Review Summary: At The Gate's most complex work to date.
This is, without a doubt At The Gates' best work before they started to simplify their music. This album features some of the most obtuse and unorthodox guitar work this side of technical death metal, and has a strong melancholic atmosphere throughout- an element that started to decay once they recorded Terminal Spirit Disease.
The production is rather peculiar, and is a sore point for many people. But personally, I really don't see what the big deal is. All the instruments are represented with utmost clarity, if not leaning a little bit towards the trebly side. In fact, the production is reminiscent of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas without the reverb and echoes, making for a much dryer and flat sound. It's actually quite convenient for musical analysis, since all the instruments sort of just 'float' at the top of the sonic spectrum. The guitars are pushed to the forefront, while the drums create a sort of crumbling ribcage to hold in the dualing axes. And I don't know if it's just me, but the bass guitar is pushed into EXACTLY the same aural niche as the bass drums, causing it to become extremely buried in the mix, which contributes to the two dimensional nature of the production. Furthermore, the cymbals and high hats are recorded rather softly causing the almost complete absence of a 'wall of sound'. However, when all is said and done, the production takes a backseat to the music, and is not of much concern.
The music is where this album shines. The riffs are constantly shifting and twisting themselves around like primordial goo, drawing large influences from tremelo picking in black metal and the more melodic aspects of pure death metal. The result is a strange but effective set of nihilistic subjective tracks that challenge you to interpret their meanings. One listening could induce impressions of destructiveness and despair, while another one could bring to mind a longing melancholic atmosphere. It should be said at this point that the reason for the 'classic' rating is because of the successful fusion of traditional black metal and death metal. At The Gates manage to bring together both the sentiments and techniques of each respective genre without muddling them together incoherently. The sense of despairing longing is still there, but is augmented by the sinister undertone of atonal destructiveness. Dissection did the same thing, but brought a much happier take with their inclusion of NWOBM riffs. Where they brought out musical sentiments to the forefront, At The Gates encrypts them in a barrage of schizophrenic overlapping riffs that could easily be the soundtrack to a Jungian nightmare.
Musicianship is a little bit sloppy however, as if the everybody in the band was trying to play beyond their abilities. Several guitar bloopers can be heard here and there, and the drums slip every once in a while, but again, the music overshadows this. It was only on the fifth or sixth listen that I detected the minor errors. The vocals are passionate and raw- making full use of the diaphragm and belting out tortured screams of a man being boiled alive. It's in the vein of Burzum, but much more practiced.
The album is rather inaccessible, but it has extreme value in the long run. Every repeated listen will grant you something fresh and new, and unlike many of the melodeath albums today that present you a set of processed emotions arranged neatly on a platter, The Red in the Sky is Ours gives you raw ones and challenges you to cook something up relevant to both to their music and your current state of mind. In short, while Slaughter of the Soul has it's short term merits and headbanging value, this album possesses a much more involving and cereberal qualities. Highly recommended for any metal fan.