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Early At the Gates is a bit of a surprise to those familiar with the classic melodeath sound, such as myself. In addition to representing an older take on the melodic death metal style, that being death metal with melodic leads (rather than the heavy/power metal of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity with harsh vocals thrown on top) it defies the formulaic conventions of the genre that were hammered into place by the mid '90s works of the Gothenburg trinity. Rather than being an unabashedly linear affair, this is an absolute masterpiece of composition and songwriting, as well as possessing measured technicality and excellent performances all around.
For one, this is a band that clearly were not one to rest on their laurels. Every member here puts in a good to absolutely incredible performance here. Everyone concerned is clearly more than adept at their respective instrument, and they unleash their full potential here. Take for instance, the fucking maniacal tortured screams of Tomas Lindberg. Holy shit, he sounds like a goddamn lunatic, and their highly frantic and aggressive nature, in both the rapid fire delivery and sound, fits the bleak, nihilistic lyrics and the chaos of the instruments going on behind him perfectly.
The aforementioned chaos is not without merit either. Adrian Erlandsson is a monster behind the kit here. He realises the point of a blast beat - much like an explosion during a movie, it is an exclamation mark of sorts. It is meant to be used in short bursts to emphasize that particular sentence/scene/part of the song, not used throughout the whole fucking thing (with few exceptions). He mixes up the usual death metal technique of blasting with several technically accomplished fills and change-ups at the most opportune of times, in addition to actually fucking slowing down when the music does. I actually don't think he repeats one singular drum pattern (outside of the blasting) beyond the sections they are initially used in. Lars Ulrich, this is not.
And of course, the main reason for this album's majesty amongst the discographies of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and even this band's later discography, is the warped genius of Alf Svensson and Anders Björler. In addition to the former's songwriting, their riffs are an absolute pinnacle of the genre. Not only do they make loads and loads of them, to the point where there is almost no repetition of riffs at all on this album, but they sound... possessed. They sound insane. I often describe riffs like that, but seriously. If music could be personified, this would literally be someone on the very edge of reality and sanity. They just sound twisted and menacing. It is difficult to convey into text, you just have to hear them to believe it. A good example is that absurd bit about 4 minutes into 'Night Comes, Blood Black'. How can that not be sonic insanity? I guess bassist and Anders' twin brother Jonas Björler is nothing exceptional. Though he has his moments, he just mostly follows the guitars and gives the already grimy guitars a dirty, dirty low end. He is perfectly capable though, and fulfills his role well.
Another good thing about this release is the measure of technicality used. Riffs may not be repeated all that much, but songs never lose focus or compromise atmosphere and flow in the name of cramming 50 riffs into every song. The drummer is technical, frantic and varied, but never once throws the arrangement and timing of the song off-kilter by sacrificing his most basic role as a time keeper, or works against the overall 'movement' of the songs or the riffs. Even the bassist never once goes for a sloppy bass solo that no bassist can ever accomplish, and doesn't drown the album in reverb in an attempt to elbow his way into the spotlight. This is a difficult balance to pull off when the songs are long, so when they are (relatively) short, some competent performers shoehorn in as many gratuitous solos and overall wanking as possible, but At the Gates here manage to avoid that pitfall. The album is so much better for it, and showcases professionalism and maturity among a band of 5 angry 20-something guys that is a vague hint to their future success.
Despite that though, this album's main strength is the amount of musical devices the band has to hand here, and how effectively they are used to create differing sections within songs and used along side each other in the same section to create contrast or an amplified effect. Take for instance, the droning riff at the beginning of 'Through Gardens of Grief' being juxtaposed with melodic passages that it alternates with. Another example is the sombre and calm violin that creates haunting and eerie melodies under the guitars at times, and its isolation in 'The Season to Come' to serve as contrast to the title track. How about that galloping isolated drum rhythm that follows the serrated riff in 'Claws of the Laughter Dead'? The album possesses leagues of little ideas and patterns like this, and trying to list one fifth of them would result in one boring and overlong list. These small ideas define whole sections of songs, and create a set of highly labyrinthine and yet smoothly flowing compositions, a rare talent that few bands ever managed to nail, a condensed progressive approach, if you will.
