Being a rock star isnít easy. Everything you do and everything you stand for will be noted, documented, and spread across the globe to millions of eager teenyboppers who will engage in eye-gouging free for alls in your name at the drop of a hat. Boys will emulate your every move, and theyíll have photographic evidence of you doing it thanks to the candid efforts of the lovable paparazzi. Then of course, thereís the touring. Hectic road trials and shows aside, you are forced to spend unprecedented amounts of time with your band mates, a time in which you realize whether or not you made the right choice in allies, more or less the same realization one would have after a few months of marriage. Well, Iíd imagine the now defunct Swedish group At the Gates didnít have to worry about half of this, as they werenít rock stars. They were Death Metal stars.
The most gaping difference between the two is that youíd be hard pressed to find a pre-teen who would sit through an entire song by a Death Metal outfit without running to the nearest church and diving head first into the nearest tank of holy water. While Death Metal stars donít have paparazzi or anything of that ilk to agonize over, they do have their own problems. The entire genre of Death Metal can be hard to take seriously, and it can be even more difficult to distinguish between acts. Originality is very scarce. Possibly the most unusual occurrence these groupsí will have to endure depends on where they live. For instance, in Norway church burnings are/were fairly common among the most devoted Death Metal miscreants, and who could forget Dead, the enchanting vocalist for the Black Metal group Mayhem, who killed himself with a shotgun. Equally unforgettable is Euronymous, his opportunistic band mate who harvested parts of Deadsí skull and made a necklace, who in turn was murdered by another band mate. Being a Death/Black metal star isnít easy. Anyway, At the Gates has been widely recognized as pioneers of the Gothenburg sound, melodic death metal. Indeed, 1995ís Slaughter of the Soul
is regarded as a classic of the highest order, and justifiably so.
What many fail to realize, however, is in the beginning, At the Gates were just as lowly as any other Swedish group, putting out rather mediocre songs, though well-constructed at the same time. 1992ís The Red in the Sky Is Ours
is a chief example of this. The songs donít contain the slightest bit of the melodic fretwork that would later catapult them into the pantheons of metal, but instead present sludgy, down-tuned riffage and shamefully obnoxious vocals. As a matter of fact, one could get a very good idea of what the album will be like after listening to just the first track, ďThe Red in the Sky Is Ours/The Season to Come". Following the death Metal blueprint word for word, the Bass level is kept to a minimum. Following said blueprint, the guitars overpower nearly everything, save for the horrendously annoying vocals, and the rather adequate drumming, which appears to be the one consistent feature throughout the entire album.
Many fans who have just purchased Slaughter of the Soul
might have high expectations for the rest of the groups albums. My advice to someone who holds such beliefs would be to borrow this album first, and make any further decisions from there. However, with most horrible albums, there is the odd redeeming song or two. ďWindows" contains fantastic keyboard harmonies as an introduction, and also happens to contain some of that elusive bit of melody mentioned earlier. The vocals, however, still maintain their ghastly presence, and insist on ruining whatever achievement the other members happen to obtain in any given song. As a matter of fact, Iím willing to bet that the vocals alone are what make this album so un-listenable.
Nevertheless, no matter how poor the singing is, the biggest problem for the album Iíve found roots down to one of these two things:
. The poor production. Given that the guitars and bass are tuned all the way
down to B to begin with, the second-rate production spawns a distinctly muddy sound, and creates one more excuse for throwing the album away. While not the worst to be heard on a professional recording, it does sound as if the album was recorded in a murky basement somewhere, and the drums exude the overall power of a toddler banging on a suitcase.
. The monotony, plain and simple. While intricate time signatures and arrangements may create overall more complex pieces of music, they also tend to produce far more tedious songs overall for you, the humble listener. If you combine this problem with everything else that bodes ill with the album, youíve got yourself a fairly traumatic listen; an endeavor of epic proportions.
While it is undeniable that At the Gates are legends in their time, they certainly didnít star out that way. Should you desire a piece of the puzzle that later turned into myth, a formal recommendation on my behalf is extended. To the rest of you, might I suggest you delve into a different death metal album, and save yourself the sheer disappointment youíll find with this, the first of four At the Gates releases. Yes, the music industry is tough, and nobody said the path to being a metal star would be an easy one.
Might I Recommend?
City of Screaming Statues
This review is dedicated to Euronymous, for being cool enough to make a skull necklace.