At the Gates, ‘At War With Reality’ – Album Review
At the Gates served as one of Sweden’s finest melodic death metal exports in the 1990s as the band evolved with every release, ultimately leading up to their landmark effort ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ in 1995. The album was a massive departure from the sound heard on ‘The Red in the Sky Is Ours’ just three years prior, but was a game-changer that influenced the entire modern metalcore genre.Nearly 20 years after etching their mark in stone, At the Gates are back with ‘At War With Reality.’ When the band reunited, they maintained that there would be no new album, but the yearning proved to be too much and the fans get to reap the benefits.
After a brief spoken word introduction, the Swedes get down to business with ‘Death and the Labyrinth’ as the first riff is instantly recognizable as uniquely At the Gates. Parallels can easily be drawn between this pummeling opener and the title track off the ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ EP.
‘At War With Reality’ is a concept album, which is stitched together by darker underlying rhythms to offer a counterpoint to the band’s infectious melodic leads. Axemen Anders Björler and Martin Larsson conjure up some unforgettable melodies in ‘Conspiracy of the Blind’ ‘The Book of Sand (The Abomination)' and closing track ‘The Night Eternal.’
Melody is just half of the equation on this comeback album as heavy doses of stomping rhythms provide the more aggressive aspect. The title track’s chorus is the first example we get of the band’s fine sense of groove that has been present since their first EP, ‘Gardens of Grief,’ albeit not as doom-laden.
Vocalist Tomas Lindberg is top form, spewing forth his squawking growl and putting yet another signature stamp on the band’s brand. The frontman brings a certain ferocity to the music that is only topped in the live experience as he frantically paces around the stage. The lyrics are intelligible to the trained extreme metal ear, making it easier for fans to piece the concept together.
The production is bright and bombastic, with a booming bass sound complimentary of Anders’ twin brother Jonas. The thundering low end retains the heaviest parts of the At the Gates sound while the guitars harmonize melodic leads, proving this album is a full band effort with each member playing an integral part.
‘At War With Reality’ manages to offer a bit of a career retrospective, with diehard fans being able to point out the subtleties that link back to earlier offerings like the aforementioned ‘The Red in the Sky Is Ours’ and the sophomore release ‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness.’ At the Gates blend it all together and offer up a new twist on their sound and an album that will certainly appear on countless year end lists.