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AT THE GATES The Nightmare of Being

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, July 6, 2021 @ 8:56 AM


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AT THE GATES
The Nightmare of Being'

Century Media Records




The second act for Sweden’s AT THE GATES has been nothing short of remarkable. First came a series of reunion shows in 2007/08 after a decade’s hiatus – though some were billed as the “Suicidal Final Tour” and intended as a genuine farewell/victory lap after the band’s sudden split in 1996. But that lit the flame anew and, eventually, the band launched its official comeback with 2014’s magnificent At War With Reality. That was followed in 2018’s equally superb To Drink From The Night Itself as the band’s momentum continued to build, even after the departure of guitarist/main songwriter Anders Björler a year earlier.

Now comes The Nightmare of Being, perhaps the best of the Act 2 albums and equally up to snuff – though dramatically different from – 1995’s Slaughter Of The Soul, the band’s benchmark effort and one that continues to influence extreme metal to this day. Nightmare takes the depth, finesse and texture that were hallmarks of At War, the urgency and muscle that gave Drink its punch and incorporates them with the crafty melodies, gritty sound and heady subject matter that have been constants for AT THE GATES, making for a total package of melo-death awesomeness.

It also showcases the more confident, experimental side of the band, as it adds a twist to the subtle orchestration it sometimes employs by adding saxophone wails to accompany the downright jazzy “Garden Of Cyrus” and its fluid bass line and Latin-tinged guitar lead. The song ends in a crashing, metallic flourish only to then segue into the even more pronounced horns, woodwinds and strings that make up the ethereal intro to the otherwise bruising thrash of “Touched by the White Hands of Death”.

The jazzy flair of “Cyrus” returns on the genuinely epic “The Fall Of Time”, with its jammy solo break where guitarists Jonas Stålhammar and Martin Larsson, bassist Jonas Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson all get in on the free-form action and show a whimsical side to the typically dead-serious band. The real surprise comes on the penultimate “Cosmic Pessimism” with its verses riding frontman Tomas Lindberg Redant’s beat-poet spoken word delivery over a sparse jangle of guitar and Erlandsson’s metronomic tempo. Crunching choruses do bring a dramatic jolt to the song’s otherwise narcotic haze, but this is AT THE GATES as its trippiest.

The song also encapsulates the album’s prevailing theme and its ruminations on pessimism, the subconscious and, to borrow from the title, “the nightmare of being,” which speak to the dead-serious side of the band I just mentioned. And it’s reflected from the get-go with the bracing, black-metally ripper “Spectre Of Extinction” and the equally feisty “The Paradox” that is contrasted by its breathy “No hope – all black” lament. Later comes the more forceful “All existence is futile” shout from Lindberg on “The Abstract Enthroned”, the album’s most ferocious tune.

Even the more contemplative, yet anthemic title track delivers grim tidings, with Lindberg offering “And to nothingness we will return” over Stålhammar and Larsson’s soaring riffs. And the similarly constructed closer “Eternal Winter Of Reason” speaks to “the inner presence of death” and “the emptiness, the indifference” to end things on a fittingly dour note.

Dunno if this is all a product of COVID isolation and all of the time Lindberg had to reflect, but it’s a fitting postscript of sorts to the pandemic during which many folks turned inward, contemplated mortality and in too many cases stared into the abyss, as it were, while the apocalypse of our time raged outside. Regardless, The Nightmare of Being is a thought-provoking outing that provides as many musical thrills – death metal or otherwise – as it does lyrical chills and shows that AT THE GATES can keep raising the bar even as the band passes the 30th anniversary of its formation and nears the 20-somethingth year of its existence, depending on how you do the math. So despite what Lindberg maintains in “The Abstract Enthroned”, there’s no signs of futility here.

4.5 Out Of 5.0


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