(TheMadIsraeli (the artist formerly known as Israel Flanders) steps into the WayBack machine to revisit an At the Gates classic.)
I think it’s time to take a few steps back away from the current metal scene and revisit a timeless classic in the metal landscape. I’ve decided that from here on, I’ll be doing not only current reviews, but also reviews of albums from the past I absolutely adore. Without further ado…
Anyone worth his weight in metal should know this album, this band, and the MASSIVE influence they have had on metal since the album’s release. This is, by all accounts, THE melodic death metal standard. Never did a band of the Gothenburg elite craft an album this aggressive, this vicious, all while retaining pure melodic content throughout. This is also a controversial album, of course, often slandered for its initiation of tens of thousands of At The Gates imitators. But don’t hate the masters, hate the weak imitators.
This is one of my top 10 albums of all time, ever, in metal, period. To me, this is a perfect, absolutely flawless, 10/10, 100% all-killer-no-filler, sonic assault. Those riffs, those vicious vocals, that fucking guitar tone that no one to this day seems to know how to dial in as well, the jarring tempo changes, all contained in very concise, to-the-point songs that don’t wander or play around in any way.
Slaughter Of The Soul (or “SOTS”, as we’ll refer to it from here on) is the final album from this Swedish five-piece before their unexpected decision to quit, preferring to stop while they were ahead and not risk becoming self-parodying ass-hats (*coughArchEnemycough*). A very respectable move indeed. Even to this day, even after re-forming, the band claims they shall not write a single new song for the rest of their lives. (more after the jump . . .)
At The Gates crafted some very intelligent metal, initially playing a style of technical death metal, focused on song-writing, on their debut The Red In The Sky Is Ours, and that continued on their sophomore release, With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness, which saw a slight increase in the melodic aspects.
The band would then release an EP titled Terminal Spirit Disease, which represented a VAST departure from their established sound, opting for a purely melodic, very thrash-oriented style of music. The only death metal elements left resided in frontman Tomas Lindberg’s anguished howls. The constant tempo shifts remained, but the band moved toward the creation of captivating melodies and riffs that would stick in your head more. And that brings us to SOTS.
SOTS saw the thrash elements of which the band had become so fond ratcheted way up. This is evident from track 1, legendary album-opener and fuck-your-shit-up dosage “Blinded By Fear”. Nothing this vicious had been heard this widely when the album came out. The closest thing you could get if you wanted melodeath this savage and this unrestrained was old Arch Enemy, and even then, it just didn’t compare. This song epitomized the idea of brutal melody. The riffs are dark, punishing, conveying a sense of anguish and pain n a way that NO ONE ELSE was doing at the time. Hearing it, I was absolutely floored, not ready for what could possibly come next.
The title track’s opening riffs are voiced by a single solitary guitar, and here we are introduced to the signature element of At The Gates: The waltz-thrash feel. So many bands have ripped this shit off and not done it as well, so many bands have tried to recapture the intensity of At the Gates’ execution, but it just isn’t gonna happen. I’m sorry. I fucking love the riffs in this song, they are so intricate, yet so memorably crafted — AS IS EVERY RIFF ON THIS ALBUM.
“Cold” is one of the band’s signature songs, with that dark verse riff, the waltz section before the somber clean section, followed by that absolutely wicked solo by Andy Laroque of King Diamond. It just doesn’t get any better than this folks, it really doesn’t.
“Under A Serpent Sun”, another of the band’s signature tunes, is just as awesome. It includes one of my favorite verse riffs on this album, as well as one of my favorite song intros of all time. “Into The Dead Sky” had something in it you didn’t see many bands doing at the time — one song referencing sections from previous songs on the album. It was a very melancholic acoustic track, with an almost folky mood, that ended by reprising the clean section of “Cold”. I remember how awesome I found that to be when I figured it out.
“Suicide Nation” features a riff with that Black Sabbathian blues swagger before jumping into another thrashing assault, with that signature waltz feel. “World Of Lies”, “Unto Others”, “Nausea” and “Need” all finish off the album in the same aggressive fashion. I don’t know how anyone could listen to this and not be moved to break their neck whirlwinding to this stuff.
“The Flames Of The End” closes the album in a nice way. It’s an ambient sound that guitarist Anders had actually written for an independent horror movie that never got made. It gives the album a real sense of melancholic finality.
I was listening to this album in my car recently and was inspired to write this. I love this album to death and think it is definitely the pinnacle of melodeath in the 90’s, if not an unsurpassed mark today. I suppose most metalheads have already steeped themselves in what it has to offer, at one time or another, but it never gets old. Be reminded:
I love the idea of doing reviews of classic albums again. I was fortunate enough not to miss Slaughter of the Soul but I know I have missed many classics. It’d be great to have some of them brought out of the past for me.
blinded by fear still gives me chills to this day
I was listening to different kinds of music when SOTS came out in ’95 and didn’t hear it until years later when I was getting more into metal. By then, the style had been seized upon by many other bands. SOTS still sounds amazing even now, but I really do wish there were a WayBack machine so I could go back in time and experience the album when it was brand new, and sounded as revolutionary as it must have on the release date.
It’s amazing how relevant and current this album still sounds to this day isn’t it? Proof that these guys just had the fire and the “it” at the right time and place. Truly a work of art.
