Undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated records of 2014 is At War With Reality (October 28 via Century Media) from Swedish melodic death metal originators, AT THE GATES. It’s been 19 years since we last received a studio album from this legendary band. Yours truly was ecstatic seeing them at this year’s Maryland Deathfest, and I’ve been chomping at the bit to hear this LP ever since it was announced. To those concerned this may not live up to the material of years past, I can tell those fans to rest assured: At War With Reality brings it!
The album opens with a spoken word track titled “El Altar Del Dios Desconocido” which focuses on the idea that a God is non-existent. Following that, the music begins with “Death and the Labyrinth.” This was the first video track debuted by the band. Out of the gate the song is fast and relentless. Without question, the signature AT THE GATES sound is alive and very well. The number progresses to a more slow tempo and groove focus until the finish. Where “Death and the Labyrinth” abruptly ends, the LP’s title track blasts forward yet again. “At War With Reality” is filled with down tuned, distorted guitars laced with evil and melancholic sounding harmonies. It features the first taste of great guitar solos on the record. Tomas Lindberg’s voice sounds as tortured and demented as ever.
“The Circular Ruins” is one of the longer tracks, clocking in at 4:28. It has a very thrash attitude for the first half; with pounding drums, buzz sawing guitar riffs, and a fantastic solo. After that, the composition shifts to a more melodic focus and the tempo slows. It provides a sloped landscape that is an intense listening experience. “Heroes and Tombs” follows with a classic ATG clean toned guitar part for an intro. You know, the parts that sound crystal clear yet undeniably dark and sinister? Yeah, that. Soon after, the entire band kicks in and Lindberg delivers a brief spoken word part before his signature scream tears through. The musical layers created by Anders Björler and Martin Larsson’s guitars, and Jonas Björler’s bass guitar on the entire album are excellent as always. But they stand out most on this song. There are varying emotions and tones throughout, which make this one of my new favorite ATG tracks. “The Conspiracy of the Blind” has a very Slaughter of the Soul feel to it, without sounding like it’s a B-side or regurgitated version of an old song. It just has that similar raw power, aggression, and groove. One of my favorite moments on the LP occurs at 2:02. The mix drops to one guitar, with the band interjecting for a short burst, back to one guitar to build even further before all hell breaks loose, leading to a superb outro solo.
“Order From Chaos” is a somber composition. It fades in, as well as fades out. What you get in the middle is a slower, painful, gloom-filled opus; something not entirely foreign to AT THE GATES, but certainly feels like newer territory for them. “The Book of Sand (The Abomination)” builds to an epic display of technical melodic death metal. Perhaps the greatest attribute for the quintet is their ability to craft harmonies, and that ability is in full force on this noteworthy track. “The Head of the Hydra” is a speedy, circle pit inducing track. The traditional Gothenburg sound is captured perfectly with this number. The instrumental “City of Mirrors” offers a brief reprieve from the ass kicking in the album. It begins with clean toned guitars, giving way to dual distorted guitars playing a beautiful harmony, before returning to the calming clean sounds. As expected, an ass kicking track has to follow, right? RIGHT!
“Eater of Gods” delivers a crushing blow with Adrian Erlandsson’s frantic, yet precise, drumming. The band sounds larger than life with on this track, reminiscent of their early years (specifically the With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness-era). “Upon Pillars of Dust” continues the attack, providing some of the heaviest riffs found on the record. Short, straightforward, and merciless; just as their brand of death metal should be. Closing this opus is “The Night Eternal,” nothing short of a dark epic. The song feels new and fresh, like most of the disc, but this track has a bit of a black metal tint to it. The riffs sound cold and grim. Paired with Tomas’ screams, it is an audio blizzard weighing down upon you. Later, melodies are in full force, bringing some of the greatest solo work on the LP. This reminds you that after all these years they are still juggernauts.
19 years later, and At War With Reality was worth waiting every second. Yes, I am telling you flat-out it lives up to the hype! It is worth buying on release day and I am anxiously looking forward to catching them on the Decibel Magazine Tour in 2015. You should be too. These songs are going to absolutely lay every city on the tour to waste.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM
WELCOME BACK, ERIC THE BULL!!