Review Summary: Incendiary, innovative and idiosyncratic.
The story of At The Gates, their rapid rise to stardom and equally rapid dissipation seems to distract people from all but one of their releases. Sure, in a joint effort with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates absolutely revolutionised melodic death metal in 1995, but whether or not said revolution was a positive or a negative is still contested to this day. Indeed, the current incarnation of melodic death metal is so far removed from the roots of its parent genre that attempting to draw parallels beyond superficialities is futile. But while the aforesaid acts would continue to build upon the platforms they laid for themselves, At The Gates had apparently
recognised that their best years were already behind them. Most will point to Slaughter of The Soul
as the pinnacle of their career, but the reality is that At The Gates had peaked long before that record’s conception, because the pinnacle of their career is and always will be their debut, obscured but not forgotten, The Red in The Sky is Ours
Despite being one of the genre’s earliest exponents, The Red in The Sky is Ours
isn’t a great representation of the stylistic gulf between melodic death metal pre-and-post-1995. Compared to the debut full-lengths of the band’s Gothenburg contemporaries, At The Gates’ approach is infinitely more complex here, with technical flair, counterpoint and progressive song writing being prioritised equally alongside the melodic harmonies. Despite the contrasting philosophies of guitarists Anders Bjorler and Alf Svensson, the two had an undeniable chemistry, reflected in how many of the guitar lines feel melodically separate, yet locked together, rhythmically. “Within” and “Neverwhere”, being two of the longest and most unorthodox songs on the album, are perfect examples of the ingenuity brought forth by Svensson, ingenuity that would disappear with him following the band’s sophomore album. Both songs, despite consisting of a multitude of different compositional techniques, are completely and utterly fluid in execution, with each measure building upon the last and brimming with tension that threatens to erupt into an emotionally-charged cacophony.
Yet this never happens.
The level of self-awareness exhibited on The Red in The Sky is Ours
is an absolute rarity, as At The Gates persistently sculpt and revise their ideas, long after other bands would have succumbed to either repetition, or climactic indulgence. Ultimately, the key to this album’s potency is stress
, a willingness to push the emotive limits of a composition while having enough restraint to ensure that it doesn’t collapse under the weight placed upon it by its creators. As such, conditions need to optimised, and this starts with one of the most unfairly maligned aspects of this album – the production. Yes, the sound is trebly, but this allows every note, stroke and lyric to be absorbed with the utmost ease. At the same time, the absence of excessive and artificial reverberation, equalisation, quantisation or glossy finishing retains the expressive impact that is absent from later albums. At The Gates go one step further and not only preserve the minor imperfections and the timbres of their instruments, but deliberately implement methods of expression that are fundamentally flawed, but work in the grand scheme of things.
Tomas Lindberg’s vocal performance is defamed in a similar fashion to the production. Granted, it’s easy to understand why most listeners would gravitate towards his more textbook delivery on Slaughter of The Soul
, than the animalistic howls he boast on here. However, Lindberg’s performance on The Red in The Sky is Ours
is incontrovertibly his most affecting performance, whether it merits ire or admiration is irrelevant. The same philosophy can and has been applied to the sparse implementation of violin that shows up in tracks such as “The Season to Come”, “Through Gardens of Grief” as well as the abovementioned “Within” and “Neverwhere”. Certainly, Jesper Jarold is no master of his instrument, at least he wasn’t in 1992, but his technical inadequacies are usurped by the touch of human frailty brought forth by his deficient but charming recitals. Though an ostensibly minor inclusion, this sense of fragility compliments the already mournful tone of the album, and amplifies the power of compositions both individually, and as a collective whole.
If in the event of one having not heard The Red in The Sky is Ours
, take any and all preconceptions you have about At The Gates and erase them from your memory. I can’t promise you’ll love it, I can’t even promise you’ll enjoy it, but one thing I can promise is an experience unlike anything metal has to offer, let alone melodeath or even At The Gates themselves. The Red in The Sky is Ours
is met with hyperbole for a reason – it’s incendiary, innovative and idiosyncratic, but above all else, it’s absolutely brilliant.