At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being (Album Review)

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The paradox of universal hatred unfolds.

Phrases like meteoric rise and from out of nowhere tend to be thrown around a bit too often of late in reference to consequential moments in metal history, but in the case of Gothenburg death metal pioneers At The Gates, they prove a fitting description. Forming in the early days of Sweden’s entry into the death metal craze, their initial run from 1990 until 1996 would prove short compared to their two fellow Gothenburg trailblazers In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, but also highly impactful as this period would produce four studio LPs that have significantly shaped the melodic death metal style, so much so that two rival camps have endured among the sub-genre’s corresponding fan base regarding whether the more conservative death metal trappings of their first two albums or the forward-looking nature of the latter two are the superior works.

Yet since this outfit’s 2010 reformation and subsequent output, it has been quite clear that At The Gates has been singularly focused upon expanding the scope of the sound explored on 1994’s “Terminal Spirit Disease” and 1995’s “Slaughter Of The Soul”, and their most recent effort “The Nightmare Of Being” is no exception. Drawing upon the bleak and cold intellectual musings of modern misanthropic philosophy, this is an album that similarly maintains the classic underpinnings of the original Gothenburg sound, in contrast to the modern groove and metalcore trappings of In Flames. Yet the path taken here is of a more organic character, avoiding the excessive atmospheric keyboard shtick of Dark Tranquillity for something more impact-based, yet shying away from the mostly kinetic thrashing character of Arch Enemy. In short, this is an album that is of a more nuanced character, often compartmentalizing its softer and harsher moments to build a sense of crescendo and release.

Building off a similarly gloomy ambient introduction, this is a collection of songs that flows in storybook fashion, complete with the obligatory mixture of twists and turns before hitting the apex point. The opening anthem “Spectre Of Extinction” is of a fairly compact and straightforward character, beginning on a somber acoustic theme that is then transferred to a blaring distorted yet still melodic roar after the mold of Metallica’s “Battery”, and similarly launching into high octane thrashing territory at about a third of the way in and riding the wave all the way to the permafrost steeped shores. Additional offerings that follow a comparable path of swift and aggressive fury include the riveting crusher “The Paradox” and “The Abstract Enthroned”, each merging sorrowful yet consonant melodic motives into a frenetic package reminiscent of vocalist Tomas Lindberg’s brief stint in The Crown.

Naturally as hinted earlier, this is not an album that lives by swift death thrashing madness alone, and along for the ride are some interesting interludes into atmospheric territory. The comparatively short title offering “The Nightmare Of Being” takes on a gloomier, more Gothic-tinged approach, and otherwise primal shouter Lindberg eases off to a more haunting low tone spiel to further accentuate the song’s melancholy ballad-like character. The generally mid-paced and groovy “Garden Of Cyrus” takes on a curiously jazzy twist with some tasteful saxophone interjection into a generally bleak and cold metallic crawl. The quasi-symphonic mini-epic “The Fall Into Time” is arguably the most atypical offering of the bunch, having something of a Middle Eastern tinge to it at times and otherwise wandering through a semi-progressive array of contrasting sections, including an extended instrumental jam session where bassist Jonas Bjorler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson really step up and break the typical mold of a traditional melodeath arrangement.

Those who took to the more melodically accessible and streamlined approach that became this band’s staple during the mid-90s and upon their 2010 reunion will definitely find another worthy successor to the At The Gates legacy here. Despite decades of punishing his vocal chords on the road during subsequent efforts with such noted acts as Nigthrage, The Crown and Lock Up, front man Tomas Lindberg is still able to belt out those hair-raising barks with the best of them, while the corresponding instrumental performance by all involved is without any slouches. The right blend of smooth melodic transition with an occasional technical edge permeates every moment of this LP, and while both guitarist Martin Larsson and Jonas Stalhammar turn in solid performances, the guest guitar solo by King Diamond axe man Andy LaRocque on “Spectre Of Extinction” ends up stealing the show. This is a slight cut above 2018’s “To Drink From The Night Itself,” and an overall solid entry by a band that still has much to say after more than 30 years of existence.

Released By: Century Media Records
Released On: July 2nd, 2021
Genre: Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Jonas Björler / Bass
  • Adrian Erlandsson / Drums
  • Tomas Lindberg / Vocals
  • Martin Larsson / Guitars
  • Jonas Stålhammar / Guitars

“The Nightmare of Being” track listing:

  1. Spectre of Extinction
  2. The Paradox
  3. The Nightmare of Being
  4. Garden of Cyrus
  5. Touched by the White Hands of Death
  6. The Fall into Time
  7. Cult of Salvation
  8. The Abstract Enthroned
  9. Cosmic Pessimism
  10. Eternal Winter of Reason

8.4 Great

Continuing the rebirth of the vintage melodic death metal sound, the Gothenburg three’s most enigmatic adherent unleashes a tidal wave of woeful melodies and biting metallic anthems to recapture the heart of the mid-1990s.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8
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