SOTS has been one of my favorite albums for a long time. Lots of bands nowadays remind of me of ATG in terms of riffs but none come close to Lindberg’s vocals.
Speaking of Lindberg’s vocals, he’s a huge reason why I’ve gotten so hooked on Lock Up, and why I’m suddenly interested again in the next Nightrage album, on which he contributes vocals on several tracks. It’s like he’s been reborn.
I’ve been wondering about Lock Up since their new album came out. I’m not the biggest grind fan so I didn’t get around to it yet. I’ll definitely have to check out the new Nightrage when that comes out though, I was unaware of Lindberg’s involvement.
I’ve heard OF ATG, but never actually listened to them… I was also in that boat of being “away from the scene” so to speak, right when it was blowing up. So I missed a LOT. On the plus side, I’m now getting to “discover” a lot of bands that I missed and getting a metric fuckton of new (to me) shit to listen to. So yeah, PLEASE do more classic reviews. Help a brother out.
am i the only person who hates at the gates? i’ve never been able to sit through this whole album. ATG (and gothenburg metal, in general) invokes a “fight or flight” response from me, where i either immediately leave the situation in which i’m forced to listen to it, or i make the person who played it turn it off immediately. other “fight or flight” bands include sublime and the dave matthews band. yes, it’s really this bad.
nothing against these dudes personally, but i think this music is sophomoric and beta as fuck.
To answer your original question, yes, you are the only person who hates At the Gates. 🙂
i was a freshman in high school when this came out, and was already well versed in extreme and underground metal… someone showed this to me, all stoked about it, and we listened to a little bit of it. i remember my first thoughts on this music were, “i bet this is something my girlfriend would like,” and still feel the same way. at the gates is what i’ve always called “training bra metal.”
Really? What kind of metal do you most enjoy (y’know, the size 36D metal)?
these days i listen to a wide variety of all kinds of music and metal… back then, in the mid 90’s, it was all about finding the most brutal bands possible. my favorites were suffocation, dying fetus, pre-roots era sepultura, older carcass, cannibal corpse, etc… at the gates was a gateway band for people who hadn’t yet found real extreme metal. sure, they were faster than pantera, but they weren’t anywhere nearly as heavy or original. ATG was , in my circle of friends at least, nothing more than melodic thrash on steroids. it sounded like a dirtier iron maiden without the awful clean singing.
i guess you’re right, though. if at the gates was training bra metal in ’95, suffocation were definitely the tigol bitties of the day.
Well, that makes sense to me, as a fan of Suffocation, Dying Fetus, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, etc. I just came into extreme metal in the reverse order (which perhaps is your point). I started with bands like ATG, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity, and then moved into more brutal stuff. They really were gateway bands for me (I’ll be damned if I’m going to stick with the bra analogy now that I’m talking about myself). Except I haven’t grown tired of them.
For me, it was hearing “Sacrificial Suicide” by Deicide on my local college radio station’s metal show. I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old at the time, and that was it. I was hooked. In my young mind, things that blasphemous were impossibilities. In the “natural evolution of metal,” me finding Pantera and Sepultura was actually a regression.
I see what you’re saying though. Everyone I know holds their training bra bands fondly. The first Slayer record I ever heard was “Divine Intervention,” and it’s still my favorite by far.
It’s a nigh-perfect record for its time and place. It does very little wrong and is utterly focussed. Great album. Really.
My only issue is that it doesn’t reflect the “melodeath” (or “melodic death metal” – I still contend the two are somewhat different) sound as well as people contend. After all it’s… well, in hindsight riff-wise and structurally it’s a lot more “The Haunted (Made Me Do It)” than it is “The Gallery”, right?
And I know lots of people say this disparagingly, but it laid the blueprint for metalcore (and I’m going to say the good kind) in many ways, because it DOES have a more hardcore-focus to the song-writing and structure, albeit with a thrashy energy and a wealth of spiky melody.
Either way it IS a hugely distinctive record. Brilliantly so.
Wouldn’t mind doing my own “revisiting the classics” now!
There’s obviously an appetite for this kind of post, so I think it would be great if both you and Izzie made Revisiting the Classics a continuing thing here. Hell, it would be great if readers who like to write would join in with guest posts on this subject, too.
Personally ATG has always been somewhat shadowed by the 2 other titans of Gothenburg-sound, Dark Tranquillity & In Flames. However, SOTS it is still a great piece of pancake. Also, ATG has one of theee best, kick-ass live dvd out there, imo!
I really need to find that dvd set, I hear so many good things about it. I was lucky enough to see them in a small club in Seattle 3 years ago when they did that reunion tour. That experience created some lasting memories. Even if they never write another song together, I wish they would continue touring.
“…don’t hate the masters, hate the weak imitators.”
I’m in total agreement with this statement, as well your evaluation of SOTS. It’s one of those albums (death metal or otherwise) that defines the term classic. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of where modern metal came from, and none of us get to listen to EVERYTHING when it’s brand new. Not to mention that a stomp through the caverns of memory is just plain fun. I can’t wait to see what album from metal’s great history will be next (I’ll keep all suggestions to myself for now).
I also wish they would tour at least one more time. I hear from many that the reunion show in Seattle kicked ass.