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AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 12:55 AM

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To Drink From The Night Itself

Century Media Records

Comebacks are a constant source of disappointment as bands regroup for the wrong, or at least dubious, reasons — money, nostalgia, ego, etc. — and leave what spark that was there in the first place behind. But in following fellow death metal pioneers CARCASS into the reformation breach, Sweden’s AT THE GATES managed to return to both triumph and acclaim – not to mention viability.

And after CARCASS issued its magnificent comeback album Surgical Steel in late 2013, AT THE GATES did the same with the ambitious At War With Reality in 2014, its first new material since the benchmark Slaughter Of The Soul 19 years before. Both more than lived up to their huge, and perhaps unreasonable, expectations, and each band has enjoyed levels of success since then far beyond that of their first go-rounds as a result.

And neither band has really looked back since, despite a line-up hiccup or two. In AT THE GATES’ case, however, the hiccup was a bit more seismic, as founding guitarist and principal songwriter Anders Björler departed in March 2017 — by contrast, CARCASS lost second guitarist Ben Ash, who had essentially just played live with the band for four years. And now that it is time to see if either can maintain the momentum it has built, it is AT THE GATES’ turn to lead the way.

With new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar — from one of frontman Tomas Lindberg’s innumerable side bands, THE LURKING FEAR — in tow and bassist Jonas Björler taking over as main songwriter from his departed twin brother, the band has delivered its sixth album and really hasn’t skipped a beat. To Drink From The Night Itself is a bit more compact and direct than the almost cinematic At War With Reality, which echoed Lindberg’s “magic realism” lyrical bent, but is just as vibrant and accomplished.

There is nothing at all tentative about To Drink. Though the lilting strings, wispy vocals and acoustic guitar of the brief instrumental intro “Der Widerstand” set a somber mood, the album roars to life with the title track powered by Adrian Erlandsson’s determined drumming, the crisp, clipped riffing of Stålhammar and Martin Larsson and Lindberg’s signature bark. It’s catchy, gritty and most of all confident, something that carries over through the rest of the album. So too does the energy and verve of the title track.

Where At War With Reality’s strength lies in its nuance, depth and finesse, To Drink brings back more of the urgency and muscle that made Slaughter Of The Soul such a revelation, all while maintaining the band’s knack for crafty melodies and a good part of Reality’s grandiosity and texture. The songs are still dense and compelling, but most also boast some extra giddy-up and oomph that give the album more immediacy.

As Erlandsson’s jockeys between d-beats and double-bass rolls, “A Stare Bound in Stone”, “Palace of Lepers”, “Seas Of Starvation” and, predictably, “In Death They Shall Burn” all move along briskly, yet deliver ample heft on the strength of Stålhammar and Larsson's meaty, gnashing guitaring and occasional almost black metal sprints. And though Stålhammar shows off his lead chops somewhat sparingly here, the otherwise ferocious “The Colours Of The Beast”, “A Labyrinth Of Tombs” and “The Chasm” offer a hint of elegance thanks to fluid sweep of his solos.

The more deliberate “Daggers of Black Haze”, the thundering brood of “In Nameless Sleep” and the melancholy finale “The Mirror Black” lend some welcome drama to the proceedings and help provide an ebb to the rather relentless flow of the rest of the album. And with its classical outro, “The Mirror Black” circles back to the intro, giving To Drink a thematic air in the sonic sense to tie into Lindberg's typically heady lyrics, which here are based German writer Peter Weiss' novel, The Aesthetics Of Resistance and promote the ideal of living through art.

It's a lofty ideal, to be sure, but AT THE GATES certainly seems to be putting its money where its mouth in that regard. To Drink From The Night Itself builds on the foundation the band reassembled with At War With Reality and finds the quintet sounding every bit as vital today is it did in 1995 when Slaughter Of The Soul set the bar for melodic death metal – and spawned an army of soundalikes that are still emerging to this day.

4.5 Out Of 5.0

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