(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Sweden’s At the Gates.)
Seriously… how am I supposed to even begin to review this album?
After all, the war between the forces of Hype and Anti-Hype began in earnest pretty much the moment At War With Reality was announced, and the back and forth antagonism has since churned the waters into an almost impenetrable mass of muck-raking and mud-slinging, making any attempt at clarity and objectivity a difficult prospect at best.
Think about it. How many people have you seen/heard claiming, with full confidence, that this is going to be “the best album of the year”, with little more than hope or blind faith as their main source of evidence? Probably quite a few. In fact, probably about as many people as you’ve seen stating, with arrogant superiority, that At The Gates “are shit”, and that this album “…is going to suck”, without even hearing a single note of music.
I mean, let’s face it, a lot of people will have made up their minds about At War With Reality long before they heard anything from it. The fanatics are preconditioned to love it even if it’s awful, and the elitists are predisposed to hate it even if it’s phenomenal. So really there’s not much I can say to either of those groups.
But maybe, just maybe, I can reassure some of you out there who don’t fall into either camp, and who might have their own (fully understandable) doubts about the return of At The Gates after all this time.
A quick admission from me, before we go any further – I am not the world’s biggest At The Gates fan, despite the fact that I’d probably say that Tomas Lindberg is one of my favourite vocalists. Oh, I am definitely a fan (I own all the albums and I’ve seen them absolutely crush it live on several occasions), but I’m not a rabid fan like so many are.
I acknowledge their seminal status, and agree with the well-documented and legendary influence attributed to Slaughter of the Soul. But you’d probably be surprised by how rarely I listen to that album, or any of their albums in fact.
I absolutely love them when I hear them. That’s undeniable. I really do think they’re that good. But I’m not obsessed with them. And I think that gives me a chance of being at least semi-objective about this album.
One thing that I am pretty certain about, after listening to At War With Reality several times over, is that no one does the At The Gates sound quite like At The Gates. For all you might hear about the band’s influence on the Death Metal, Melodic Death Metal, and Metalcore scenes, At War With Reality makes it clear – to me at least – how few other bands actually come close to sounding like the savage Swedes.
Even amongst a sea of their closest disciples, At The Gates will always stand out.
Exactly as the band previously stated, At War With Reality is a dark and angry album. An album at war with everything. At war with human nature. At war with false expectations. At war, in many ways, with the band’s own legacy.
If you’ve never been a fan of the band before, well, this album is unlikely to change your mind. They’ve not made any sudden or drastic shifts in their sound after all. And if you’re the type of fan who worships SotS and only SotS, then you might very well end up a little disappointed too, as although it’s very much a follow-up to the band’s landmark release in many ways, in others it’s also a very different album.
The comparisons made to Terminal Spirit Disease are pretty valid. The hooks on this album are still as razor-sharp as ever, but they aren’t as bold or as brazen as on its predecessor. The melodies are just that little bit more obscure, zigging where you expect them to zag, twisting and slithering out of your grasp just as you think you’ve got them figured out.
The guitar work is, of course, utterly fantastic throughout, Martin Larsson and the Björler brothers whipping up an absolute storm of choppy, chugging riffs and scything tremolo runs that effortlessly worm their way under your skin, itching with fury and feverish melody, while vocalist Tomas Lindberg is absolutely on fire, delivering perhaps his most vital, visceral, and utterly eviscerating performance yet.
But At War With Reality is an album made up of more than just individual pieces, it’s an album of songs.
Songs that trip switches in your brain and burrow their way into your subconscious.
Songs whose instantaneous impact disguises an insidious array of more subtle hooks and infectious melodies that will haunt you for days afterwards.
Songs that are both familiarly savage yet echoing with an eerie strangeness.
Songs that are perhaps some of the bleakest, and best, that the band have ever composed.
Is it “the best album of the year”? I think we’re all a bit too close to it right now to decide that. My gut tells me no… but it also tells me that’s not the point of this album.
It’s not trying to be the best album of the year.
In fact, I don’t think the band care at all about any of the artificial praise or meaningless distinctions that might be heaped upon them. Despite what others might tell you, this sounds like an album made by a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves.
At War With Reality is, at its heart, a singular distillation of the band’s sound and vision which simultaneously benefits from the band’s increased maturity yet sounds like they haven’t missed a day.
It’s also pretty much critic-proof… not just because of how difficult it is to analyse objectively, but also because it simply does not give a damn about what other people think.
