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'Gardens of Grief' isn't just a four-song EP. It is the beginning to the career of one of the most widely hailed melodic death metal acts of all time, and also a shining example of that band's talent throughout the grunge-dominated 90's. Of course, any of you reading this review will know that this band is definitively At the Gates-a band that, not without the everlasting success of their stunningly talented effort 'Slaughter of the Soul', released their first EP after just four months of practicing music together.
Unfortunately, At the Gates' earlier work, especially 'Gardens of Grief, is often overlooked by those who were introduced via 'Slaughter of the Soul' or even 'Terminal Spirit Disease'. So just why is it that significant to the band's career, apart from being their first actual release? Musically, it naturally doesn't differ that much from the band's debut album 'The Red in the Sky is ours', itself serving as a widened divide between fans of the band, as to whether it really is good or not. However, lyrically, At the Gates couldn't be further from the stereotypical features that recur within the genre of melodic death metal itself. As opposed to suffering, misery and torture of all kinds possible, everything seems to be in touch with the human soul and mindset. The content still refers back to every bit of darkness, death and destruction that can be found, but here At the Gates excel in giving off truly insightful meaning with their lyrics alone. Here's a few examples:
"...floating away within dreams/from a thousand worlds/my soul has left the spheres of man/ for all time..." (from the opening track 'Souls of the Evil departed').
"It is cold out here/and lonely is my journey/I walk the trail of broken souls/the darkest path through infinity ..."(from the band's self titled track, 'At the Gates').
I could go on in analyzing how brilliantly written these lyrics are, but this is a music review. I mentioned earlier how the music isn't that dissimilar to the band's debut album, but that doesn't mean to say the band don't have their outstanding moments. 'Souls of the Evil departed' starts very melancholic indeed, with a briefly dull tone in the background, and then hits the listener predictably enough with its scything guitar work against a horribly raw production. I say 'horribly' raw, because it just doesn't do the guitar work justice. This leads to another slight problem with 'Gardens of Grief': The vocals themselves. Of course, Lindberg's vocals would become much more refined on later releases by the band, namely the 'Terminal Spirit Disease' album and so on, but on the band's earlier work, they don't prove to have much of an effect. It's a shame because, notwithstanding the fact that the band had barely played together for longer than four months upon the release of this EP, the lyrical content is extremely well thought out.
However, what is also outstandingly good is the band's actual performance, regarding in particular the extremely well executed guitar work. Both Björler and Svensson rip and tear their way through every one of 'Gardens of Grief''s songs, making each and every one also stand out. On the band's self titled anthem 'At the Gates', itself developing a uniquely mysterious and epic sound with every passing second, the twin guitar leads prove to be a musical success, even at times embracing a slight influence of the second wave of black metal into its sound. It isn't just the guitars that stand out however, but also the drum work, which have one hell of a vitally important presence within At the Gates' sound. Yes, Erlandsson is well renowned for his excitingly and staggeringly technical drum work, but since At the Gates was his second band proper, it proves to be yet another highlight for 'Gardens of Grief'.
You may have heard the band's most successful effort 'Slaughter of the Soul'. You may have been introduced to their talent via 'Terminal Spirit Disease'. You may even have listened to everyone of their studio albums, including the well structured 'The Red in the Sky is ours' and equally as menacing 'With Fear I kiss the burning Darkness', but if you haven't so much as listened to 'Gardens as Grief', you will be missing out on a lot-because, whether you disagree with the following statement or not, 'Gardens of Grief' is a prime example of just how incredible At the Gates were to become.
At the Gates are one of those Swedish bands that doesn't really need an introduction for anybody really eager enough to dig as deep as their first demo, Gardens of Grief, which was released in 1991. Being one of the more distinct sounding bands from the whole original Swedish death metal scene, they have managed to spit out a couple of really great albums in the 90s, the pinnacle of their career being 1995's "Slaughter of the Soul", which was not only copied by bazillions of uninspired "metal"core bands later on, but was that album with which At the Gates went out with a bang soon afterwards.
