At The Gates - The Nightmare of Being
Century Media
Melodic Death Metal
10 songs (45:37)
Release year: 2021
Century Media
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

After two solid if not especially exciting releases from the shuffling reanimated corpse of At The Gates, many (your humble correspondent not least) were questioning the exact purpose of the band's reunion if all we were to get was rapidly diminishing returns. It's not unfair to point to peers who have struck out for new ground, be it embarrassingly commercialised (In Flames), wide of past glories (Dark Tranquillity), or even sixteen minute prog tracks (Soilwork, and who the hell would have predicted those three bands and their respective highs and lows?!) Instead, we're left mourning At The Gates far too early, the promise of the still majestic and powerful The Red in the Sky Is Ours squandered, the reunion albums following Slaughter of the Soul into a cul-de-sac, trying and failing to recapture that, some, any glory available.

The metal scene (again, myself included) clearly still has much respect for the Swedish team of Larsson, Erlandsson, Lindberg, Björler and (as of 2017) Stålhammer, because they're back for a third attempt at reuni(oni)fication. And although a long way from past glories, particularly Lindberg, gods and devils bless them, they're honestly trying. This is the most experimental and out-there release from At The Gates since Terminal Spirit Disease, easily out-doing Slaughter of the Soul in oddness if not songwriting quality. There's violin, and saxophone! Yet before you drench the band in the same critical praise poised to tip over them like buckets atop poor Carrie, it's worth examining the elements of the band's formula still dragging them down. For the first time, that includes Herr Lindberg; always hoarse, his bleak bellow is dangerously close to being cracked, an audible strain immediately obvious and not exactly easy to look past, even for a fan. It's especially depressing to listen back to the original Kingdom Gone or City of Screaming Statues and hear just how unhinged and grippingly intense a vocalist Tomas Lindberg once was. In comparison, he's audibly strained at moments here, almost wheezing - still a more than solid and quite unique vocalist, true, but you can hear the inevitable effect of age on his voice, even if it doesn't detract from the music.

Ah, the music. From the opening acoustic strums to Spectre of Extinction, there's a confidence and classyness to At The Gates' latest outing that was lacking before. Even thought said Spectre of Extinction continues into being At The Gates by numbers, it's more intense and powerful than before, that backing melodic riff perfectly judged alongside the upfront catchy groovier riffs, not to mention the later soloing (courtesy of guest Andy LaRocque) atop some grandly melodeath galloping. Helped by a far better production than To Drink From The Night Itself, here we can hear the bass in all its glory, and the guitars are doing more, complex things in pretty much every song. And the experimental moments are leftfield enough to be worth examination, the atmospheric groove of Garden of Cyrus the first example as it incorporates pleasant guitar leads before introducing a saxophone, and keeping it through the odd spoken vocals. The following Touched By the White Hands of Death is even better, a string quartet in the intro built on with a well-crafted riff assault, the orchestral elements built on in the epic The Fall into Time, which has more of a mournful feel with its classic melodeath riffs and that proggy keyboard backing towards the end.

You can clearly hear more of a respectful tone towards the band's roots here than on the previous two albums. It has seemed in the past as though At The Gates couldn't wait to rush onwards from them towards the melodic death manifesto that Slaughter of the Soul became, yet the more varied riffage and songwriting here shows a softening and a willingness to toy with the formula. Touches like the piano in Cult of Salvation and the post-punk tones and violin on Cosmic Pessimism add a lot, but the underlying songs are so solid that they're barely needed. None of the experimental moments are oppressive, or remove you from the enjoyment of the songs themselves, and it's a pleasant surprise to reach the end of the album and want to play it again immediately. At last, the reunion has been proved worthwhile; At The Gates have made their best album in over two decades.

Killing Songs :
Spectre of Extinction, Garden of Cyrus, Touched By the White Hands of Death, The Fall into Time
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by At The Gates that we have reviewed:
At The Gates - To Drink From The Night Itself reviewed by Goat and quoted 72 / 100
At The Gates - The Red in the Sky is Ours reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
At The Gates - At War With Reality reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
At The Gates - Slaughter Of The Soul (Re-issue) reviewed by Crims and quoted 95 / 100
At The Gates - Suicidal Final Art reviewed by Danny and quoted no quote
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