“…neo-sapient hominid scenarios…”
An issue that has tested both Gatekeeper and their listeners is how to best deal with their dominating conceptual concern of pastiche. The duo, consisting of Aaron David Ross and Matthew Arkell, has experimented with a variety of means for exploring this overarching idea, with varying degrees of (apparent) success. Ross’ work with EDM pastiche artist Yen Tech and his solo venture as ADR showed an ability to create fascinating music that was enjoyable beyond its conceptual hi-/lo-art dichotomy and (possibly) blatant satire, something that Gatekeeper’s Exo and Ross’ other side-project HDBoyz, unfortunately, struggled to overcome.
“…Endo-Templar counterpoint on cycloid viols and paleo-psaltery…”
When the duo made the decision to abandon the iconic Carpenter-esque, horror-infused techno jams of its first EP Giza — a sound also tinged with a hint of 90s industrial rave that reared its head on every subsequent release — for the harsher, more intense, but ultimately less rewarding EBM of Exo, much of the charm of Giza was lost in the process. Essentially, what dominated the album was a feeling that the “post-ironic” style that Gatekeeper had tapped into came at a cost to the musical interest.
“… Zen-grunt gnosis performed in hyper-iterative Hadean habitats…”
With that in mind, what defines Young Chronos, Gatekeeper’s latest release, is not so much its examination of their very tangible conceptual concerns — simulacrum and detritus, parody and pastiche — which are of course, front and center in the EP’s music. For while Ross and Arkell have proven themselves at deconstructing cultural idioms of the past and present and reproducing them in intriguing musical pursuits, instead what may define this release is whether the musical content is, in some way or another, redeemable.
“…quasar-injection in Jovian atmospheres causing the Sienna effect…”
“Inspired by a true story.” So begins the cinematic opener “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.” Gothic choirs, orchestral strings, and cymbals meet head-on with all manner of heavy, metallic industrial sounds in an evocative melee miles ahead of the stale chaos of their last effort. It’s an intimidating start, a grandiose and finely detailed world opening up, that doesn’t offer any respite from its sonic extremity, just stacks sections of enormous two-chord doom-prophecies one after the other.
“…Narcomorph collective events on Phobos forgoing corpoferric insulation…”
It is kitsch delirium at its most extreme without descending into the compelling absurdity of James Ferraro’s various monikers, a bolder step beyond the more measured and (strangely) introspective works of Fatima Al Qadiri. The other tracks of the album progress in a similar direction, trading the complexity of multiple chords for the ridiculous richness of the drums, synthesizers, and other EBM embellishments that do battle with the absurd baroque-meets-romantic orchestral sounds of the modern cinematic soundtracking era.
“…Thermographically-enhanced heat-seeking archers in dawn mists…”
“Imperatrix” perhaps best embodies the musical content of the EP, its electronic elements drawn from Hi-NRG, techno, and trance violently intersecting with a gorgeous operatic vocal centerpiece and its backing of morphing strings and choirs. The entire beast is over-saturated and hyperactive, but Gatekeeper seem to have focused on bringing melodic ideas to the fore, lending the music a memorable quality. The venerable assault of material doesn’t overwhelm, as it very much has the potential to, while still leaving an impression of Ross and Arkell’s constructed domain.
“…Please be advised: permanent unlimited respawning…”
Young Chronos succeeds in establishing a mesmeric alternate dimension, a simulated experience of cinematic proportions without drifting into pastiche for pastiche’s sake — it’s enjoyable on its own merits, without superimposing the ideas and cultural subversions of its creators onto the maelstrom — but the more complex hints at satire that Gatekeeper employ do lend the music a quality reminiscent of White Car or even Ford & Lopatin. And while it’s an artistic language easy to dismiss, Young Chronos hints at creators who have realized a potential to present their tongue-in-cheek dystopia without slipping into a pit of empty gestures, all the while maintaining the evocative, maniacal, and unapologetically garish sound Gatekeeper have honed to a fine art.
“…To Be Continued…”