Review: “The Nightmare Of Being” by At The Gates

Seen as forefathers of the Metalcore scene that exploded in the wake of Nu-Metal in 2003 with the creation of what has become known as the Gothenburg sound alongside In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates set the standard with 1995’s “Slaughter Of The Soul“. Not only a benchmark for the band themselves, but also for the entire Metal scene and the Swedish Melodic Death Metal titans continue to lead the charge some 26 years later with a concept album that deplores the dark revelations contained in pessimist philosophy, “The Nightmare Of Being“. In the build up to the release of the album, vocalist Tomas Lindberg Redant spoke of the influence of the works of Thomas Ligotti, who writes both horror as well as in the vein of Lovecraft…

…”Spectre of Extinction” and “The Paradox” start the album in thunderous fashion with Adrian Erlandsson’s drums sounding huge and Jonas StÃ¥lhammar adding some tight leads while Andy LaRocque (Death, King Diamond) returns for a solo on the opener. It’s as if the band haven’t been away and the blistering fretwork is a headbangers delight; but lets not forget that the Tomas Lindberg Redant spoke of the winds of change in the build up to the release and that is very evident as the album plays out, this was never going to be a straight up Melodic Death Metal record, despite the talk of being darker. Instead it is one like an intelligently written horror film with a seemingly infinite number of plot twists. The title track offers a narrated harsh spoken word over more melodic riffs before offering up a huge crescendo of a breakdown section to finish like a tidal wave engulfing all in its path. Moving further left field “Garden of Cyrus” then the offers a darkly Progressive Metal cut with a saxophone passage replacing the solo and giving the whole thing an almost bluesy jazz like quality, the last thing you’d expect from an At The Gates record but it works thanks to a really odd and sinister arrangement. They had a violin on their debut album 30 years ago, so why not? The drum sessions were overseen by esteemed studio guru Jens Bogren (Sepultura, Arch Enemy) and that attention to detail shows, as it does with the guitar and bass work overseen by the aforementioned Andy LaRocque; this is At The Gates with complete and utter freedom to be creative and do as they wish without restraint.

Then as the plot twists yet further, both “Touched by the White Hands of Death” and “The Fall into Time” offer epic grandeur of the cinematic variety for extended introductions before changing direction, the first being surprisingly Iron Maiden like in its approach, the later going off in a 70’s Jazz Progressive Rock direction for moments that they have somehow managed to craft into their Melodic Death Metal roots. Seething vocals over a full orchestra seems like it should be a jarring experience but the bravely pays off. As a result, the album as a whole is a poison chalice over flowing with ideas painted in blood, so of which work incredibly well and some of which leave you questioning exactly what you’ve just heard, almost to the point of being an avant garde release. “Cult of Salvation” ends up as one of the stand outs thanks to some uneasy icy piano parts, the perfect soundscape to a psychological horror film, the best of the newer style work. Proving they are not done with the heavier material “The Abstract Enthroned” leaps back to the opening pair of cuts stylistically, just as you’re wondering how far At The Gates will push themselves here. It still has some orchestral work and a couple of really interesting vocal layer parts, but for the most part it’s a full on guitar attack that will keep the headbangers happy. A collaboration with American author and pessimist philosopher Eugene Thacker “Cosmic Pessimism” gives the band a spoken word to which they accompany some riffs that belong in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Perhaps a play on the unsettling conceptual part of the album, one last throw of the dice before the band cut back to the rampaging “Eternal Winter of Reason“; it is clear that At The Gates wish to transcend what they have been known for and they do so with a strange beauty here [7.5/10]

Track listing

1. Spectre of Extinction (4:49)
2. The Paradox (4:43)
3. The Nightmare of Being (3:49)
4. Garden of Cyrus (4:25)
5. Touched by the White Hands of Death (4:07)
6. The Fall into Time (6:45)
7. Cult of Salvation (4:24)
8. The Abstract Enthroned (4:26)
9. Cosmic Pessimism (4:31)
10. Eternal Winter of Reason (3:38)

The Nightmare Of Being” by At The Gates is out 2nd July via Century Media

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