At The Gates
At War With Reality
CD | MP3 | Vinyl
Century Media Records
Release date: October 27, 2014
At The Gates‘ 1995 album Slaughter of the Soul is considered by many experts to be one of the most pivotal moments in death metal history. Decibel Magazine went so far as to label it “the most influential death metal album of the next decade.” That recording, despite being the band’s fourth release, is among the very first to feature the sound that would come to be known as melodic death metal or “the Gothenburg sound,” a reference to the city in Sweden that spawned At The Gates and their equally influential contemporaries, In Flames.
It is also a record that most thought would serve as At The Gates’ epitaph. In 1996, only a year after its release, the band split acrimoniously when brothers Anders (guitar) and Jonas Bjorler (bass) decided to leave and form The Haunted. The rest of the band resented them for leaving at the height of their success, but decided that At The Gates could not continue without them.
It would be another 11 years before the band members found the “right time” to stage the reunion that they had been discussing for years and the fans had been clamoring for. They announced a run of reunion dates in 2007, but were very adamant that it would be a limited time engagement and vehemently denied that there would ever be another At The Gates album. The band members decided to go their separate ways again in 2008 when the initial run of reunion dates ended, leaving fans to wonder, once again, if they had seen the last of the group.
Over two years would pass before there were any more stirrings from the At The Gates camp. In 2010, the band members announced that they would be doing another run of tour dates and this time they actually seemed to be warming up to the prospect of recording new material. As the band continued to perform sporadically, another 3 years passed. Then in early 2013, the band announced, to the shock and delight of metal fans everywhere, that they had in fact began work on a new album and that it would be titled At War With Reality.
Eighteen months have passed and for those of us who love At The Gates it has seemed like an eternity. But today the wait is over as At War With Reality has been released worldwide. I got my hands on an advance copy of the record a couple of weeks ago and I have to tell you, never has a 19-year wait been so worth it. I was just praying that this record would not tarnish the legacy that At The Gates had left with Slaughter of the Soul. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would run neck and neck with that record, but that is exactly what has happened here.
From the opening frenetic spoken word of “El Altar Del Dios Desconocido,” which is an adaptation of “Sobre hÃ©roes y tumbas” (On Heroes and Tombs) by Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato, until the epic album closer “The Night Eternal” fades away, At War With Reality grabs the listener by the throat and demands to be heard. This album is a master class in everything that makes heavy metal great with absolutely no filler in sight. The band is tight and ferocious while singer Tomas Lindberg sounds sharper and more possessed than ever. One listen to tracks like the first single “Death and the Labyrinth,” “Eater of Gods,” “The Head of the Hydra,” or the bruising title track immediately dispel any notion of a nostalgia act cashing in on their legacy. These are a bunch of middle-aged guys who sound like hungry young bucks with something to prove. Even in the record’s more reflective moments, such as the beautiful neoclassical instrumental “City of Mirrors” and the aforementioned “The Night Eternal,” the intensity does not relent. This is a riff-fest that you will never want to end. In the two weeks that I’ve had my greasy mitts on the record, I have not been able to stop listening and it just keeps getting better!
Whereas many of their contemporaries have softened, sold out (looking at you In Flames), or disappeared entirely, At The Gates has quietly been waiting in the wings for the right time to reclaim their throne as the true kings of melodic death metal. Let’s hope that they can keep it together for the long run this time.
Bottom line: if you listen to only one metal record this year, make it this one.
Rating 10 out of 10