Emerging from Gothenburg in the early nineties, At The Gates released several albums that laid the foundations for the undeniable classic, 1995s Slaughter Of The Soul. A landmark in terms of the melodic death metal scene, the Swedes delivered an album that would go on to change the course of mainstream metal giving rise to the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal in the 2000’s that would see future big hitters like Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, As I Lay Dying and so on…
Reforming in 2008 the band returned to a far different landscape and in 2014 they unleashed the savage At War With Reality. A brutal update on their classic template, they again proved this was no fluke with 2018s darker and faster To Drink From The Night Itself which saw the band flex their creative muscles once more pushing their creative flourishes further.
Back again, with a ten-track epic, At The Gates deliver their most ambitious, expansive and creatively interesting album of their career. This album will challenge their fanbase as much as deliver a raw blast to the uninitiated, The Nightmare Of Being shows a massive leap forward in style that the band have actually been laying the foundation for over the years. Slaughter Of The Soul may have been a perfect mid-nineties raw blast that defined the ‘Gothenburg Sound’, but it was a fairly straight forward mix of deathly speed; however tracks like Into The Dead Sky hinted at progressive leanings the world maybe wasn’t ready for. At War With Reality had moments of expansive dynamics like on Heroes And Tombs or The Circular Ruins and To Drink From The Night Itself showed the band tired of constraints.
In some respects, to those who have been paying close attention, the departures on their latest opus shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise.
For the first few moments of The Nightmare Of Being it’s business as usual, the tender, picked acoustic opening of Spectre Of Extinction gives ways to familiar fast riffing and smooth, buzzing grooves, overlaid with barking vocals curtesy of Tomas Lindberg. Subtly The Paradox starts to introduce keyboards and choral effects, twisting the narrative and pushing the galloping riffs further in the texture of sounds and atmosphere, lending the album an air of bombast and pomp that wouldn’t normally be associated with their visceral delivery.
On the title track the band embrace a slow-paced moody, densely layered approach with spoken word vocals that builds to a powerful, ballad like affair complete with intricate guitar work, interludes and breakdowns that seem a far cry from the days of Blinded By Fear. However, this seems like a set up for Garden Of Cyrus where the band go full avant-garde, progressive jazz with honking saxophone in a slow burning piece that shows the band stepping out of their comfort zone to create art that is challenging and always moving forward.
there is no doubt in my mind this album will stand the test of time and be regarded as their own In The Court of the Crimson King…
It’s easy to draw comparisons with the work of prog supremoes King Crimson. They’ve talked up the influence of that band in the run up to the release of The Nightmare Of Being, but this is no simple plagiarising of styles. Instead, what we have is the embracing of a mindset that allowed messers Fripp, Giles and Lake to embrace aspects of classical, folk, jazz and electronica and rip up the rulebook of expectations.
Much like the recent Born Of Osiris album, this is a departure that will cause their fanbase to give pause as they open up new directions, but the calibre of musicians involved means that nothing is left to chance. Touched By The White Hands Of Death may open with symphonic overblown grandiose, but once the horns subside this is as vicious a thrash as anything they have previously released with the guitars from Stålhammar and Larsson as in tune with Björler’s bass and Erlandsson on drums as ever.
The Fall Into Time is the epic centrepiece that attempts to blend all the aspects of the freshly freed sound; multi-layered synths, slow grooves, jack hammer battering’s and dripping with elements writ large elsewhere. It sounds at times utterly At The Gates and yet newer and different which sets up the band to take the brakes off fully in the second half of the album.
Fans of their back catalogue shouldn’t fear as there is never a cutting riff far away. Cult Of Salvation is monstrously heavy despite the piano flavourings and The Abstract Enthroned has atmosphere for days that dispels any notion that just because the band veer into almost emo/shoegaze territory on The Cosmic Pessimism they haven’t lost their edge in anyway. Rounding out with the melodic, hypnotic grooves of Eternal Winter Of Reason, The Nightmare Of Being ends with a style and flourish that few could master so well.
Richly produced, despite being performed at several studios, this dark and brooding record has far more depth and scope than previous outings. Having opened Roadburn 2019 with a King Crimson cover may have been an eyebrow raising, but ambitious move at the time, yet it pointed to the future of the band. Having defined a genre and written their names into the legend of metal as innovators, At The Gates have struck out again in front of the pack and created something incredibly special.
To hark back to the previously mentioned Born Of Osiris, At The Gates are another band pushing beyond the constraints of their pigeonhole to innovate the more mainstream metal identity, challenging the limits and preconceptions of what the genre should be. How their fanbase, or the wider audience at large, will initially receive The Nightmare Of Being remains to be seen, but there is no doubt in my mind this album will stand the test of time and be regarded as their own In The Court of the Crimson King.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden