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A few more pulls on the rack - 75%

gasmask_colostomy, May 25th, 2019

Aesthetically, I really admire Gateway. I'm not sure I've heard another band that captures the aura of medieval torture so well as this one-man project from Belgium. From the sinister artwork on all the releases to the inhuman darkness found in the music, everything is calculated to strike fear into your heart and make your bowels empty, either as a result of that fear or other, manual, methods. Bad things are clearly meant to happen when this kind of monstrous death doom plays. Robin van Oyen may not be a very well-known name in the metal underground (Belgium is not terribly prolific in that field either), but he's doing all he can to change that with Gateway.

This debut album sets out the sound that has kept the project rumbling on for five years now, massively down-tuned guitars and bass powering the steady churn of the riffs while regular drums reveal the fact that they are probably programmed. I don't think anyone will come looking for riffs here though, because the undeniable main feature of Gateway is the horrible atmosphere. Loose death metal chugs and doom metal chord progressions find themselves hidden by the huge amounts of distortion and murky reverb applied to them, burying the real sounds of the riffs in a gloom of foetid noise and unnerving quiet. Van Oyen's vocals also sound inhumanly low, reverberating out of his throat like some kind of sedated ogre breathing into the ear of the children he's about to eat. As with most good horror, the true extent of the nastiness is unknown and lurking just out of sight, yet the shadows on the wall are perfectly capable of carrying these songs on their own.

Because of the limited sonic range, Gateway doesn't have that many tricks to play with. Some of the riffs make themselves felt as subsonic movements, 'Impaled' setting out a sequence in its latter half that churns with morbidity; on the other hand, the very deep guitar sounds also make a few of the mid-paced riffs into grooves, so 'Kha'laam' and 'Corrumpert Interludium' feel almost hooky at some moments, largely due to shorter lengths and more easily memorable guitar lines. Van Oyen never does anything to suggest melody, singing almost without tone and relying mostly on sonic scope and density to overpower the listener. The exception is on 'Vile Temptress', which opens with an over-eager sample but soon piles a kind of rising theme onto the shuddering bass riff that builds atmosphere in a new way. Longer closer 'The Shores of Daruk' finds backing synths useful for a similar purpose. Considering the almost total lack of diversity on display, Gateway needed a little more of that kind of thinking.

Because of the unique formula that appeared here, it's impossible to judge this debut as a poor effort, especially since the effect of the appalling deathly mush is strongly and instantly unsettling. However, it might have been better to focus on the parts of the experience that don't add to the feeling. For instance, changing the language of the samples from English and German/Dutch to Latin may have enhanced the medieval atmosphere, while the programmed drums are definitely a drawback, keeping the pace too regular and predictable. We all know that feeling when there's nothing you can do to stop something terrible happening, which is very affecting; nevertheless, we also know that the feeling something even more terrifying might happen is a step up. Making the drums an active part of the darkness may have helped create that effect. Therefore, while Gateway proves a hugely oppressive album, I feel that there was more potential for menace here. To some extent, the EP Boundless Torture had found some of the solutions by 2018, yet Robin van Oyen and Gateway still have a few more pulls on the rack to go until they produce the desired amount of discomfort.