The songs that are produced from this mastery of balance, songwriting and instrumentation are all classics. Whether it be the destructive, fleeting intensity of the title track, the more progressive and varied 7 minute 'Within', the lethal re-recording of 'City of Screaming Statues' from their even more chaotic (though not as well structured) Gardens of Grief demo or the deathly duo of 'Windows'/Claws of Laughter Dead', every song here is an absolute masterpiece in every respect. Never have I heard songs that are laced with such varied atmospheres, so much attention to construction and an overall sense of focus on the details as well as the big picture. This is about as intelligent as death metal gets.
For once, I really don't have much to say about production. Despite my insistence that it is very important to an album's atmosphere and listenability, I really can't comment too much here. All I can say is that it is a bit odd, because it sounds kind of dry and flat, and yet is still vibrant and full of life. Everything comes through well, and everything has a slight grime to it, even the bass. It just does its job I suppose, and does it well.
As stated at the beginning of the review, this is a particularly technical, progressive and yet primitive form of old school death metal, and a far cry from the melodic deathrash of Slaughter of the Soul or the equally heavy/power metal of Dark Tranquillity and 1996 - 2000 In Flames. It possesses far more intelligence in its construction and execution, as well as a strictly non-linear approach to songwriting. It also has a sense of variety in its atmosphere. Using quiet sections like 'The Season to Come' or 'The Scar', the album invokes a particularly doom-laden atmosphere, along with droning and slower passages like those found in 'Windows' or 'Kingdom Gone'. This sense of nuance and finesse in peppering the album with atmospheric and sonic change-ups helps to separate it from its comparatively boring contemporaries as a truly one of a kind beast, and essential listening to any fan of death metal, particularly the Stockholm and Gothenburg varieties.
When I was starting to get into melodic death metal at first, I practically looked up some good bands. At The Gates was a band that kept popping up, so finally I decided to check them out. Terminal Spirit Disease is arguably the album that got me into melodic death metal. I loved this bands music but had never gone back and listened to this, their debut. So I finally decided to. And to be frankly honest with you, I absolutely HATED it. I thought the music was unorganized, bad, and Tomas Lindberg sounded worse than ever. Finally about a month ago, I decided it was time that I should listen to some old At The Gates. By this point, I was much better acquainted with the genre, and by this point, I was liking a lot more death metal than before. I played the first song, the title track, and was absolutely blown away. It WAS absolutely terrible organized, and I DID think Lindberg sounded like shit. However, this is what I've come to love about this album and the music on it.
I have found only one word fit to describe this album: absolute total chaos. This album is chaotic in every sense, and when I say that I mean it is PHENOMENALLY chaotic. No, it isn't like Slaughter Of The Soul, where every take of every instrument is perfectly mixed, and every take is absolutely perfect. That is where this album differs, this is At The Gates minus the OCD of their later releases. While I do love an album like Slaughter, I find this album to be more brutal take and here's why: The disorganization, and overall youth of the musicians. They couldn't produce a good, perfect album. With their later work, they were doing simple guitar solos, Slayer style riffs on the guitars rhythm parts, and simplicity. Still good, but very simple. This album is not a simple take on melodic death metal, it is anything but that. Violins pop in out of nowhere, and while they seem useless and out of tune upon first listen, they add to the heaviness and overall somberness of this album. Influences not even from metal but from classical music, in particular from Dimitri Shostakovitch's fifth symphony, appear on the guitar solo to the song Kingdom Gone (which is a pretty fucking amazing song by the way). All this craziness is what makes me say "wow" after listening to it every time.
To compare this album with other melodic death metal, this album would be hard to equal. Probably the only comparable album would be, In Flames' Lunar Strain. Both these albums showcase all of these bands trying to find their footing, trying to impress with complicated riffs, and never using the same riff more than 2 times in a song. Basically, they all throw tons of riffs into 1 song, and still manage to have it be a song. But this album, still stands above all the other album for me, because of the pure chaos which is not really as prevalent on the other album, and the overall power this manages to convey. The guitars on this album also sound really different, compared to the Peavey 5150s used on In Flames' Lunar Strain. This is a weird, really fucking weird album, however, it is that weirdness that makes it the best. Standout tracks are the title opener, Kingdom Gone, and Neverwhere. My only 1 complaint with this album is with the mix, where the bass guitar is relatively trebley, making it more difficult to hear along with the guitars, and not adding as much low end power as I would like in such a song as "Kingdom Gone," where they throw in loads of power and bass live.
