Let’s get heavy. Swedish death metal is a genre I hear about and has been HEAVILY praised, but for whatever reason I haven’t checked out all that much. Metal isn’t my go-to genre, although I love the likes of Lamb of God, Machine Head, and Gojira, so really I have no excuse. The seventh album from At the Gates, having broken up in the late 90s for a decade or so, promises blistering riffs, heavy vocals and hopefully a groove or two. I’m pretty excited for this one because I’m listening with virgin ears – let’s get to it.
The album opener, ‘Spectre of Existence’, starts with a fantastic acoustic guitar riff which is then built perfectly with distorted electric guitar and some epic drums. It sounds like a mixture of early Metallica album openers (‘Battery’ being the prime example) and an Opeth song. We continue to be slapped with more insane riffs as it drops back down momentarily only to build into a massive thrash/death/black (it’s fast, okay, they all seem similar) riff. The verse is slower and a tad groovy until Tomas Lindberg’s hardcore style harsh vocals come in, giving the song even more heaviness. It takes a while to get into it but I am a fan. The chorus is still just as heavy as anything else but damn if it isn’t pretty catchy too! A short bridge leads to a pretty decent, technical and sometimes harmonised solo – my favourite thing about the track so far. It then heads into another verse and chorus to close it out. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, I feel I could get into this genre at least a little!
Another pre-release song, ‘The Paradox’, is up next. It teases another soft start with slow piano notes before the drums rip the band into a crazy fast riff that denies any thoughts of softness. It definitely channels a similar energy as the previous song, something that I feel I’ll be saying a lot in this review. The chorus is more enjoyable this time though, actually getting stuck in my head a little! Between that, the subtle acoustic guitar that adds so much to the dynamics of the sound, and another awesome guitar solo, this makes the playlist for me!
The album’s title track, ‘The Nightmare of Being’, starts off slow with a cleaner guitar riff that sounds reminiscent of Slayer’s ‘Seasons in the Abyss’. The vocals kick in and the lower, spoken vocals remind me more of Parkway Drive’s later stuff – although I know that they probably got the style from this band. It gets a little harsher and heavier at times but it always drops back down to the simpler riff, alternating between harsh and spoken word vocals. It leads to an odd feeling arrangement but keeps things interesting, at least. It builds up after the second chorus into what feels like a heavy drop, but then it heads back to the clean riff for a solo. I like the song, especially the diversity of different vocal styles, but it seems a little too all over the place for me.
‘Garden of Cyrus’ starts with another slow riff; it builds pretty nicely with riff after riff of “death metal goodness” which is now the official term. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realise this was going to be a mostly instrumental track; it wasn’t until the utterly SWEET horns came in near the middle that I noticed how long into the track I was. Speaking of the horns though, oh my god, why does it fit so well? They’re sexy horns too, like something out of ‘Careless Whisper’ and it is the highlight of the album by far. We get some spoken word after the horns but it isn’t long before they’re back again and sound even better behind some vocals, giving everything a massive, epic feel to it. The vocals get a little heavier and screamy afterwards, but it all stays pretty plodding and not too heavy which was a nice change of pace. It’s my favourite song on the album and again makes the playlist!
We get more non-conventional instrumentation to open ‘Touched by the White Hands of Death’ and, honestly, it is another highlight on the album for me. Orchestral instruments make me weak at the knees and almost every track on this album features a sick instrumental interlude or intro. The rest of this song is the usual death metal schtick but this intro was amazing.
The final single from the album, ‘Fall into Time’, opens on a riff similar to ‘Garden of Cyrus’ and again the epic orchestral instrumentation was back to slow-build this track perfectly. It almost feels like if Lewis Carrol scored for movies – that’s how epic some of this feels. Again, more death metal stuff afterwards but I’d be happy to just listen to the first two minutes on repeat. The drop-down section in the middle was pretty cool too with a lot of focus on the awesome bass riff and drums for a while before a guitar solo comes in over the top. It sounds very Metallica-esque in a good way.
Unfortunately, much of the final four songs are straight-up death metal songs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when it was done so well on the opening couple of tracks, it is hard to top. It’s a shame too because there are some good riffs spread between them, I’ve just gotten my fill of the band six songs in for now. The only thing a little different, at least for the first half, is ‘Cosmic Pessimism’. The riff is great and almost feels like something John Frusciante would come up with for a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. The song picks back up halfway through and doesn’t look back, turning into a proper death metal song instead of a quirky little basic song thrown in to shake things up towards the end of the album. The first half of the song is definitely my favourite.
Overall: This is another album that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. I knew I’d love the music and appreciate the vocals, but I was starting to get into it by the end. And, of course, I cannot gush over the orchestral parts enough. This was a damn good album and one that has prompted me to want to look further into the band and genre as a whole
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