Album of the Week 44-2014: At The Gates – At War With Reality


Comeback albums are always something of a risky breed. If you stick too close to your original formula, critics will scold your lack of originality and doubt the purpose of your reunion, but trying something new will alienate your fanbase. At The Gates has found the magical middle ground by picking up where they left things about two decades ago. All the more remarkable is the fact that ‘At War With Reality’ even got recorded after the assertion that the 2007 reunion tour would be the final chapter to the story of the Swedish melodic Death Metal pioneers. This fantastic album definitely justifies the decision to continue though.

At The Gates fans have always been split up into two camps. There’s the fans of the more streamlined approach of the massively influential ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ album and there are those that prefer their darker, more complex, but also uncharacteristically sloppy earlier work. Despite the presence of more ominous material such as ‘Order From Chaos’ and ‘Heroes And Tombs’, ‘At War With Reality’ is more likely to please the former crowd. The songs are relatively concise, most of them only slightly past the three minute mark and built upon their oft-imitated, but never quite equalled formula of Thrashy Melodeath riffs and Tomas Lindberg’s anguished howl.

Somehow, it’s a little tragic that none of the imitators has improved upon the At The Gates formula, but it’s amazing to hear the true masters at work here. And they’re still as energetic as they were the first time around. That makes sense, because the band members were really young when the band first split up. Also, they have all been active ever since. That combination of somewhat youthful energy and experienced musicianship makes this album both musically satisfying and well…headbangable. A revelation in a time when most Death Metal bands are usually just either one of those.

With yours truly being somewhat of a Thrash fanatic, my favorites are generally the Thrashy riff monsters like ‘Upon Pillars Of Dust’, ‘The Circular Ruins’, ‘Eater Of Gods’ (that one has a surprisingly atmospheric second half though) and the supreme aggression of ‘The Book Of Sand (The Abomination)’. However, the band also excels at the more atmospheric experiments, most notably on closing track ‘The Night Eternal’ and the moving, dramatic ‘The Head Of The Hydra’. And the main riff to ‘The Conspiracy Of The Blind’ is so warmly reminiscent of ‘Suicide Nation’ that it’s a guaranteed classic.

In the end, I can only wonder where Anders Björler has been hiding all of these fantastic riffs all these years. He certainly didn’t use anything similar for The Haunted. Combined with an explosive mix, ‘At War With Reality’ is one of the best melodic Death Metal albums in a long time. It just may be a little awkward for every band that had been unsuccessfully trying to copy the At The Gates formula after their dissolution that these guys are still better. A lot better. And Tomas Lindberg’s desperate scream is still better than any grunter in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Book Of Sand (The Abomination)’, ‘The Conspiracy Of The Blind’, ‘The Circular Ruins’

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