Prepare yourself, this isn't the watered down filler fest that is the overpraised Slaughter of the Soul. But this-- this is true melodic death metal hailing from Sweden. Combining melodic tremolo picking from hell, mixed with a healthy dosing of complex song structures and then followed by godly drumming with just a dash of sloppy vocals of torment and despair and you get what is one of death metals most overwhelmingly complex and finest offerings (with a a slight violin aftertaste).
Tomas Lindberg supplies the vocals on this record and summons the souls of the tortured to lead a hand. Lindberg's vocals is truly devious, sounding like he is in constant pain while getting his jugular ripped out over and over again. It's a great effect for the album and his sloppy demented screams fill your ears with constant pleasure. The title track has a great opening scream that really shows Lindberg's might and power has a vocalist. "Claws of Laughter Dead" is another great display of this vocals with some great screams and vocal lines that will haunt any of those listening. Another track with some great singing is the monstrous "Kingdom Gone". This track has a powerful chorus and opening that sucks you right into the intensity of the music. Lindberg was a masterful singer at this period in his career and his voice on this album is superb. Sadly, he wouldn't keep this style long, but be glad it was shown on at least a proper album.
Guitarists Anders Björler and Alf Svensson do an amazing job on this album creating complex and progressive death metal through the extensive use of tremolo picking. Every song is roughly 99% tremolo picking and surprisingly, they are able to keep it interesting and fresh. Track like "Windows" and "Neverwhere" show their ability to do so. Other tracks like the intro to "Within" and "Night Comes, Blood Black" show the most different riffing variations with influences of doom (Within) and thrash (Night Comes, Blood Black). The guitar playing is very complex with tracks like "Within", "Claws of Laughter Dead", and "Neverwhere" that show a progressive side that I really adore. The duel guitars also play competing melodies at times, like on "Windows" and "The Scar" which make the depth of the album even deeper. Guitar solos are pretty absent on this album except the track "Claws of Laughter Dead" which in actuality is a rather weak solo but then again it doesn't really bother me now after hearing it so much. "The Scar" is radically different from the rest of the tracks featuring only clean guitar and whispered vocals. This is a great track that really sets the mood for the following track. Overall the guitar work is very good, full of interesting riffs and song structures that are backed by a killer tone that makes this album really great.
The bass work on this album is also very good. Jonas Björler has some nice diminished bass breaks on tracks such as "Kingdom Gone" and "Claws of Laughter Dead" that drive the overwhelming music to even further limits. The bass follows the tremolo picking fest that is brought by the guitar and can be heard strumming fiercely on "Within". The tone is rather good and very clean which is refreshing to hear when the bass peaks its head above the tormenting screams and pounding drums.
The real star of the show is Adrian Erlandsson on drums. This is hands down some of the best drumming in death metal. Erlandsson takes the conventional 'blast beating through the whole song' style of death metal and throws it out the window. Erlandsson does show off some blast beats but shows he can do so much more on tracks like "Through Gardens of Grief" and "Within". Other than complex beats and rhythms that makes this album so great, the fills are even more enticing. "Neverwhere" and "Claws of Laughter Dead" have amazing drum breaks that are so good you couldn't help but showing off your air drumming skills. The drum tone is very nice and clear for death metal that usually consists of horrid tones and production, but thankfully this album does not follow those stereotypes. Overall the drumming is phenomenal and shows Erlandsson's skill in the best fashion available.
Other than traditional death metal instruments there is also a healthy dose of violin present on this record. As heard on "The Red in the Sky Is Ours", "Through Gardens of Grief" and "Within" most prominently, the violin actually fits well within the tremolo picking filled music. The violin certainly gives the songs a more sophisticated feeling to the tracks when in reality, they are not. But none the less, the violin is a nice touch to the music and makes for some great "WTF IS THAT!?!?" moments for first time listeners.
