For a record released so recently as 1995, Slaughter of the Soul
has gained quite some notoriety. At the Gates are often largely credited with being amongst the primogenitors of the Gothenburg style of melodic death metal, and as will always happen with such vaunted bands, one album will be picked on as their "best". With At the Gates, this dubious honour seems to have fallen to Slaughter of the Soul
, possibly because it was the last full release they made before breaking up, or maybe it is actually their finest work. I know some people rank Terminal Spirit Disease
above it, but I can't really comment there, since this is the only album of theirs I've heard.
The Gothenburg sound (named for where it originated from - Gothenburg, Sweden) is an odd style of death metal. Once you know what it is, it's easily distinguishable from other melodic death metal, but it's fairly difficult to describe to someone what the difference is. What strikes me most about it is that it seems, in At the Gates in particular, to have a lot of the sound of thrash, especially in the guitars - a lot of the riffs here are catchy, and the word which leaps to mind in describing them is "thrashy". At the same time though, the sound holds nothing too similar either real thrash or real melodic death; it sounds more "modern". A more cynical mind than mine might suggest it's a more accessible, even poppy, sound. In a way it is. Gothenburg-styled bands seem today to be the main gateway bands for fans of more mainstream muisc; the songs (riffs, particularly, as mentioned) are generally catchy, and the vocals not as off-puttingly harsh or brutal as the majority of death metal.
The vocals can range quite widely, from slightly less harsh death metal growling, to practically singing (In Flames). With At the Gates, Lindberg's vocals are a strength - the only word which adequately pins them down is "rabid". He constantly sounds as if he's about to burst an artery; even without knowing what he looks like, you imagine a stocky, probably bald, head and neck, with bulging arteries and muscles as he yells into the mic. The vocals are another area where Slaughter of the Soul
show a little bit of a more modern side; Lindberg occasionally borrows shouts of "Go!" and "Oh yeah!, more often associated with rock and roll, and definitely an oddity in death metal.
Now, this vague sound established, the record itself. Put simply, At the Gates tear it up. Every track (excluding Into the Dead Sky
, which is an acoustic interlude, and The Flames of the End
, which is an oddly conceived instrumental come-down) is roughly three minutes long and catchy, a blast of viciously precise drums, thrashing guitars and the aforementioned rabid vocals. It's neat, and surgically sharp, and cool ..and to be honest, over the span of ten tracks, it gets a bit boring. This isn't helped by the addition of six extra tracks on the reissue, though I'll keep that out of the rating, since it's nothing to do with the original album. Still, although most of the tracks are pretty good on their own, overall the whole thing is a little repetitive, and amounts to nothing particularly exciting.
I want to avoid using the word "overrated" here, because of the strong responses it can evoke. I'll just say that Slaughter of the Soul
amounts to a slightly disappointing, though solid, album, with something of an inflated reputation.
The opener is perhaps the "classic" recommendation, though the title track also has an immensely catchy riff to recommend it. Suicide Nation
has the ineffably cool sound of a racking shotgun starting it off, and coming off the back of the relaxed Into the Dead Sky
, it's a good song. Of the bonus tracks, Legion
and Bister Verklighet
At the Gates were:
Tomas Lindberg - vocals
Anders Bjorler - lead guitar
Martin Larsson - rhythm guitar
Jonas Bjorler - bass
Adrian Erlandsson - drums