At The Gates - At War with Reality (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

At The Gates

At War with Reality (2014)

Century Media

Whether either band likes it or not, the careers of At the Gates and their British colleagues in Carcass will always be connected. Both bands began their careers playing music much more brutal and less accessible than the melodic death metal they pioneered and ultimately became best known for. Both bands influenced an entire generation of heavy music, for better (Darkest Hour, The Black Dahlia Murder) and for worse (almost every modern metalcore band). Both bands spun off into more well known, but less essential groups (The Haunted and Arch Enemy, respectively.) Finally, and most importantly, both bands disappeared for nearly two decades, only to return with fantastic comeback albums. Much like Carcass' Surgical Steel last year, At The Gates' At War With Reality is a welcome return to glory days of early melodic death metal and a heavy album that feels vital in the here and now.

Carcass, however had the good fortune to be succeeding Swansong, a record that most extreme metal fans either simply don't care about or actively dislike. At the Gates are in a position of following up Slaughter of the Soul, the most revered melodic death metal album of all time. Expectations are impossibly high, but the Swedish veterans manage to come as close as humanly possible. The Spanish spoken word intro "El Altar Del Dios Desconocido" isn't exactly how one would expect an At The Gates album to open, but it does a good job of setting the mood. From there, things explode.

"Death and the Labyrinth" might not have a moment as special as that iconic "Go!" from "Slaughter of the Soul," but it proudly announces the group's return with a torrent of memorable riffs that make all of their imitators that have appeared in the 19 years since their last offering look like chumps. At a brisk two minutes and thirty-three seconds, it gets in, gets out and absolutely demolishes everything in its path. The title track and "The Circular Ruins" chug on in a similar fashion stylistically and are almost as great.

"Heros and Tombs" arrives just in time to stop the formula from getting stale. With its mid-tempo chugs and spoken work finale, it actually sounds a bit like Lamb of God, as backwards as that may seem. Having At The Gates back makes you really what a truly long shadow they cast on modern metal. Lead shouter Tomas Lindberg's voice has only grown grittier and uglier in the last two decades, thanks in no small part to his work with The Crown. The term "throat-shredding" is a cliche too often used to describe extreme metal vocals, but in his case it truly fits. The man sounds like a monster.

If there's one fault to be found in At War With Reality, it's that some of the tracks can tend to blur together. Taken on their own, each track is fantastic, and heads and shoulders above most modern melodeath, but taken at once, things can become a little samey. Thankfully there's a few deviations to keeps things interesting (doomy closer "The Night Eternal," most notably.) This record will never have the far-reaching influence that Slaughter of the Soul had (honestly, no extreme metal record probably ever will again,) but that doesn't make it any less of a headbanging and invisible orange-grasping good time.