People listening to At the Gates, as far as I know, mostly know their 1995 album, yet fail to comprehend that while that may be a pretty good album to slowly introduce someone to this kind of harsh sound, this band had a lot more musical and artistic output to flaunt with before that specific album. Hardcore At the Gates fans will know what I'm talking about when I say that this band has released some of the more twisted, desperate and aggressive sounding stuff beginning with their first album "The Red in the Sky is Ours". However, one little release is often missing in this grand collection of pure destructive music, namely their 1991 demo entitled "Gardens of Grief". Now not only is the front cover of the later release of this demo (see Gardens of Grief / In the Embrace of Evil split with Grotesque) intriguing, but the music also. What we have here lads is a chaotic mix between great song composition, one of metal's best vocalists (in my humble opinion) screaming his shit out and pure maniacal death metal the way its supposed to be played. Right from the start of the first track you will get nothing less than a punch in your face, to the groin and to the balls. Tempo changes along with the massive output of riffs used work perfectly to create a unique atmosphere that sends you right to hell. This is one of those birth moments of a band that further defined the typical "Swedish sound" that most of us know as being a kind of mix between crunch and white noise. Every song on this tape has a very mature approach towards composition, not sounding very melodic, but dark, vicious and awestruck. There are no moments where the music stops for some silly interlude and every bridge or change in structure adds to the overall monument that is the music. This is fierce, ruthless death metal played by people who had a spark in them and wanted to play crazy music. For a demo tape, the mix is good, not sounding too ripe but not too shabby, just the way I like it.
This demo is a very good example of how a rough start can prophesy a band's great career with no absolute low point whatsoever and be a marker for good things to come. If you like this bands later material, the Swedish sound in general, or just want to hear something great and fierce, give this demo a go, since its still better and cooler than most of the "modern" stuff nowadays.
If with their following albums, At The Gates would have helped to create the “melodic death metal”, the very first beginning is quite different and not melodic. They were influenced by the old school generation of the death metal players from their mother country and, being very young, they played more or less like them with a sort of black metal touch in the guitars riffs.
The atmosphere is really gloom and the band sounds always quite fast and compact without being melodic at all. Since the opener “Souls Of The Evil Departed” we can really taste the group’s essence made of obscurity and heaviness. Good some more progressive touches in the guitars lines by players, that despite the young age, already show a mature approach towards this genre.
The title track is weird in that sense with odd guitars parts and good tempos changes. Always inspired the drum work too, passing easily between a variety of tempos. The vocals are a bit common but quite powerful too, taking inspiration by the classic Swedish death metal with some good screams. Very good the fast bass drum parts where the group is less “progressive” and more
In a song like “All Life Ends” is inevitable the comparison with old Entombed: very good and raw. Dark the mid paced riffs with schizophrenic vocals and some keys sounds. The last “City Of Screaming Statues” is quite famous amongst the At The Gates songs and, without being stunning, is a quite good example of a more complex way of playing death metal. Overall, a quite good beginning, a bit musically distant from the future releases and recommended to death fans.
This is very different from what At the Gates would become, but you can still tell that its the same band. I really love this record, even though its only four songs. Its definately worth getting. What is different about this EP is that the band's black metal roots are more obvious, along with a slight doom influence as well. The vocals are their most brutal in my opinion, as they are growls instead of high pitched screems. The guitars are not as melodic as they would one day become, but they are still really good. The druming is pretty much the same as later material. What stands out most to me is that this release is much darker and more evil sounding than any of their later records. I dont quite know how to describe it, but the vocals, lyrics and riffing are really dark and mysterious. The lyrics are really philosophical on this record and the vocals match them some how. The guitars add are really evil atmosphere and so do the keyboards, which appear only to create a mysterious vibe at the begining of some songs. I really love old death metal, and this is certainly death metal, but really unique, nothing else sounds like this.