Melodic death metal has come a long way in the past 20 years, but it is safe to say that At the Gates was the inspiration to the entire genre, even the bastardized versions merging metalcore into their sound. At the Gates was a dynamic band that changed its sound drastically with each release until its swan song in 1995 with the seminal album “Slaughter of the Soul,” which ended up being the ultimate game changer for the genre that is littered with far too many pretenders.
19 years later, the Swedish veterans decided to take the leap and enter the battlefield again. There were promises of no new album, but the demand became impossible to ignore and the band took to writing new music. The culmination of their writing is “At War With Reality.” The band set themselves up for failure with this new release. It seemed unfathomable that they could recapture that lightning in a bottle from 19 years ago when the stars aligned and everything was perfect.
Of course, “At War With Reality” is not the seminal album that its predecessor is, but it is awfully good. The band accepted the challenge of coming back nearly 20 years later while still sounding relevant and interesting. They succeeded on both counts.
After the brief spoken word intro, the band jumps into Death and the Labyrinth and the unfathomable happens. You know that this is an At the Gates album. The riffs are instantly recognizable showing the value that the band still has nearly 2 decades later. The passion and fury that encompasses “At War With Reality” in undeniable. The songwriting has always been the strength of the band and it is as evident today as it was in the 90s.
“At War With Reality” is a concept album and the vocals of Tomas Lindberg are intelligible to the trained metal ear, so following the story is easy. His signature raspiness is as strong as ever as are the guitar chops of guitar tandem Anders Björler and Martin Larsson who are out to prove that the originators are still the masters.
Overall, At the Gates is back, and while they are not stronger than ever, they still prove to be at the top of the mountain until someone dares come at them again.