Kids, this is how it’s done! Any melodic death metal band that has come out in the last ten plus years should take notes on how this record was written and executed. When most of us heard that At The Gates would finally be releasing the follow up to their 1995 benchmark album, Slaughter Of The Soul, we were all probably both very excited and a bit concerned. To follow up an album like that would be a daunting task for anyone, especially a band that has not recorded together in two decades. Thankfully, we can all put our worries to rest. Even after an almost twenty year recording hiatus, At The Gates was able to pick up right where they left off without a hitch. At War With Reality is a truly superior melodic death metal album.
The first half of the record can come off as seeming a bit tentative, almost like the band was getting their feet wet again. This is not a negative by any means. The first seven tracks are phenomenal in a way that only At The Gates can bring it but these particular songs may take multiple listens for you to fully absorb what the band is trying to accomplish. “Death and the Labyrinth” and the title track, “At War with Reality” are amongst the album’s best songs but some might not realize that right away. Really, this isn’t much different than the feeling I had when I first heard Slaughter Of The Soul back in the 90’s. I knew I was hearing something great and revolutionary but it took some time for all the musical greatness to fully wash over me.
The second half of the album is where things really hit their stride. In my head it seemed like producer, Fredrik Nordstrom, must have said something like, “Ok guys at this point I’m taking off the kid gloves and I’m strapping each of you with a bomb vest. Give me everything you have or I’m hitting the detonator.” This part of At War With Reality has everything; speed, great riffs, excellent guitar leads, superior vocals and catchy arrangements. It will be nearly impossible not to fall in love with tracks like “The Book of Sand (The Abomination)”, “The Head of the Hydra”, “Eater of Gods”, “Upon Pillars of Dust” and “The Night Eternal” upon your first listen. “The Book of Sand” provides the best solo on the album. The guitar harmonization from Anders Bjorler and Martin Larsson on “The Night Eternal” is nothing short of perfect. “Eater of Gods” could possibly be the best song on the record, while “Upon Pillars of Dust” feels like the track that most belongs on Slaughter Of The Soul.
At War With Reality is classic melodic death metal at its best and it definitely has a lot in common with the band’s 1995 magnum opus. However, there are some stark differences and some points where the band changes things up giving this album an identity all its own. Examples include the song “Heroes and Tombs” which has a very slight black metal feel to the music and thrashier tunes like “Death and the Labyrinth” and “Eater of Gods”. (Please do not send me comments berating me and telling me that “Heroes and Tombs” is not black metal. I understand that it is not but there are surely small influences of it in the music that you can hear if you know your stuff). Because of the addition of these elements, At War With Reality is probably At The Gates’ most complete and well rounded album to date.
I can point to a virtual plethora of things that make this one of the year’s best albums but the vocals of Tomas Lindberg are what really impressed me the most. He is almost twenty years older but he has not lost even one step. His singing is wonderfully harsh, raspy and comes in at a slightly higher pitch than most other melodic death metal vocalists. Lindberg brings rawness and originality to a metal genre that has become somewhat formulaic over the past few years.
What more can I say? At War With Reality just feels right. It serves as a staunch reminder that melodic death metal was once one of the most revolutionary forms of heavy metal. At The Gates didn’t overhaul their style like their fellow pioneers in In Flames. They didn’t stumble and they didn’t lose their identity. Instead they were able to improve upon what was already an amazing sound and legacy. If you are someone, like me, who has been patiently searching for a band willing to bring back the fundamentals of melodic death metal, make sure you get your hands on a copy of At War With Reality. This is the album that we have all been waiting for.
At War With Reality will be released on October 28, 2014 via Century Media Records. Take a listen when you get a chance and sound off with your opinion in our comments section.