Interview with Jeff Black, Jean-Pierre Abboud and David Messier
Interview conducted by Omni
Date online: April 29, 2017
A short time ago, I wrote a review of Gatekeeper's Prophecy and Judgement EP and the band was quite gracious when I contacted them via Facebook about their upcoming album. I was already briefly acquainted with new Gatekeeper vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud, but the rest of the band was quite gracious and we had a great time doing this interview.
Omni: First of all, thank you for your time. How are you doing?
JP: Doing great, out here in Cascadia living day by day, working hard in a biker bar kitchen, getting ready for the studio and tour!
Jeff: Well met, Metal Crypt. We've been busy as hell, but that's a good thing!
Omni: It's good to hear that things are going well. I've listened to Prophecy and Judgement, The Vigilance Sessions and a new cover of Exciter's "Victims of Sacrifice" and you've certainly progressed as a band since your earliest release. What has changed about the band and your approach during this time?
Jeff: Almost everything has changed, but in some ways nothing has changed. We've got a brand-new lineup since I moved to Vancouver in 2014 and we've been writing music as a group now which wasn't the case before. I've also been focusing on my guitar skills a lot so that's had an impact on my writing. I basically taught myself how to play when I wrote the songs from Prophecy and Judgment. That being said, the goals of the band haven't changed. We're still dedicated to playing tried and true heavy metal without any hints of irony. It's still about channeling Manowar, Manilla Road, Dio and paperback sword and sorcery. It's about heart and it keeps me somewhat sane on this ridiculous planet.
JP: Limits are being cast aside. We are focusing on a 5-way attack sound, energetic and charging. Classic DAW paperback but combined with mythical and apocalyptic approach inspired by these 'interesting times!' And of course, blood, guts, beer, REAL Heavy Metal.
Omni: Judging by the performance the band put forth on the Exciter cover that is being featured on a tribute album released by Skol Records, it certainly seems like you've evolved as a band. It sounds like you had a great time recording that song. If you could record a cover song for any band's tribute album, what band would you choose?
Jeff: That's a big question. That's a real tough one for me. Maybe Blind Guardian, Saxon... but then there's Fates Warning, Triumph and Wishbone Ash to consider too. Actually, forget all this nonsense--the world needs a Tales of Medusa tribute album.
JP: Fates Warning, 100%! Doing Exciter was great, I found Heavy Metal Maniac, Violence and Force and Long Live the Loud all for 99 cents on vinyl when I was a kid, so it felt like a full-circle experience!
David: If it wasn't done already, I'd say Bathory, specifically 90's and Nordland era. Aside from that maybe Manowar or Scald.
Omni: These are all excellent choices. Personally, I would love to hear an album of my favorite newer bands covering classic Fates Warning songs. I understand that you're working on material for a full-length album at this time. This is exciting news for epic metal fans. What can you tell me about it?
Jeff: We're trying to keep things pretty under wraps, but what I will tell you is that it will contain a number of sword-edged heavy songs with a mystical atmosphere and will feature an incredible piece of cover art by a legend from England. It's being recorded and produced by an unsung hero of the Vancouver recording industry. He worked on albums by Aggression, Loverboy, Paul Stanley and loads more. A couple songs are actually online now, if you know where to look. We're going to be playing a lot of the new material on our upcoming tour of Western Canada so if you're in the area, be sure to come out!
JP: Expect a debut release that flows with energy, headbanging tunes like they don't make anymore with fully realized imagery and power. We are not fucking around, and we want everyone to experience full POWER, drink in hand, with a rush ringing in their metal mind. Shameless and expressive!
David: Stay tuned--there's going to be a few unexpected twists and turns on the album. It's a journey of sorts!
Omni: It sounds like it will be great. I'll have to track down the songs that you mentioned and check them out for myself! There has been a tremendous resurgence in the number of bands playing heavy metal with a focus on epic songs and themes. What do you think sets Gatekeeper apart from other younger bands?
Jeff: I think we have a strong blend of European melodic styles and riffs drawing from the North American school. Traditional folk music drives a lot of the guitar leads and clean guitar sections. I also try really hard to write songs in different tempos and different keys when possible. In rock and metal guitar it's very easy to get stuck in writing riffs in the same positions all the time because it's so easy, but you run the risk of your material sounding too similar.
JP: In GK, we're striving for a wholly defined sound, and we're a "grinding it out", hard-working Heavy Metal band toting an endless barrage of sacred tones; you're getting a SHOW if it's just you and your seven friends or a sold-out show opening for Satan.
David: "No retro, no spandex, no gimmicks, no pose," as said by Darin Wall of 88 Mile Trip. But in all seriousness, it's very easy for young bands to get caught up trying to imitate a certain sound rather than carving their own path. With the Gatekeeper full-length coming up what sets us apart from other acts shall be cemented in stone.
Omni: I would agree that the 1980s are over, so sticking exclusively to that sound is a fruitless idea when the classics have already been recorded. There are a lot of newer epic metal bands that are trying different things and keeping it exciting. I've read that you're very close with the members of Atlantean Kodex. Can you tell me about how you came to know the band?
Jeff: To be honest we haven't been as close with those guys since our earlier releases, but I'm still a big fan. I owe their guitarist Manuel and drummer Mario a large debt, as they were super supportive of the group from the earliest demos. Atlantean Kodex used to run a forum for their band and I got talking with Manuel through that. When Gatekeeper went public with song samples, he immediately put me in touch with Mario (who was going to drum for us until we found a local player) and also helped us find our first CD and LP record labels. Mario and I stayed in touch for quite some time afterwards via phone. You can hear some of his drumming on the bonus tracks from the CD edition of Vigilance fom No Remorse Records.
