Review Summary: Pessimistically adventurous, yet predictably familiar, The Nightmare of Being explores new territory without ever straying too far from the band's DNA.
Pioneers of Gothenburg's melodic death metal scene along with In Flames and Dark Tranquility, At the Gates left an indelible mark on mid-nineties melodeath sound, especially through their fourth full-length release, Slaughter of the Soul
, which would not only become a trademark of the genre, but also an influence for the newborn metalcore acts. While some may claim SotS to be the band's most one-dimensional work, its artistic relevance and historical impact are undeniable, making it a one-of-a-kind product of its time. This kind of legacy has a double-edged effect: if on the one hand it immortalizes the collective, on the other it becomes a heavy burden by which all their work is measured. Since their long-awaited studio comeback in 2014, At the Gates have constantly dealt with this comparison with the past, or more specifically, with their 1995’s output. The dilemma between present and yesteryear can to some extent be observed in At War with Reality
and To Drink from the Night Itself
, which despite their differences remain anchored in the formula developed twenty years ago. This bond, while natural, is something the band intends to shake up in their newest release: The Nightmare of Being
Inspired by philosophical pessimism, The Nightmare of Being
orbits existential questions from a dark Lovecraftian perspective. A rather interesting concept, I would say, not only for its intellectual component but also for its negative narrative that fits like a glove to an album that meant to be somber since its inception. The Nightmare of Being
is a creature born out of two main ideas, one being abstract and the other of an artistic nature, both aiming for a more progressive outcome. Songs such as 'Garden of Cyrus' or 'Cosmic Pessimism' are the ultimate embodiment of this audacious concept, venturing into uncharted territory. While the former delves into 70s progressive rock, the latter features an unexpected The Cure-ish gothic layer. The cinematic orchestration in 'Touched by the White Hands of Death' also incorporates this bolder approach while adding greater ambiance and grandeur to the music. The band's intent to spread its wings is palpable; there is a sense of purpose behind each song as if they blossom from a root firmly planted in a predefined concept. The narrated segments present in the first two previously mentioned songs and 'Cult of Salvation' are another strand that lends more credibility and intellectual depth to the album, thus further shuddering At the Gates' established canons.
Now, the question that matters is whether At the Gates' boldness, despite its welcomed creative audacity, is enough to catapult them into a higher artistic dimension. It is up to each of us to assess the outcome since the answer will always depend on the variables we include in our equation. As far as I am concerned, I believe the band has enriched its portfolio without necessarily bringing anything new to the genre. In this sense, The Nightmare of Being
guarantees more three-dimensionality within the band's creative boundaries, which in other words means that a step forward isn't necessarily synonymous with artistic relevance. It's like replacing your old black t-shirt with a colored one, but of the same model and material. If that makes any sense.
Despite all the above, hardcore fans can rest assured as The Nightmare of Being
still delivers some bangers like 'Spectre of Extinction', 'The Paradox' or 'The Abstract Enthroned' that ensure a bridge with the band's more straightforward side. The former even includes an interesting solo by the one and only Andy LaRocque, who is also the man in charge of recording the guitars and bass. Therefore, there's a willingness not to let this new venture stray out of orbit, keeping an open channel with the band's foundations. This balance reaches its peak in the closing track, 'Eternal Winter of Reason', which somehow merges the best of both worlds, thus mirroring the album's most inspired moment.
Pessimistically adventurous, yet predictably familiar, The Nightmare of Being
explores new territory without ever straying too far from the band's DNA. In doing so, At the Gates ensures a creative paradox that lends a sense of identity and continuity to this bold new venture, while adding greater three-dimensionality to their songwriting formula. It's a step forward, I would say; an aesthetic breakthrough that unveils not only new grounds but also a willingness to evolve. And even though The Nightmare of Being
doesn't gather all the necessary ingredients to establish itself as a masterpiece of the genre, it is most certainly a worthy and surprisingly contrasting addition to the band's discography.