Review Summary: Released after a mere four months of the band playing together, 'Gardens of Grief' is both a vital introduction to the band's career and a sign of truly great things to come.
'Gardens of Grief' isn't just a four-song EP. It is the beginning to the career of one of the most widely hailed melodic Death Metal acts of all time, and also a shining example of that band's talent throughout the Grunge-dominated 90's. Of course, any of you reading this review will know that this band is definitively At the Gates-a band that, not without the everlasting success of their stunningly talented effort 'Slaughter of the Soul', released their first EP after just four months of practising music together.
Unfortunately, At the Gates' earlier work, especially 'Gardens of Grief, is often overlooked by those who were introduced via 'Slaughter of the Soul' or even 'Terminal Spirit Disease'. So just why is it that significant to the band's career, apart from being their first actual release? Musically, it naturally doesn't differ that much from the band's debút album 'The Red in the Sky is ours', itself serving as a widened divide between fans of the band, as to whether it really is good or not. However, lyrically, At the Gates couldn't be further from the stereotypical features that recur within the genre of melodic Death Metal itself. As opposed to suffering, misery and torture of all kinds possible, everything seems to be in touch with the human soul and mindset. The content still refers back to every bit of darkness, death and destruction that can be found, but here At the Gates excel in giving off truly insightful meaning with their lyrics alone. Here's a few examples:
floating away within dreams/from a thousand worlds/my soul has left the spheres of man/ for all time... (from the opening track 'Souls of the Evil departed').
It is cold out here/and lonely is my journey/I walk the trail of broken souls/the darkest path through infinity ...(from the band's self titled track, 'At the Gates').
I could go on in analysing how brilliantly written these lyrics are, but this is a music review. I mentioned earlier how the music isn't that dissimilar to the band's debút album, but that doesn't mean to say the band don't have their outstanding moments. 'Souls of the Evil departed' starts very melancholic indeed, with a briefly dull tone in the background, and then hits the listener predictably enough with its scything guitar work against a horribly raw production. I say 'horribly' raw, because it just doesn't do the guitar work justice. This leads to another slight problem with 'Gardens of Grief': The vocals themselves. Of course, Lindberg's vocals would become much more refined on later releases by the band, namely the 'Terminal Spirit Disease' album and so on, but on the band's earlier work, they don't prove to have much of an effect. It's a shame because, notwithstanding the fact that the band had barely played together for longer than four months upon the release of this EP, the lyrical content is extremely well thought out(as mentioned before).
However, what is also outstandingly good is the band's actual performance, regarding in particular the extremely well executed guitar work. Both Björler and Svensson rip and tear their way through every one of 'Gardens of Grief''s songs, making each and every one also stand out. On the band's self titled anthem 'At the Gates', itself developing a uniquely mysterious and epic sound with every passing second, the twin guitar leads prove to be a musical success, even at times embracing a slight influence of the second wave of Black Metal into its sound. It isn't just the guitars that stand out however, but also the drum work, which have one hell of a vitally important presence within At the Gates' sound. Yes, Erlandsson is well renowned for his excitingly and staggeringly technical drum work, but since At the Gates was his second band proper, it proves to be yet another highlight for 'Gardens of Grief'.
You may have heard the band's most successful effort 'Slaughter of the Soul'. You may have been introduced to their talent via 'Terminal Spirit Disease'. You may even have listened to everyone of their studio albums, including the well structured 'The Red in the Sky is ours' and equally as menacing 'With Fear I kiss the burning Darkness', but if you haven't so much as listened to 'Gardens as Grief', you will be missing out on a lot-because, whether you disagree with the following statement or not, 'Gardens of Grief' is a prime example of just how incredible At the Gates were to become.