At The Gates

The Nightmare Of Being

Written by: AP on 10/01/2022 21:19:50

The second era of At the Gates has without a doubt cemented the Gothenburg legends as one of the most crucial metal bands ever to have existed, and while it has thus far yielded two very palatable melodic death metal records, that masterpiece on par with their revered 1995 album “Slaughter of the Soul” has yet to arrive. This seventh and latest offering of theirs, however, is a prime candidate for delivering the record fans have been waiting for since the group reunited in 2007, even if it isn’t destined to revolutionise, let alone beget a new genre. Perhaps inspired by their lauded performance at the 2019 edition of Roadburn, which saw the band experiment with their sound and reinterpret classic songs together with a slew of guest musicians, the Swedish band seems reinvigorated and bursting with ambition on “The Nightmare of Being”, which is a huge improvement on its rigid and formulaic predecessor, 2018’s “To Drink from the Night Itself”.

Indeed, bassist Jonas Björler seems finally to be comfortable in his role as the group’s primary songwriter, following the exit of his guitar wielding brother Anders in 2017, and he has written some of his finest work to date for this latest offering. Whereas his departed sibling preferred creating material that harked back to the band’s early ‘90s era thus to please long-standing fans, Jonas’ compositions here are much more ambitious and riddled with ingenious subtleties like the piano plinks underpinning vocalist Tomas Lindberg’s tortured growls during a key moment in the track “The Paradox”. On the group’s previous records one might have expected to hear a basic chug riff there, but with “The Nightmare of Being”, it feels like At the Gates want to wipe the slate clean and start anew, to open a new chapter in their storied career. Before the aforementioned “Paradox”, the listener has been eased in with the more classic melodic death metal approach of “Spectre of Extinction”, which nonetheless features some inspired lead guitar work from King Diamond’s Andy LaRocque as the first sign of the coming paradigm shift. And as one is pulled deeper into the album, the sophistication of Björler’s arrangements becomes ever more apparent.

A saxophone lead by Anders Gabrielsson, one of the myriad guest musicians invited to partake in the realisation of Björler’s vision, takes the lead in the magnificent “Garden of Cyrus”, while a small symphony orchestra helps to lift the grandeur of songs like “Touched by the White Hands of God” and “The Fall into Time” onto unprecedented levels. In the latter of these, the band also seems to have sourced some inspiration from their countrymen in Opeth, resulting in a dynamic and progressive structure that portends the final track “Eternal Winter of Reason”, which mixes the eeriness and groove of Hypocrisy with an orchestral bombast reminiscent of Dimmu Borgir. There are also heaps of influence from even less predictable domains, with non-metallic genres such as post-rock, shoegaze and krautrock rearing their head during passages where drummer Adrian Erlandsson tempers his percussion into slower rhythms and Lindberg delivers his lyrics in spoken word instead of his signature high-pitch bark. “Cosmic Pessimism” is a good example of this, with an atmosphere and riffing style by guitarists Martin Larsson and Jonas Stålhammar that sound like something ripped straight out of Tribulation’s or perhaps Cloak’s playbook.

It has been obvious for a while now that age has taken its toll on Lindberg’s voice. “22 years of pain (...) closing in” have turned into 49 since he wrote the lyrics for “Cold” in 1995, but it feels like he has learned to weaponise his exasperation now, which is the perfect fit for lending extra weight to his musings across “The Nightmare of Being”. The album thematically leans on the nihilism and pessimism extolled by philosophers like Eugene Thacker and Thomas Ligotti: the planet is dying, humanity is doomed, and the universe is cold and indifferent to our plight. The title “Cosmic Pessimism” is even borrowed from Thacker’s book of the same name. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more fitting vessel for such fatalism than Lindberg’s caustic screams, and as such, he actually comes across as reinvigorated, not spent, over the course of these ten tracks.

In an interview with Revolver last year, Lindberg explained that the novel coronavirus pandemic that has been ravaging the world since early 2020, helped him appreciate the small things in life and warned readers against setting goals that will only end in disappointment. His remarks have a pretty ironic sheen about them now, considering that “The Nightmare of Being” is as ambitious as records come. As vital as At the Gates have been to the formative years of pretty much every older metalcore band, every newer thrash metal band, and every melodic death metal band that has emerged since the late ‘90s, it was high time the Gothenburg legends stopped trying to capitalise on past triumphs and took a long due step forward. Old-school fans will still receive their fix of staccato riffs, harmonised leads and eruptions of blistering intensity, but these staples have now been fitted into compositions that are truly awe-inspiring in their scope and execution. If there was ever any doubt whether At the Gates still belong in the upper echelons of melodic death metal, it is completely erased by this new magnum opus of theirs.


Download: The Paradox, Garden of Cyrus, The Fall into Time, Cosmic Pessimism
For the fans of: The Black Dahlia Murder, Carcass, Dark Tranquillity, Hypocrisy
Listen: Facebook

Release date 02.07.2021
Century Media

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