After an eleven year absence the melodic death metal greats At the Gates reformed in 2007 to play select festivals, but said that this reunion wouldn’t result in a new album. But fast forward seven years and due to the response they’ve gotten and the overwhelming demand, here we are with their fifth full length album At War With Reality. With a nineteen year gap since Slaughter of the Soul, and with the band members other releases in the intervening time having been of dubious quality at best, it was hard to get excited even from a band such as At the Gates. But any worries about how a new album would sound after nearly two decades were quickly allayed – this is classic At the Gates and it’s as if they never left, combining all the sounds of their previous albums in one into another quality effort from the Swedes
A spoken word intro in Spanish quickly gives way to the first proper track Death and the Labyrinth, and it’s instantly recognizable as At the Gates. Those melancholic melodic riffs are reminiscent of their début, while the guitar tone seems to come from Slaughter of the Soul with the warm production of Terminal Spirit Disease all for good measure. Melodic riffs, aggressively harsh rasped screams and a great mid paced drum barrage, it really is as if they never left and it’s a great one that could have gone on any of the albums before it. Each track on the album has it’s own feel to it, with the title track’s sound walking the tightrope between sombre and epic, with those minor scales reeking of despair, but the emotional guitar solos sound powerfully exciting. Melodic death metal often sounds far too sugary with a tame production, especially when it comes to solos, but At The Gates get it right, the solos here are always well crafted and energetic, rather than sounding like saccharine attempts to show off (as Arch Enemy do these days.)
Heroes and Tombs shows great interplay between the two guitarists, with one playing deep murky riffs, the other dishing out the melody in a cleaner tone and both combining excellently with more vicious vocals from Tomas – I can’t get over how great he sounds on this album, he’s at this pissed off best. Those slow, murky riffs sound like filth and it’s a good offset to the melodic approach of the other guitar. The Conspiracy of the Blind sounds like it could have come straight from Slaughter of the Soul with a thick caustic guitar sound and fast simple riffs amongst the memorable melodic touches and catchy vocals, while the exotic sounding intro to Order from Chaos opens up one of the more interesting tracks on the album, with acoustic guitar melodies combining well with more mid paced heavy riffage. Closer The Night Eternal is the album’s longest, and the atmosphere generated through the sombre riffs and the effortless passages from one section to the next, especially the way it flows into that stunning solo at the end, make it a joy to listen to.
The best track of the bunch though is Circular Ruins, with Tomas sounding particularly vicious, screaming his lungs out intensely against a backdrop of ugly riffs with a deep rumbling guitar tone, with brilliant solos snaking their way around the fretboard and sticking in the mind. And there aren’t any bad tracks on At War With Reality, each one having it’s own identity, with memorable riffs, vocal lines and interesting ideas. That said, they come out strong, with the first three tracks being the best on the album, but the rest are by no means slouches and would each fit on any of the old At the Gates album with ease, but it does just feel perhaps a little too front loaded – but that’s the only bad point on a great comeback.
In At War With Reality what At The Gates have done is not only produce an album that more than lives up to the name in a great release, they’ve released one of the best albums in many years in a stagnant melodic death metal scene and it’s a lesson to all the bands around them – this is how it’s done!
Catch At the Gates on the first proper tour since 1996 at one of these dates: