Tuesday, 2 December 2014

At the Gates' 'At War With Reality' - Album Review

At the Gates are one of the main bands that originally pioneered the 'Gothenburg sound' during the early 1990s. The band were legendary for their mixture of brutality and melody, and released four albums before breaking up in 1996. While all of their albums are well loved in the metal community, it was their last album - 1995's Slaughter of the Soul - that really put them on the map. On that album, the band simplified their songwriting somewhat, and put greater emphasis on melody. This album has been a huge inspiration to nearly every melodic death metal and metalcore band out there, and showed that you could still write a good tune while also being really heavy. The band originally reunited for a few shows in 2007, but went quiet again until 2010 when more shows were played and the frequency of them increased. Despite the fact that members of the band had repeatedly said in interviews that they would not be recording another album, this year saw the release of At War With Reality, the band's fifth studio album and first for 19 years. Style wise, it is very similar to Slaughter of the Soul, with plenty of short, punchy metal songs that have lots of hooks and catchy riffs. However, this is not a simple re-tread and also contains elements from the band's older work. Some of the songs have the gothic doom of the band's earlier albums, and the mix of distorted and clean guitars really works well. Line-up-wise, this is the same group of people that recorded Slaughter of the Soul and have been touring ever since. Frontman Tomas Lindberg still has a raw, strong voice; and the Björler brothers who handled the album's songwriting have served up a platter of excellent material. Guitarist Martin Larsson and drummer Adrian Erlandsson round out the line-up. The album has been produced by Fredrik Nordström so it of course sounds excellent. Even when producing really heavy bands, he still manages to get a certain warmth into the sound which makes it easy on the ear. There is nothing worse for me than a really harsh production that grates and makes the album hard to listen to. Luckily, this is not the case here, as the album sounds full and polished, but still retains a certain rawness necessary for this kind of music.

After a really weird spoken-word introduction, the album gets underway with the pummelling Death and the Labyrinth. It does sound quite generic, but these are the guys that made this sound in the first place, so this is exactly what you expect. The tremolo guitar leads, the double bass drumming, and the more 'laid-back' choruses are all here and Lindberg sounds good despite his age. While the intro is quite pacy, the rest of the song is more mid-paced with chunky riffs and plenty of big snare drum. The album's title track follows with a classic melodic death metal riff that continues throughout most of the song. Erlandsson uses his years of experience to match the pace of the riff with a simple beat and the short instrumental breaks give Anders Björler a chance to shine on the guitar with some tasteful playing. The Circular Ruins is another crunchy mid-paced number that features some really snaking riffs that almost resemble something that Lamb of God might have written in places. That groove metal vibe remains throughout the song with a strong vocal performance from Lindberg and a really melodic chorus with repeating lead guitar lines. There is a proper guitar solo too, which has a very traditional metal feel to it, and Erlandsson does some good hi-hat work behind it. Heroes and Tombs has the gothic vibe I was describing earlier. It opens with some haunting clean guitars which continue to play through the song, even when the heavy guitars kick in. Lindberg delivers some of the vocals in his normal speaking voice which adds to the unsettling atmosphere, but he still mostly uses his trademark growls. It is probably the song that stands out the most on the album up to this point, and is really enjoyable. The Conspiracy of the Blind gets back to the more traditional melodic death metal sound of the earlier songs. The main riff is full of everything that can make this genre great, and it is played at a fast, headbanging speed. The song moves through quite a few different sections in it's fairly short run time though, with clean sections mixing in well with the heavier moments. Order from Chaos opens with some Spanish sounding guitars before they morph into some more standard clean leads. The clean guitars dominate this song, despite the fact that this is by no means quiet. It has the gothic vibe too, and really builds upon what the band did with Heroes and Tombs earlier. It continually seems to grow, and it is a standout song on the album.

The Book of Sand (The Abomination) is another heavier piece with more tremolo guitar leads. It has a dark tone to it with some slower, sludgy riffs in places that help to break up the pace as the rest of the song is quite fast. It has another guitar solo too, which still has that traditional metal vibe. Anders Björler fills it with some neat tricks that sound good without being too flashy. The Head of the Hydra is a more mid-paced affair with some intricate riffing and a driving rhythm. Lindberg's vocal performance on this song is very strong. He seems to use a greater range here, and that helps the overall sound of the song. The complaint that I have of his voice is that it is rather one-dimensional, but on this song he seems to have a bit more character. After a slow, haunting instrumental City of Mirrors the album is on the home straight. Eater of Gods is a true melodic death metal ripper with some big riffing that ascends the scale while Lindberg screams over the top of it. The genre is built on tight riffs like this, and the shredded guitar solo is the icing on the cake. It even manages to throw in another clean section too, that makes use of the less-is-more policy by using as little music as possible to create something that ends up sounding really strong. Upon Pillars of Dust follows on from the previous song perfectly with some more solid riffing and strong melodic hooks. The chorus during this song in particular is very memorable with delicate guitar leads mixing well with the heavy riffing and Lindberg's raw vocals. It is a really short song that hits you over the head and then runs away, but it is perfect penultimate song for this album. The following, and final, number here is The Night Eternal which is also the album's longest track. It again goes for that gothic sound that has been heard previously, and this is perfect for the final track. It seems to constantly grow and it mixes the heavy moments with more delicate ones well, which creates constant contrast. The guitar-work towards the end of the song hints at the epic too, which is something that the band do not usually go in for. Leads begin to soar, and twin guitar riffing and soloing sees the album draw to a melodic close. Overall, this is a really solid album from a band that had nothing to prove. No-one expected them to be groundbreaking again, and instead just wanted an enjoyable album of heavy metal - which is what At the Gates have done here on At War With Reality.

The album was released on 27th October 2014 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Death and the Labyrinth.

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