(We present TheMadIsraeli‘s review of the seventh studio album by At the Gates, released earlier this month by Century Media.)
Watching how your favorite musical artists deal with the inevitability of getting older, slower, and weaker is one of the more fascinating aspects of this media consumption thing we all do. That’s especially true of metal, which is a genre that’s often predicated on physical ability. It’s all technicality and endurance, coupled with demands on the performers to be emotionally resonant, to still maintain that human element that makes music touch our souls and make life just that little bit better.
It’s commonplace for a lot of long-running bands to slow down, dial back the technical aspects of their music a bit and try to compensate for their age in other ways. Sometime they try to make their songwriting better, and to try less mechanically demanding ideas. Sure, here and there they can still write a barnburner that’s on a crash course with a brick wall at two hundred miles per hour, but it’s tough to play a whole album of that anymore.
A lot of observations along these lines have been made by people regarding At The Gate’s newest album, The Nightmare Of Being. While At The Gates are by no means over the hill yet, you can tell in their music that they are intercepting the specter of age before it claims them and are adapting their songwriting to pursue a darker, less technically inclined direction. There’s a lot of black metal influence here, which started to creep into To Drink From The Night Itself, and more of a focus on atmosphere and riffs with a “less is more” philosophy. Also evident is a dedication to writing songs that are a bit longer than average, using that lowered average BPM average to frame some slightly progressive and more ambitious tracks.
To be clear, I am an At The Gates die-hard. I’m definitely not someone you would go to for a truly objective analysis about their work, because frankly, anything they put out will probably be a highlight of the year for me. But with that said, I don’t think I’m so blinded by my fanboy syndrome that I can’t call a spade a spade and evaluate their work honestly. For example, while I really really liked To Drink From The Night Itself it wasn’t a great album. It was good, maybe even verging on pretty good, but the band had definitely written better.
The Nightmare Of Being though? It’s exceptionally good. Looking back, it might be a top three record for them. It takes the proggier ambitions of their early work, mixes it with that blackened influence displayed on the previous album, and also brings around that very emotive, melancholic focus of Terminal Spirit Disease, and the result might be the best-written album they’ve created, even if you don’t essentially care for the direction.
Don’t get me wrong, the album does have plenty of ferocious classic Slaughter-esque tunes. “Spectre Of Extinction”, “The Paradox”, “Touched By The White Hands Of Death”, and the almost blackened thrash metal attack of “The Abstract Enthroned” provide excessive quantities of adrenaline-inducing dark melodic majesty. But this album really does thrive on its slower and more experimental moments. “Cosmic Pessimism” with its almost jazzy clean guitar riffing is one of the coolest songs ATG have ever written. Songs like the doomy “Garden Of Cyrus”, the progressive black metal found on “The Fall Into Time”, or the melancholic groove of “Cult Of Salvation” really contrast that ATG of old with this more mature ATG of now. This is an album with a mood for sure.
Who knows where At The Gates decide to go from here, but for now I’m still in for the ride with these musical heroes of mine. The Nightmare Of Being is a comparatively eclectic album for the band, one which I find myself enthralled with. I am very interested to see where the band goes from here, but on the other hand, I have to say that if this ever turned out to be the final At The Gates album, it’s about as good a snapshot as you could’ve gotten of where the band have been and where they were at this present moment, and represents their songwriting craft at its pinnacle.