There are many metal bands who time forgot, bands that deserved to go onto greater things but fell at the critical last hurdle. Gates of Ishtar were formed in 1992, when the new wave of melodic death metal from Sweden was just starting to really kick off. While compatriots Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates were into playing nasty, visceral death metal with plentiful leads on the guitar, Gates of Ishtar were leaning far more towards the black metal side of things and to good effect. Their transition from lumpy outcasts to a decent melo-death band never really took shape until their 1998 grand opus “At Dusk and Forever”, which combined shrieks akin to Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates with the early, frantic lead guitar work of Dark Tranquillity to great effect.
“At Dusk and Forever” as a whole is certainly up there with the most aggressive melo-death albums released, but it doesn’t come with the usual clean cast production akin to fellow genre sharers. There is a real grittiness in the 30 odd minutes of playing time that is somewhat refreshing, although it can lead to several frustrations as well. The barrage of the drums means that the howls of vocalist Mikael Sandorf are pretty well much lost in the confusion, the very well played melodic leads overpower absolutely everything and the bass may as well not exist.
Thankfully, the overall quality of the album means that these faults, albeit somewhat major ones can be ignored. What we have here with Gates of Ishtar’s final album is a very good entry into the genre of melodic death metal. There are no sightings of keyboards, no venturing off into prog territory, no symphonics, just melodic death metal the way all the great albums have been. And once you overcome the barriers to the vocals, the lyrical content is actually rather good albeit in classic death metal territory. Opener “Wounds” hits you right in the face, the barrage of lead guitar and drums with the gritty production giving it an extra edge reminiscent of the more extreme end of At the Gates. Sure, all the songs start out pretty similar but most thankfully build upon the formula and add little touches here and there, from bursts on the double bass to sustained growls, but the middle of the album is the place to be. “Battles to Come” is easily the best on the album, continuing all the way at a frantic pace due to a stellar performance from stickman Oskar Karlsson and fantastic, Viking inspired leads akin to Amon Amarth’s earliest work.
What Gates of Ishtar achieved with their final album “At Dusk and Forever” was a mix of their first two albums, but combined them in such a way that it was far superior to either of their previous works. Stellar guitar playing, gritty production more akin to black metal than death metal and pounding drums all come together in the mixing pot to provide one of the more extreme, and consistent offerings in the genre. It’s short, sweet and sharp, and should be considered a must for fans of At the Gates, early Dark Tranquillity and melodic death metal in general.
2. At Dusk and Forever
3. Battles to Come
4. Never Alone