Interview: Encloaked (Jeff Black/Gatekeeper)

Last year, Jeff Black from Gatekeeper, one of my favourite Epic Metal bands these days, released his first Dungeon Synth record. In my opinion, his side project Encloaked is definitely interesting enough for an interview about it on an Epic Metal blog. But we also talked a bit about Gatekeeper, of course. Enjoy reading!

Hi Jeff, how are you doing? And how are you coping with the consequences of this pandemic?

I guess it’s the same thing as a lot of other people. Life seems stuck in slow-motion and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future. I’ve been separated from my girlfriend (who lives in the USA) since the borders closed in April, so that’s the worst part for me. I’m just trying to keep busy and stay focused. I’ve had a little extra spare time to focus on developing some newer skills and projects, such as building up my music lessons and my audio production/mixing business. Time keeps ticking, even during lockdowns.

Today, I want to ask you a few questions about Encloaked and Dungeon Synth in general. In my opinion, Dungeon Synth is currently rather popular among young Epic Metal fans (and bands!) – do you agree?

It’s starting to get more traction. It makes sense really. So much Heavy Metal, especially Epic/Traditional/Power Metal is infused with the same fantasy themes as Dungeon Synth so I’m surprised there wasn’t more crossover from the get-go. The popularity of video games is a big part of it, too. The scene is still largely driven by its connection to Black Metal but I think we’ll see it become a more widespread phenomenon. The Black Metal fans have not been so pleased by this prospect.

Is there a kind of Dungeon Synth scene in Canada?

No, not so much. I could probably count the number of Dungeon Synth artists in Canada that I’m aware of on one hand. There’s a guy in Toronto who is very prolific in the scene. Jaron from Ringbearer lives in Nanaimo, BC which is just a ferry ride away from me. From what I can see, the bulk of Dungeon Synth is based in the USA. The northeast in particular has a strong community of artists. There’s a lot of artists from the EU as well.

What do you find fascinating about this kind of music?

I find it very calming and nostalgic. It really reminds me of the music of classic SNES or PC games. I love fantasy and sword & sorcery which is the bread and butter of the genre, too. It’s incredibly nerdy and there’s a wide range of artists and each person has their own spin on the genre. It’s also a genre almost entirely dominated by solo projects, so everything is very personal. Sometimes it’s great to throw a couple of albums on the stereo and set a mood while dealing with other tasks like cooking, reading, working or playing games.

I think a lot of Metal fans in general would get into Dungeon Synth since Heavy Metal, fantasy and video games all seem to run hand-in-hand with one another.

Jeff Black

In 2019, you released your first Encloaked album. Can you tell us a bit about its amazing cover artwork?

I love how the artwork turned out! The cover is a digital painting by a young and talented artist from Poland named Leon Bakalarz. I met him and his father briefly at a Gatekeeper show in Warsaw last year. He added me on Instagram and tagged me in a painting of his that was based on a location from a short story I wrote. It totally blew my mind that he had read any of my writing at all, let alone feel inspired enough by it to create something. I contacted him about doing the artwork for Encloaked a short while afterwards and he did a fantastic job.

When did you record the first Encloaked track?

I think I started coming up with my first ideas in the summer of 2019. The first three songs were very rough and they didn’t make the album. I had taken a pretty long break from playing keyboards and writing music that wasn’t guitar-based at all so it took a while to get the juices flowing. I think the first track from the album that I finished was “Dance of the Broken Branch”.

How did Gatekeeper fans react on your new project? Are Epic Metal fans open-minded enough for such a different side project without guitars?

I think it went over pretty well! I’m sure a few people thought it was a weird choice but I didn’t get any backlash from it or anything. I played a livestreamed gig at the beginning of quarantine and there was nearly 400 people watching and quite a few of them were friends and fans of Gatekeeper. So it’s been cool. I think a lot of Metal fans in general would get into Dungeon Synth since Heavy Metal, fantasy and video games all seem to run hand-in-hand with one another.

Can we expect some Dungeon Synth elements on the following Gatekeeper record as well?

It’s funny. Piano/keyboards are my primary instrument but I rarely consider adding any to Gatekeeper. I’m always so riff-focused that I don’t really think about adding other stuff until it’s too late. On our EU tour last year I created synth-based music to play between songs while we tuned our instruments and to set the mood a bit. So maybe there will be a place for something like that on one of our albums. We’ll see!

Last question: What’s your favourite Epic Metal record of 2020?

Great question. 2020 started out very slow for obvious reasons but the last few months have been packed with awesome music. I don’t think I can pick just one so I’ll list a few that I really liked:

  • Greyhawk
  • Wytch Hazel
  • Adamantis
  • Possessed Steel (we’ll publish a review and an interview soon, BB)
  • Sacred Outcry

Jeff, thanks a lot. Next year, we’ll talk about the second highly anticipated Gatekeeper full length, if you agree…

Absolutely. Like many Gatekeeper albums it’s been a long and difficult process but we’re halfway through the recording sessions and I think it’s going to sound incredible. Even the rough mixes sound cooler than our first album. Love, Respect & Heavy Metal, Jeff Black

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