In the end, this is At The Gates one and only masterpiece before slowly dumbing down their music down to conventional and acceptable standards. Made great with disgustingly amazing vocals, interesting tremolo picking and godly drumming this album deserves to be heard. Definitely check this album out for some great and complex melodic death metal, or if you're a fan of out of the ordinary death metal.
Ah, Sweden. A home to a wide array of extreme music sub genres. Some well recognized, other fairly overlooked. Everything from black metal to grindcore to crust punk has taken up residence there. But only one genre can call it home, and that is the double edged sword of melodic death metal. A genre that took extreme music into territories of effervescing grace and beauty, but also served as the template for the abomination known as metalcore. But this isn't the Iron Maiden worship found on albums like The Jester Race or Slaughter of the Soul. This is something much darker and foreboding. It's as if Entombed had a baby with early Norwegian black metal. The frantic structure, raw production, melodic interludes, and bleak atmosphere combine into a very strange and unique album.
Starting with the production. It sounds like a blend of what you'd hear on Leprosy, Soulside Journey, and Left Hand Path. Some tracks are very clear and cut through the mix (drums, vocals), while others get muffled underneath everything else (extra guitars, bass, violins), but this only enhances the quality of the album, as it adds to the overall atmosphere.
Tompa's vocals are raw as hell on this album, sounding more like Martin van Drunen than himself on the following albums. He uses a technique that sounds like a mix of yelling and shrieking, while being strangled. The guitar work is very strange. It almost borders on experimental on how it flows from chaotic and dissonant to melodic and graceful. The blend of death/thrash and black metal elements is almost dizzying. It's absolutely mind blowing how the band as a whole is able to hold down all the unconventional time signatures and tempo shifts. There's some sloppiness in Adrian's drumming, but on the whole his drumming works in the context of the album and adds to chaotic atmosphere. As I previously mentioned, the bass kind of takes a back seat, but still provides a nice bottom end to the whole.
The only drawback to this album is how some of the tracks blur together, but this is a small flaw as most of the album has enough variety to maintain my interest. If I had to pick standout songs I would choose Kingdom Gone, Within, Windows, Neverwhere, and The Scar. Kingdom Gone is a prime example of how blackened death metal should sound. Raw, gritty, and frantic, not overproduced and bland like newer Behemoth. Within is a ballad of a journey through the human psyche, starting off slow and ominous and picking up tempo with chaotic blast beats and frantic tremolo riffs and a few melodic touches towards the end. Windows has a very melodic intro, and then drops into straight death metal with some melodic fills throughout. Neverwhere is my all time favorite At the Gates track. All change ups are insane and are fairly memorable. The Scar is the most unique song, being devoid of any bass and drums, and instead of yelling/shrieking, Lindberg whispers the lyrics.
If you like death metal and early black metal, then this will definitely be your cup of tea. With elements from albums like Human, Leprosy, Left Hand Path, Clandestine, and Deathcrush, this is sure to please any old school fan.
At the Gates shouldn't need an introduction, pretty much any metal head knows this band and obviously a certain album they released in 1995. This here is the bands debut album, and arguably their finest. For my money I'd say The Red in the Sky is Ours is the bands finest, and here I'll explain why.
At first I actually dismissed this as budget Swedish death metal, but on further inspection I found this a lot more noteworthy than I had first imagined. For one this was 1992 and a lot of the Swedish death metal bands were just starting to find their feet and/or were crawling out of the woodwork. Whilst acts such as Necrophobic and Unanimated would come to do this style a lot better, for the time this was pretty damn cool and even original.
The inclusion of violins in places was a particularly interesting move, and really helped separate At the Gates from their peers. It also added a particularly creepy edge to the bands sprawling, twisting death metal. Their use of more melodic guitar harmonies worked particularly well too, and I'm sure acts as diverse as Edge of Sanity and Opeth would have took note, as well as some of the Swedish black metal acts.
