At the Gates

Early innovators in melodic and progressive Swedish death metal who created a substance in death metal with less of the influence of hard rock that is present in most "Gothenburg" bands of today. Technique and songwriting heavily influenced black metal and later death metal.

Gardens of Grief
Black Sun
Production: Sunlight Studios in a rich and broad sound.

Review: Unacknowledged as an influence on the black and death metal to follow was the advanced Nordic scene, where Swedish and Finnish bands used melody in dark and fast morbid music to create atmosphere for fiendish and alienated worlds of heavy music. Incredibly exacting, intricate picking technique endows this music with a dextrous sense of melody and rhythm as part of the larger vision in a song.

Its complex rhythmic technique, reminiscent of what Suffocation and Morbid Angel were attempting at the same time, expands the range of continuity accepted in variable strings of riffs placed to sustain the melodic viability of granular and isolated dynamic fluctuations of consistency toward overall modal tendencies. Like a sweeping rainfall, this vision of melody hides behind violent death metal riffs wedged between the simpler, "black metal" trademark tremelo lead riffing. Its rhythms break, not in a suspension but a crossover as they transfer energetic tension between driving and self-destroying, anti-motion forces.


1. Souls of the Evil Departed
2. At the Gates
3. All Life Ends
4. City of Screaming Statues
Length: 19:54

at the gates gardens of grief swedish melodic technical death metal from 1991
Copyright © 1991 Black Sun

Lead riffing takes the Swedish death metal promise to an extreme in a fast power chord streamriffing lithographic support structure for densely articulated fretrun melodies that with their rigid but complex structuralism accentuate gracefully underlying tonal placement within the song. Visionary even in vocals, this album uses a singed scream rather than the pugilistic cadenced barks of most contemporaries. Signature guitar and bass playing lends texture to vigorously self-evident structures.

As 1991 rolled to a close, much of the forthcoming playout of the vast promise of metal had not been seen but realized in the culmination of several ideas. For At the Gates, the idea was delicate melody in sweeping neo-Wagnerian progressive death metal, and they executed it not only brilliantly but with flair.

With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness

Production: Slightly compressed but good guitar tone preservation.

Review: The crux of change between death and black metal exploited one of the questions dating back to the origin of heavy metal: when to get heavy, or thunderously chromatic within the few frets low enough to produce grainy, bassy power chords, and when to inject melody so to give a sense of rising above the chaos? Heavy metal has, like most Romanticist art, specialized in finding beauty in death and noise, and bringing transcendence to its listeners by affirming the place of evil and destruction in a healthy normal life. With At the Gates, death metal found a pivotal ferment of the melodic concept.

Adroitly this band interleave melodic intervals with lush harmonies of power chords, extending to a range of chord shapes not seen since Voivod, balancing these figures over an understated version of the technical death metal drumming that infested the genre at the start of the 1990s. In a style derived from Iron Maiden, dual layers of lead playing establish a theme and highlight it with shifting melodic themes, creating an unravelling effect simultaneously checkmated by an increasingly rigid rhythm guitar. High-pitched whispery vocals, offtime like later black metal, blur distinctions between changing riffs and create the ultimate disorienting rhythm instrument, only serving through negative space to reinforce the solidity of dominant motifs.


1. Beyond good and evil (2:42)
2. Raped by the light of christ (2:58)
3. The break of autumn (4:59)
4. Non-divine (4:42)
5. Primal breath (7:23)
6. The architects (3:30)
7. Stardrowned (4:01)
8. Blood of the sunsets (4:33)
9. The burning darkness (2:16)
10. Ever-opening flower (4:59)
11. Through the red (3:26)
Length: 45:29

At the Gates With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness 1993 peaceville
Copyright © 1993 Peaceville

At their best, At the Gates writing longer melodies that unfold over the course of a song in two pairs of complementary patterns, deriving their inspiration not from conflict but a sense of musical space, like the involuntary thrill that occurs when leaving a forest to find oneself on the bank of a cliff, looking down over a sudden distance that re-frames perspective on self and reality. The three final tracks display this adeptly, allowing musical complexity to lift this band out of what otherwise seems like uniform technique; in addition, earlier songs are not dramatic but like much of Nordic and German art, meditative, eschewing vast gestures for a sense of enfolding. Beauty emerges slowly from darkness, and by balancing itself against that darkness, demonstrates a continuity between the two seeming opposites. In this the triumph of art rises over the petty dynamics of personal fear and struggle, calming the mind into an acceptance of light and darkness as equals.

1. Blinded By Fear
2. Slaughter Of The Soul
3. Cold
4. Under A Serpent Sun
5. Into The Dead Sky
6. Suicide Nation
7. World Of Lies
8. Unto Others
9. Nausea
10. Need
11. The Flames Of The End
Length: 34:13
Slaughter of the Soul (Earache,1996)
Despite the sleek package and amazing production, this is the At the Gates sellout album. It has not fallen to the depths of later Carcass or new Metallica, but it has dropped the progressive stylings in favor of very typical speed metal done with a slight technical flair but mostly, through its rough permutations and basic sense of pentatonic harmonics, it remains dressed-up heavy metal as a sad coda to the career of the Gothenburg band. The same self-unravelling harmonizing riffs, liquid solos and strong sense of color of sound are here, but each has gone through a sanitizing process to be brought closer to mainstream music, demonstrating that what is technique is far from what constitutes the artistic content of each song. For most At the Gates listeners, they will believe this album is their favorite until they hear it ten years from now in the context of other At the Gates works, in which case they will see this as a transparent commercial album made to pander to the middle of the metal audience.

Bands with similar sound: Cenotaph, Sentenced

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