Artist: At the Gates
Album: To Drink from the Night Itself
Label: Century Media Records
At the Gates is known far and wide as one of the original Gothenburg metal bands. After closing shop in 1996, they had a comeback tour and reformed in 2011, with their first album in 19 years released in 2014, At War with Reality. Today marks the release of their second album following the reunion, To Drink from the Night Itself, so we made sure to give it a listen.
Check out the album on Spotify here:
I first became aware of At The Gates in about 2003, having missed their first flurry of albums between 1992 and 1995. I was in Tower Records, as it was then, at Piccadilly Circus and they had a sort of ‘Cafe 80s’ thing going on with old-school computer games built into tables and listening posts. One particular listening post had the ‘wrong’ CD in it. I’d honestly never heard anything like it before and had to pester a member of the staff to check the CD in the player until I found out what it really was! The CD in question turned out to be 1995’s Slaughter of the Soul. Unfortunately, at that time, they had already been dormant for 8 years and that would seem to have been that. But 11 years later the band came back with another strong release; 2014’s comeback record, At War With Reality, was a stunning return for a band that had been away for almost 20 years… how time flies!
Founding member and guitarist Anders Björler (twin brother of bassist Jonas Björler) has left the band to be a solo artist. Having found a new guitarist, in the form of Jonas Stålhammar, At the Gates has now released the followup to that comeback record.
Jonas Björler has now taken over the writing for the majority of the album, while Tomas Lindberg has again written the lyrics. Despite the change in main composer, the album has retained that definitive At The Gates sound.
Right away, the intro builds you up, starting with some almost cowboy-film sounding acoustic guitar picking that becomes very cinematic with the addition of some choral sounds and strings. This is one of those times where I really wish bands would play their intro tracks themselves instead of on tape, because this is an absolutely fantastic piece that fully deserves to be performed in person. Its name “Der Widerstand”, German for “The Resistance”, is a direct reference to the inspiration for the album’s lyrics. Lindberg has based his writing on a book called Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, (The Æsthetics of Resistance) by Peter Weiss, which according to Wikipedia was his magnum opus. The track does a fine job of building up suspense, until finally dropping you off the edge and plowing straight into the title track (which was also the first release from the album).
On first listen, the song conjured up visions of more Slaughter of the Soul -style music. Not a bad thing at all, for my money, because the track certainly isn’t a mere repetition; this is a beast that stands its ground and throws in all sorts of wild cards to keep the listener on their toes. Watch out for that unexpected drum fill where a chorus would otherwise be.
The second track, “A Stare Bound in Stone”, also has a similar vibe. The riffing is sure to create some serious movement in the crowd and I can just see the circle pit spinning. The clean interlude comes in for a breath of fresh air in the middle before diving back into the whirlpool of energy, driven on by Adrian Erlandsson’s [The Haunted, ex-Paradise Lost, ex-Cradle of Filth, etc.] relentless pummeling of the drums.
One track that particularly stands out from the rest, musically, is “Daggers of Black Haze.” Beginning with a haunting piano and flute combo, it then launches in with old-school death metal tremolo picking on the guitars.
The clean intros on tracks like “Seas of Starvation” and “The Mirror Black” really create a wonderful sense of dynamic that can be missing in albums that are otherwise so relentless in their onslaught. Speaking of “The Mirror Black”, as the final track on the album it seems perfectly placed as a climax to the album. If this was a movie, you’d get the sense of the protagonist having gone through whatever it was and having survived, he looks on at the aftermath.
Overall this album is a truly great listen. It’s actually quite difficult to pick stand-out tracks that rise above the rest, because they are all so good. While interviewing Lindberg, he used the word ‘challenging’ several times and suggested that this is actually a perfect word to describe the work. He was referring to the concepts invoked by the lyrics, and perhaps to the new way of writing for the band. But ‘challenging’ is by no means a negative thing, because I would really struggle to pick any holes in any of this album at all. It’s a truly great piece of lyric writing and composition. The production values are outstanding. The overall sound of the piece really draws you in. In some ways, I would class this album as more of an experience than a collection of songs (albeit very cohesive songs that fit together extremely well). The whole thing flows in a way that drew me in and it was all too easy to forget that I needed to write some words on it! A great album that will remain on rotation for me for a very long time indeed.
Rating: 10/10, 5 stars
1. Der Widerstand
2. To Drink from the Night Itself
3. A Stare Bound in Stone
4. Palace of Lepers
5. Daggers of Black Haze
6. The Chasm
7. In Nameless Sleep
8. The Colours of the Beast
9. A Labyrinth of Tombs
10. Seas of Starvation
11. In Death They Shall Burn
12. The Mirror Black
Text: Marc Taylor