Even the guitar riffs have a unique edge to them, and the album just generally boasts a cool obscure feel that was far away from what they would later become renowned for. Whilst the production is a little rough around the edges it adds more to the charm than anything, the guitar tone is punchy, and the drums sound natural, the bass sounds pretty good too. As for performances, I've mentioned the guitar work a couple of times, but its really well done. Anders and Alf definitely had something to say, and they said it in spades with their guitar work. Tomas Lindberg's vocals are also worthy of note, firmly routed in the Swedish school of shouting manical vocals as opposed to the US "cookie monster" style, Lindberg's vocals were exactly what the doctor ordered here.
Naming standouts isn't necessary, the album has a wonderful flow, as melodic as it is schizo, The Red in the Sky is Ours is a quality release and ultimately stands as At The Gates' finest. This is a mandatory addition to any Swedish death metal collection, and shows what the Gothenburg scene could have shaped up like given different circumstance.
This album is one of the first (if not, the first) melodic DM releases. Born from the ashes of Grotesque and Infestation, At the Gates went on to define the genre and inspired an entire scene, along with a slew of knockoffs. What they accomplished on this album is nothing short of legendary. From the chaotic opening track, through the melodic wonderland of "Windows" and beyond, this album is how melodic death metal should have stayed (sadly, it didn't).
What sets the album apart is the guitar work. Alf Svensson's ability to craft such elegant, yet evil melodies and riffs is unparalleled. Regrettably, the band was never quite the same after he left. The vocals aren't quite what one would expect from a death metal band. Lindberg's vocals on this album are more reminiscent of black metal vocals than in his later vocal performances. However, I find they fit perfectly with the material here. His wails add more desperation to the atmosphere. The drumming is quite good, however it is sloppy in some bits. The bass is barely audible except in a few bits of the songs (ie: "Within"). The violin definitely adds a nice touch to the songs in which it is featured.
The production overall is lacking, and according to an interview, the band thought so too at the time. But overall this album is the start of a whole new world of death metal. At the time, it was a completely new style and I would have loved to been able to appreciate it back then. TRITSIO still holds up extremely well and should be used as the standard by which all melodic death metal should be judged by on a musical level. its only issue is the production, but considering the level of high quality music, one can easily look past the flaw and view this album for what it truly is; a masterpiece.
Everything about this album blows me away every time I listen to it. Tomas Lindberg's tortured screams are some of the best metal vocals ever, nailing the perfect growling scream that is nearly impossible to imitate. The riffing on this album is all over the place and completely phenomenal. There are definitely some traditional "evil" melodic elements in the riffing, but the riffs break all the rules of traditional music and melody.
The riffing on this album is really what sets early ATG apart from every other melodic death metal band ever. They manage to weave melody that is incompatible with classical musical structures but still extremely pleasing to the ear into their music. They also manage to form those melodies in some of the most mournful ways possible. Listening to the guitar riffs alone can inspire a feeling of sorrow.
When one adds Tomas Lindberg's amazing screams to the mournful melodic riffing, the end result is a work of amazing pure evil atmosphere. The guitars and basses are of course down-tuned and heavy as possible throughout. The drums are fairly straightforward, and pretty much exist to offer a backdrop for the two duelling guitars.
The two guitars' working together create great effects on this album. Usually during slower melodic parts (for example, near the end of "Kingdom Gone") one guitar will play a low, heavy riff while the other plays a high harmonic variation on the same riff. The same goes for the main riffs played during the vocals throughout the album. Even if the guitars are playing in the same register, their parts are varied just enough to create amazing harmonies that sound great but can't be explained using traditional theory.
The album is very rhythmic and stays true to its heavy, death metal foundation, but ventures into an atmosphere of total darkness and evil, borrowing some early black metal elements and implementing them into the riffing. The album also features many great clean acoustic and violin breaks which fit perfectly into the overall atmosphere. Every song is unique and amazing in its own way. The album is incomparable to any other melodic death metal release. This is what melodic death metal should sound like.
At the Gates rose from the ashes of Grotesque, a Satanic Swedish black/death metal band from the late 80s. With the Gardens of Grief E.P. the band already showed a definitive shift from the sound of Grotesque and the bottom-heavy sound was more related to other bands of the time. The vocals were much deeper, for the most part, but the release showed promise.