JP: I met a couple of the members from my days doing my old band Borrowed Time. They were always very gracious and cool, along with Gianluca from the great Battle Ram!
Omni: It's good that you've had such positive experiences with other underground bands. You've also released Vigilance as a split with Eternal Champion. Aside from them and Atlantean Kodex, what other bands do you think that people should be paying attention to right now?
JP: Battle Raider from Mexico is completely awesome, as are Voltax and Split Heaven. Mexico is just killing it right now. There's an amazing Heavy Metal band from Seattle that we've played with called Substratum!
David: Chalice, Riot City, Substratum, Manacle, Chevalier, Old Wolf, Blade Killer, Serpent...
Jeff: Eternal Champion is one of the coolest bands out there right now. I've heard a few newer bands this year such as Sin Starlett and Satan's Hallow who are wicked. Our good friends in Visigoth and Spell deserve your attention, plus Terminus and Lunar Shadow and all the bands JP and David mentioned. Otherwise, I spend most of my time listening to older bands such as Savatage, Dio, Saxon, Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Triumph, etc. I'm also a fan of rock/fusion guitarists. I just discovered Mika Tyyska from Finland last week and he's been melting my brain with his dynamic phrasing and expressive chord/melody interplay.
Omni: I've heard of a few of those, but you've given me a whole new treasure trove if bands to sift through. I find lately that a good chunk of the newer heavy metal bands have lackluster vocalists, but this isn't the case with Gatekeeper. Jean-Pierre, you've got a great voice. What singers inspire you the most?
JP: Thanks! I always thought it was the other way around, like there's lots of great new vocalists and I'm one of the shit guys, but what you said is good too!! I'm really into Dio (always), Savatage and Metal Church these (ALL) days.
Omni: Haha, I don't think that you have much to worry about. I purchased the first two volumes of Swords of Steel last year and they're very enjoyable. Jeff, can you tell me anything about what you've written for the upcoming Swords of Steel III?
Jeff: Thank you. I'm glad people have been checking it out. It's such a cool project and I have a lot of fun working on them. My story for volume III is called "Stormchaser" and it's continuing the characters I featured in Volume I, Derx and the crew of The Orphan. I was really inspired by Moorcock's Sailor on the Seas of Fate story, so I went for a more mystical vibe as opposed to the high-seas action of my first story.
Omni: I certainly look forward to reading it. You've already performed live in Canada and the United States. Do you have any live appearances coming up?
Jeff: Aye aye, we'll be jamming our way across Western Canada in just a few weeks! We have gigs lined up in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Prince George and Kelowna. It will be our first time playing in Edmonton/Calgary since 2014, when we had the old lineup. Our ex-drummer Tyson is promoting the festival (Shredmonton) in Edmonton, so I'm looking forward to that a lot. Later in July we will also play the Armstrong Metalfest with bands from all over North America, which is always a good time. We have a couple other ideas and potential plans in the works too. We hope to finally make it to Europe within the next couple of years.
JP: We have the Raiders of the West tour, as stated, and will be appearing at Armstrong Metalfest 2017, July 14th and 15th, we've got some crazy plans brewing for that one!
Omni: That sounds exciting. I'd love to make it out to a show if you managed to make it to my neck of the woods (Florida). It's obvious that your music is important to you. What was the one thing that inspired each of you to want to play heavy metal music?
Jeff: I was always into hard rock music as a young lad, but Blind Guardian was my earliest inspiration to play metal. My friend Jesse Valstar (Odinfist) came into class one day in grade 10 wearing one of their shirts. It was the "And Then There Was Silence" artwork with the dragons coiling over a red jewel, if I remember correctly. I got him to lend me a CD, and before long I'd immersed myself in other bands like Iced Earth, Helloween, Rhapsody (we gotta start somewhere, right?) and I also discovered Fates Warning and Queensrÿche right away too. That would have been early 2004.
JP: Seeing Dio live when I was 17 and being beyond help with a metal obsession since a young age!
David: Discovered Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance at the age of 7. I asked my mother what her record player did and she put it on for me haha! My dad also had guitars around the house and sometime around the age of 16, I put two and two together and never looked back.
Omni: I certainly can't claim that I was listening to Judas Priest at age 7. That's amazing. All right. Thank you again for your time. Do you have any final words for The Metal Crypt and those metal fans reading this interview?
Jeff: The Metal Crypt has always been supportive of Gatekeeper and our music and we really appreciate it. I've been a longtime reader of the site and I'm so honoured to be so well received by you folks. Thank you so much!
JP: IF YOU'RE IN BC OR ALBERTA, COME ON OUT IN MAY FOR RAIDERS FROM THE WEST. BANG YOUR HEAD, SLAM YOUR BEER, WIPE THE WIMPS!
You heard them. Canadians can keep a look out for upcoming Gatekeeper shows! Also be sure to check out Pounding Metal: A Tribute to Exciter on Skol Records, which will feature a cover of "Victims of Sacrifice" performed by the new Gatekeeper lineup!
|Other information about Gatekeeper on this site|
|Review: Prophecy and Judgement|
|Review: Prophecy and Judgement|
|Review: East of Sun|
|Review: East of Sun|
|Review: Grey Maiden|
|Review: East of Sun|
|Review: From Western Shores|
|Review: From Western Shores|
|Review: Retaliator / Vigilance|
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