For a person who so adamantly claims to hate compilation albums, I sure as hell own a lot of them. However, unlike most of them, I hold this one very near to my heart, as it is the first album I heard from the Swedish metal band At the Gates, and therefore the album that catapulted me into the glorious and boisterous world of death metal. I was fairly new to music when I first stumbled across this album via the cool guitarist in my neighborhood who everyone so actively envied (every neighborhood has one), and at the time, should you have asked me the heaviest band I knew, I probably would have retorted something along the lines of Mudvayne. Then came this beast. In one listen, it changed how I thought about music, how I wrote riffs, and even how I pictured Hell. Now, I had heard death metal before. But nothing so deeply affected my views as this. The secret?
It’s an ordinary word, and it’s called innovation.
Innovation isn’t easy to create, and perhaps better than most, At the Gates are aware of this. After pressing the play button, the first thing you hear is the dull and overall pitiful
song “The Red in The Sky Is Ours". This track alone is enough to make the average listener turn off the music and lock it somewhere secure and isolated. However, should you remain steadfast, or just press the “skip" button, eventually you will be rewarded. They say the key to success in the music industry is to never give up and keep making music, and At the Gates, with a song in their hearts, took this difficult route, and came back with “Kingdom Gone". While far more listenable than the previous track, this song still offers nothing new, and continues delivering simply awful vocals. The guitars are sludgy, and it all sounds like an indecipherable mess.
So, where’s the innovation then? Well, the first sign of clearer waters is the third track “Windows". While the vocals are still poor and the guitars are still sludgy, the group began inserting snippets of melody into their work; namely the chorus and intro. The drums start staking out their own territory as well, showing that when needed, a nice drum fill never goes unaccounted for. Slowly but surely, little by little, the songs were getting progressively better. “Ever-Opening Flower" wasn’t a gem by any means, but in the right mind frame could be a fun little metal tune, while it’s follow-up, “The Architects", provides the first all- around solid track on the album. And now that the gates of oblivion (or songwriting, can’t tell which) have been opened, At the Gates intended on blasting through.
“Raped By the Light of Christ" is a surprisingly fragile tune at first (seriously), beginning with a lone acoustic guitar before unleashing all hell upon the unsuspecting listener. Melody and brutality run rampant in this song, and hand in hand, would dominate the rest of the album. It is also noteworthy that Tomas Lindeberg (Vocals) apparently decided to try screaming well; as opposed to just vomiting everywhere and recording it. With all this experimentation floating about, who could resist the call of writing an epic, seven minute long death metal tune? Certainly not At the Gates, and they deliver the amazingly listenable and well-constructed “Primal Breath". There’s a distinct dark undertone to the song, a trait which would follow the band all the way up until 1995’s ‘Slaughter of the Soul’.
As the vaguely hardcore “Blood of the Sunsets" makes its exit, a first time At the Gates listener may think they have heard enough. My advice to such a fellow would be to sit down, shut up, and keep listening. Why? Because the rest of the album is simply amazing. Not a single bad track resides in the latter half of the album, and it contains some of the most vibrant, original, and unfortunately now-clichéd songwriting in death metal history. “The Burning Darkness", despite its short length, is a prime example of this. Guitar harmonies run unabated, and superb vocals and drumming permeate throughout. The band, realizing they’ve found something here, build upon this formula, and present “The Swarm". For a track that starts off with violins and cellos, it fades remarkably quickly into a superiorly heavy and harmonious tune. Anders Bjorler also demonstrates how accomplished of a lead guitarist he is, throwing down a fantastic classical-like solo.
After hearing such melodic sounds, one might be inclined to wonder what the hell happened to change the course of the bands’ sound. Tomas Lindeberg attributes it in part to magic mushrooms. A more persistent theory is that Anders Bjorler and his twin brother Jonas took over the main songwriting spot. Evidence for this theory can be found in the track “Terminal Spirit Disease", which contains all of the melodic and brutal fun that the second half of the album has offered so far, but improved upon. Anders throws down another spine-tingling solo, and for the first time (and perhaps the last), the drums actually stand out more than the vocals. After faltering slightly but still maintaining balance on the somewhat rehashed “Forever Blind", At the Gates present arguably the finest song from their 1994 album, ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’, entitled "The Beautiful Wound". Again, fantastic guitar playing coincides with immense drumming, and Lindeberg contributes lyrics worthy of serious contemplation.
“Drowning in love, by bitterness warped,
we sleep in different nights. Ugly and drugged
rotten to the core, and I just can’t let this die."
Surprisingly, only two tracks of this “Greatest Hits" cd is devoted to what is often considered the groups magnum opus; the critically acclaimed and damn-near perfect ‘Slaughter of the Soul’. While this may be disappointing, I think it’s actually a good thing. Two tracks from 'Slaughter of the Soul' are the most you could possibly put on a greatest hits album without having to throw the rest of it on as well. Still, the two songs do represent the album well, and provide a fitting closure to the album. “Blinded by Fear" is arguably the best-known song by the band, and not without good reason. A simple, heavy guitar riff combined with excellent vocals has long been the key to success in the metal game. The closing song, “Slaughter of the Soul", contains heavy, light-speed riffing and some smooth drum fills as well. This is the melodic death metal formula perfected, the nirvana for the Gothenburg fan.
Interestingly, the album contains two music videos that are playable on computer. The tracks are “Blinded by Fear" and “The Burning Darkness".
While the first portion of the album was less than stellar, the album gradually got better until it reached near-perfection. Fittingly enough, Lindebergs’ vocals followed a very similar path, and it was only after he had finally reached this heightened state that At the Gates broke up. This album, which was released post-humously, is by no means the best the band has to offer. But it does it's job, and does it well.
Great guitar playing.
Vocals get better as album goes on.
Second half of album is near perfect.
Contains decent music videos for the tracks “Blinded by Fear" and “The Burning Darkness".
First portion of album is dull.
The bass is almost non-existent
Last At the Gates release.