatecreeper, however, that won me over the most thanks to a triumphant record that, while low on frills, is so rich in fist-bangin’ metal that it was the best thing to listen to on the commute home. I’m sure a big reason Deserted is so strong because several of the band members also play in Spirit Adrift, one of the finest traditional heavy metal bands in America right now, because this album is loaded with expressive solos and clever guitar melodies that beautifully accentuate these otherwise punishing tracks. Perfect examples of that would be on “Puncture Wounds” and “Everlasting”, and especially “From the Ashes”, which could easily pass for a top-tier Amon Amarth track. And there’s so much in the way of dynamics, too; the album shifts gears nicely from mid-paced grooves, to thrashy movements, so monolithic, cavernous doom, led all the while by vocalist Chase Mason. I can’t remember this thing highly enough. Turn on, tune in, and run through a brick wall. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Don’t actually run through a brick wall. That would hurt.