A hell of a lot in the world has changed since 1995. Aside from the way that the world actually bloody works, the way that we receive, generate and consume music is a completely different kettle of plankton. At The Gates were active in a different time. Though since their magnum opus ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ and the band’s original scrappy disbandment, they have been cited as a key influence within the modern death metal, metalcore, thrash and every other heavy sub genre scene and laundered as truly one of the great bands in the history of metal. So, returning with brand new material in 2014 is not just both an unexpected and bold move, but also an interesting test to how well they will hold up in a completely different era.
As a first judgment, ‘At War With Reality’ is far from innovative and challenging. The rapturous blend of guttural vocals, breakneck riffs and soaring solos At The Gates became known for have since been copied, moulded, played with and tinkered into an inch of it’s life since the 90’s. Nonetheless, the moment the downtrodden beats of ‘Death And The Labyrinth’ busts out and consumes all the light surrounding it, it seems the band aren’t all that bothered. They are here to thrash, and thrash they will. Business continues as usual with ‘Heroes And Tombs’ hitting the peak of darkened melody, ‘Conspiracy Of The Blind’ combining disjointed grooves with string breaking speed and ‘The Book Of Sand’ pummeling all in it’s wake.
As a stand alone album ‘At War With Reality’ is an unrelenting monster, though one recurring issue keeps niggling at the frontal lobe. Though the band should be judged on their own merits, it’s distinctly hard and frustrating to not to compare modern day At The Gates to their crowds of peers. 20 years away from the recording game shows in the band’s lack of desire to develop. Maturity is present, but not innovation. Rather than the ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ spirit that has inspired millions being cranked up further than 11, at times the band sound like they are in cruise control. ‘Head Of The Hydra’ though menacingly brutal has been heard several dozen times and in many ways pulled off better. Where ‘Upon Pillars Of Dust’ should be blowing minds and speakers, it feels more of a minor push. All leading up to a hauntingly melodic end through ‘The Night Eternal’, there’s certainly a lot more food for thought than expected.
It’s important to be reminded that the be all and end all is that ‘At War With Reality’ is a statement of intent. A crisp, clean, rippling juggernaut of an album that has been threatening and brewing for many years, waiting for the right time to rear its head and take the podium. Fans of yesteryear will see their youth flash before their eyes throughout, while newcomers to the party will see where their favourite bands got their kicks. Though over the years thousands have replicated, moulded and taken influence from At The Gates leaving them in an awkward and difficult position, they still know how to deal it out at its darkest, and fastest. At The Gates are back and they seem like they are here to stay.
At War With Reality by At The Gates is out now on Century Media.
Words by Jack Rogers (@JackMRog)