I’ve been wanting to write about The Gate since 2016, when I came across their album Island Virus. It’s an album completely unlike anything I’ve heard before. Or since, for that matter.
You see, I used to be a tuba player. I don’t think I ever accomplished the abilities and skills necessary to call myself a tubist, which is the polite and appropriate way to refer to a person who has achieved a certain mastery of the instrument. I just didn’t have that kind of dedication or physical ability.
Dan Peck is a tubist.
Background of the Gate
The Gate is a project of tuba player (tubist) Dan Peck, and I can virtually guarantee that it’s absolutely and unquestionably unlike anything you’ve heard in your search for DOOM.
The Gate is one of many projects on his lable, Tubapeed Records. Actually clicking that link takes you to what’s underneath the underground: a whole stable of advante-gard artists who more or less comprise the genre known in some circles as doom-jazz.
And yes, that doom-jazz features prominent use of the King of Instruments: the tuba! Check out the bleak and fascinating world from an issue of Bandcamp Daily from 2017, which you can read here.
Anyone expecting this to sound like “doom” in the traditional sense will be sorely disappointed. Ditto if you’re looking for the latest “jazz.” To begin with, the Gate is tuba (Dan Peck), drums (Brian Osborne) and electric upright bass (Tom Biancarte). That configuration alone is enough to give most people pause.
From the moment Elmer Ohwell Knew kicks off with a barren drum intro and the bass kicks in with a bizarre arrpegio with the tuba keeping time with a pedal-note in succession, I think you’re gonna find yourselves in unfamiliar waters. The deep end, in fact.
What follows is all bass, tuba and drums combining into a confusing slab of…jazz.
There’s an audio clip from a movie at the tail end, and then we’re flung into the dissonant confusion of Toilet Demon. I imagine to the casual listener that this comes across like a 12-year-old blatting away on random notes, like I did when I brought home my first tuba. But I’m telling you, this is where the magic lies.
Set aside any desire for a killer riff and a rhythm section with groove, and you’ll notice the deliberate precision of the piece. The bass and tuba are in perfect unision underneath a separate track of Tom Biancarte bowing and pucking strange harmonics. The percussion doesn’t do the song any favors in a casual sense, but over time the deliberate precision of the piece comes into focus.
Dissonant chaos like this takes a tremendous amount of effort. But what this three-piece accomplishes is mind-blowing. Most virtuoso tubists, and pieces written to spotlight tubists, focus on the upper registers. I’m talking about hitting those squeaky high notes, the ones that make your sphincter contract.
What really catches my attention with The Gate in general is their commitment to the lowest notes the instrument is capable of hitting. I mean ungodly low. I have a slight idea how much discipline it takes, let alone lung capacity, to belt out a pedal C.
Dan Peck rippes through eighth notes down there like they’re nothing. The first half of Scum is exactly that, and once I get beyond the amazement at what he’s physically doing, I have to admit that it can come across as a series of exercises to showcase their prodigious talent.
At the second half of the album, especially starting with the ghastly-titled Meat Baby, things take a change towards the accessible. There are more clearly defined chord changes, familiar rhythms, and “music” in a traditional sense. Stump Dweller comes across as particularly refreshing after the challenges presented by the first few songs.
Regardless, I’m sure of these two things:
- Most of you are not going like this record. At all
- Those of you who like it are going to be asking yourselves, “how the hell did I miss this!”
Still, I think this is an incredible release. I also think it’s a very important release for reasons that usually aren’t usually addressed in the world of Stoner/Doom and the Heavy Underground in general. First of all, the whole concept of Doom and how it conveys its musical messages is gaining acceptance in academic circles, including those of jazz and symphonic music.
Last year, composer James Romig released The Complexity of Distance with the iconic Mike Scheidt (YOB) performing the hour-long meditation of a powerful, resonant, fuzzed-out guitar chord with Sunn0))) level distortion. I didn’t see a lot of buzz about this release, and that’s partly my fault for not writing about it. But this is a serious work of art delving into the possibilities of our beloved power cord, from an intellectual point of view.
I’ve also noticed a trend of extremely disciplined and knowledgeable musicians choosing the Doom soundspace to showcase their talents. Messa, Great Gray Funk and Snakemother are just a handful of the bands making the conscious decision to embrace the Heavy Underground, even though they’re clearly qualified to jump into more lucrative genres.
I also can’t possibly write about The Hellish Tuba Doom/Jazz of Scum by The Gate without referencing my good friends at Eight Foot Manchild. Their approach is entirely different than that of The Gate. Sure, they both utilize the tuba as a means to explore the lower octaves in a Doom context. They also make clever use of audio snippets from horror and science fiction movies to accompany their songs and their transitions.
Oh, and they’re both awesome!
As far as I know, both ensembles are completely unaware of the other. Which, for me, is very significant. That indicates that multiple people are beginning to explore similar things at the same time, without influencing one another. That makes it organic, man. It’s like all happening, all over the place, which is really freaking cool.
The Gate is the more “serious” of the two. While Eight Foot Manchild is built on humor as well as brilliant instrumentation, The Gate is more focused on the uglier, “doomier” side of things. Heck, in many ways their musical approach has as much akin to Black Metal as it does Doom. First and foremost, however, this is Doom completely and firmly rooted in jazz.
And in every possible way, it rules!