Few bands have the kind of legacy At The Gates managed to create in their relatively brief run in the 90s. That one album has had such an impact on modern metal is nothing short of amazing. But legacies can be double-edged. There’ll be many who say new album At War With Reality (Century Media) is the album of the year solely because it’s At The Gates, and they’ll be just as many saying it’s failure because it’s not an exact replica of their seminal 1995 record Slaughter of the Soul (Earache).
For the few who have actually waited to listen before they pass judgement, At War With Reality is a genuinely worthwhile listen and worth the 19 year wait. It still sounds like At The Gates, not the razor-focused Slayer-worship of Slaughter of the Soul, although those moments are still present, but an all-encompassing At The Gates that draws from the band’s entire back catalogue.
The riffs are still there; the guitar work of Anders Björler & Martin Larsson is as fast, furious and intricate as ever. The title track, ‘Death and the Labyrinth,’ and ‘The Conspiracy of the Blind’ all recall the band’s thrash-fuelled energy of Slaughter. Tomas Lindberg’s vocals are still savage, but they’ve aged into a deeper, more pained howl. But as well as the speed and the aggression, the album has its fair share of slower moments and dark atmospherics that recall earlier albums such as Terminal Spirit Disease or 1993’s With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness (both Peaceville).
The crisp production just adds extra weight to those crunching yet addictive guitar lines. The slow burning ‘Order from Chaos’ and ‘Heroes and Tombs,’ both brood over irresistibly catchy guitar lines, while the epic ‘Book of Sand (The Abomination)’ mixes relentless aggression with squealing melodic solos and breakdowns. While fans of ATG or melo-death will feel at home straight away, there are few dull or predictable moments.
The return of Carcass last year showed reunion albums didn’t have to hackneyed rehashes, and history has repeated itself in the best way possible. At The Gates have shown the world that they’re still the most powerful force in melodic death metal. At War With Reality does more than just prop up the band’s legacy, it enhances it.