This is At The Gates at their very best, and entirely on their own terms.
At War With Reality will be released by Century Media in North America on October 27. It’s available for pre-order here. Below you can hear both the title track and “Death and the Labyrinth”, which premiered earlier today in a video directed by Patric Ullaeus.
Opinions, to each his own, a record may be loved or hated, ok, personally I wonder about the logic of some human beings, example, you have heard two songs only and you say “shitty music!” or “this record will be awful!” or “you will love it because you are a fanboy!” whom I think is a very dumb definition, the ones about fanboy.
I’m not the biggest fan of “At The Gates” on earth but I like their “Melodic Death Metal” and I think this new record is good, I have no blind faith, I know they did what an old school band has to do, be themselves, I heard it several times, I think is a good comeback, if some people doesn’t like it, well, who cares!
It’s a pretty average album. Very straightforward, no frills, no surprises. Just a stack of fairly-solid songs all following the same basic structure. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s far from being anything special.
Oh well. We all feel differently about some things I guess!
It’s not about feelings. The album is what it is, just as the guy up there described it.
Your feelings towards an album and what the album actually is composed of, what it actually is,
are two very different things. Popular music (including Metal) fans do not seem
to be able to separate the two AT ALL. I am guessing this has to do with the
unwillingness of most people to have anything they like or support criticized.
I’ve only heard the 2 songs released so far, but I’m kinda confused by all this talk of “dark” & “bleak”. I simply don’t hear it. Has anyone who says this heard Red in the Sky and With Fear? Those are dark sounding records. Once Terminal came out, ATG were no longer dark.
I’m kinda of the mindset of Grumplesnatchskin above: sounds like its going to be an average album, total fan service, nothing bold or adventurous, nothing special, they just didn’t “shit the bed”.
And there’s something about this “sound” of theirs that just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Maybe it the endless clones who aped the sound the past many years or just that music has gotten far more diverse/extreme that this doesn’t cut the mustard.
Anyways, will like to see how these songs sound in the context of the whole album when I get a chance to hear it.
Why… yes… as a matter of fact I HAVE heard “The Red…” and “With Fear…” but doing so doesn’t make me feel like this album is any less bleak. It’s just a feeling I get from the album as a whole.
When it comes to the whole “clones” thing though, this album really has made me realise that so many of the bands who are supposed to be an “AtG rip-off” don’t actually sound all that much like AtG ultimately.
Strangely enough I can see the “bleak” feel after listening to only half the album. It’s like they took the last two albums and almost drenched it with a wee bit of misery.
Doesn’t sound like Red/With Fear but it’s own amalgam.
Can’t give an actual review of the record as a whole yet but it sounds better than the individual songs released so far 🙂
Considering he took time out to explain his views and opinions clearly… and you just came on here to be a dick to someone who might disagree with you…
I think that makes you the troll here.
Look at you coming to my defense. Hell has indeed frozen over. LOL
Of the two linked songs, I dig the title track, but the other one, with the video, is just so-so. I’ve always liked but never loved At the Gates.
Interestingly, and I tried to avoid doing an actual track-by-track for this one, those two songs re the first two… and are definitely the most direct and abrupt sounding.
The middle and the end have some REALLY great tracks (although I do still like these two as well).
I’ll buy the album regardless, so I look forward to hearing the other tracks, for sure. I expect I will like it just all the rest of their stuff.
i’m really excited to hear this album!
I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard so far, so thats a good sign. Im usually one of those who dislikes the lead off single but comes around on the whole disc.
I agree Andy, hearing this album further illuminates just how unique ATG:s take on melo-death are. They are head and shoulders above 99% of the other bands in this loose genre.
To me this album was one of those that I dreaded listen to because I was afraid that it would be just bland and middle-of-the-road. I think SotS is a bonafide classic and I enjoy pretty much all songs on it, not as infatuated in their back cataloge. Aaanyways, AWwR blew me away, it’s not an immortal classic like some might have you believe, SoTS legacy looms too dark and imposing for that to work, but it’s a genuinely GOOD album with good songs. I think what stands out to me is not the melodies like on SotS but the riffs. The big, chunky, catchy and groovy riffs that infuse virtually every song. Remeber when James Hetfield used to be able to crank out fantastic riffs 24/7? Well AWwR gives me the smae feeling of glee.
So yeah, to me this is an excellent album and easily one of the best of 2014. Nothing more, nothing less.
