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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.