Some people HAVE said it’s bland and middle of the road. And while I disagree with that assessment, I’m totally fine with them feeling that way. Different ears hear different things sometimes.
And while I sort of agree with you that it’s not necessarily a “classic” like SotS, I do think it’s going to be more of a grower. There’s definitely a feeling of… I don’t know… hidden depths? The long term response will be particularly interesting.
I agree, there’s definitely room for growth. Since my favorite song has been in constant flux i think there’s still a lot of things left to catch on to. Personally as a fan of Borges, I’m looking forward to reading the full lyrics.
And with classic I didn’t mean to imply that it’s a bad album, just that SotS has reached that larger than life status that makes it hard to relate to with a cool head.
Interesting to see some mentions of “fan service” and similar phrases here… still confused why the same language wasn’t used with the (still great) Surgical Steel. Regardless, I’m still psyched to hear AWwR.
Kudos to a great review. I still haven’t listened to a single note of this, which would be my first exposure to ATG, but this is certainly the best piece I’ve read recently about the album.
A certain other writer (who shall remain nameless) wrote a really good one over at IO too…
Also – some of the comments are priceless.
The two songs they’ve released so far have not really been all that great to my ears. It sounds like they intentionally avoid blatant hooks (as you’ve stated in your review), but the song structures are so plodding that it feels like some obvious catchy lines would be an improvement. I don’t like SotS, but i appreciate its immediacy. Honestly the whole melodic death scene (with a few exceptions, of course) feels like it’s caught between trying to be “thinking-man’s metal” and plain guitar-worship with pop sensibilities. That’s just how i feel when i listen to these tracks.
This is a remarkably lacklustre record. The only people I’ve noticed who really seem excited by it are reviewers.
I’m not a review. I think it’s excellent and definitely a grower. I was expecting it to sound like everyone else, because so many bands copied their sound, but this proved to me that their sound was never successfully copied, and that AtG’s still do this better than anyone else. I can see why some people find it bland, its hardly a new direction, but I love their old songs and this is new songs, sounding like old songs but with a better sound and just as catchy riffs,
*I’m not a reviewer. Ii’m definitely not a review.
Because they need to cater to an audience.
Most metal reviewers are not critics. They usually do not even have the technical (historical, theoretical, etc)
background to actually be critics.
Most metal reviewers are just journalists. Some of them are amateur journalists with degrees in
different strictly-non-music-or-art-related majors like management, journalism or at best sociology.
So they’re basically random joe’s with good writing skills talking about something they happen to like.
If they work for a big magazine or make any kind of money from it, then they have the pressure to
regulate their writing to draw attention, whatever their approach may be. Any big magazine or
professional website reviewer can confirm this if you ask him or her privately.
That’s the reason why there are two blogs I specifically follow. One of them is metalformusicmajors, which is run by a guy who ACTUALLY studied composition and eventually switched to mathematics studies for his graduate studies, and deathmetal.org, which is lead by people with philosophy-related backgrounds,
which to me, means they can provide a better insight into music and interpretation of meanings.
Both of these share the trait that they make absolutely no money out of this and are not trying to draw
huge amounts of attention with their writing. I followed Angry Metal Guy until I grew tired of what
I perceived to be low music standards as a result from using his gut more than his head to analyze
the music itself while attributing points for “objective” things like production, musicianship(really,
why give points to a musician for not fucking up in his instrument?) or “professionalism” (whatever the hell that means).
I didn’t write this review, but your comment is incredibly condescending, first because you seem to think the only people qualified to express opinions about music are former music majors or philosophers — which is complete bullshit — and second because you imply that this reviewer calculated his opinion to “cater to an audience” — which is both insulting and utterly wrong. .I hope you will continue following your two favored blogs and give this one a pass in the future; in fact, I don’t understand why you came here in the first place. No matter how many times I see it, I still don’t understand why some people can’t express disagreement about an opinion without going out of their way to put down the people they disagree with.
I’ve been “out Elitist-ed”. Hell froze again yet again. LOL
I always get a kick of out people who think their opinion is more valued then someone else’s based on music theory or playing an instrument. What’s next, someone paid you a $1 as a DJ one time, so suddenly your opinion is more qualified?
It’s music, there is no right or wrong, EVERYTHING IS A MATTER IF OPINION.
Boils down to if you do reviews or Top 10 Lists it’s up to the reader to decide how much weight they give your opinion based on a a whole slew of factors.