The Red In the Sky Is Ours is the debut full-length from Sweden's At the Gates. This is truly a masterpiece of an album, and far surpasses anything the band would go on to release. The spirit of Grotesque lives on here, but in much different form. This is not typical Swedish death metal, at all. It is actually much more reminiscent of early Burzum. In many aspects, this album possesses a similar feel and the structures are quite more complicated than most Death Metal. However, it does feature some of the rhythmic structures of that subgenre.
Vocally, Tomas Lindberg's style is a terrible shriek, that fits alongside that of Varg Vikernes. It works brilliantly with the hauntingly miserable melodies of this album. It sounds much less controlled than on later releases and is one of the best aspects of this album.
"The Red In the Sky Is Ours / The Season To Come" starts off furiously with tortured screams, blasting drums and fast tremolo riffs. This album gives the impression that the band could have easily chosen to go down a different path. They could have made the transition to Black Metal, such as Darkthrone did, and been quite successful. One can even find minor similarities between this and Soulside Journey. It is a shame that At the Gates chose a simpler way, following this album. At the conclusion of the opening track, there is the sound of thunder and rain, accompanied by a violin. This seems to accentuate the atmosphere very well.
To explain the production, the sound is clear enough but not overdone. It's not exactly raw, either. To best describe it, one would have to compare it to the first two Burzum albums and even Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism from Immortal. The guitar is definitely audible, but not very sharp. Really, the album may have benefitted from the guitars being a little bit louder in the mix, but this is a minor complaint. The drums drive the songs nearly as much as the guitars do, so it may not be right to bury them in the mix.
In some places, one can find doom-inspired riffs, maybe in the vein of Dissection's The Somberlain. There is definitely a dark and somber atmosphere being created with this work. "Through Gardens of Grief" is one of the best songs on here, and features brilliant harmonies. There is also another violin piece in this song, going further to add to the depressive feeling. The song is mostly fast-paced, but not entirely. The vocals really convey a deep hopelessness here.
The epic feeling continues on the next song, "Within." It begins with a doomy riffs, yet manages to get up to full speed later on. There is even another violin passage that blends in, seamlessly. And it is at this point the listener must realize the pure genius of this record. Here, At the Gates have created an absolute masterpiece, yet it seems to have occurred naturally. Many bands try to achieve such lofty goals, only to fall short. They try too hard. On The Red In the Sky Is Ours, the members of At the Gates flawlessly executed their goal. They brought their vision to life, and it was only a coincidence that it turned out so brilliantly. It was an extension of their creativity, which seemed to have no boundaries at this point. Only later on would they appear to limit themselves and thus suffocate this brilliance.
As the album continues, "Windows" offers great melodies filled with tension and dread. "Neverwhere" is certainly one of the standout tracks on this album. The dark melodies, agonized vocals and lyrics flow together, perfectly.
"Life doesn't belong here."
"The Scar" seems to be more of an extension of the previous song. The mood is much the same, though the delivery is much more subdued. Though quite simple, the song does well in painting a very bleak picture.
"The end, it reaches out for me. My soul still calling to be free."
This short piece manages to, effectively, create a very bleak and hopeless feeling. As the album draws to a close, the pace picks back up, somewhat. We also get a new version of "City of Screaming Statues" which was originally released on the Gardens of Grief E.P. This song is blindingly fast, most of the way through, yet it is a fitting close to this monumental album. Such an achievement would never again be equaled by this band or any other that attempted to follow in its wake. This album represents that peak of creativity for At the Gates. If you have not yet heard this, then you do not truly know this band.
Written for Rites of the Black Moon Webzine-
This is one hell of a hard album to really describe, as I've really never heard anything like it. It could certainly be called "melodic death metal," but there sure as hell aren't any happy riffs here, or any of the catchy melodies that would characterize ATG's most renowned work. This definately leans more towards death metal, with a very strong doom vibe throughout and a definate touch of psychotic brutality.
Tempos range from fast to crawling, and I'd have to say that here ATG really shines when staying in the slower sections. Just the opening riff of "Within" twists around your neck and drags you down into the suffocating layers of the song. "Through Gardens of Grief" starts off with a grinding riff, then out come those nasty, strangling riffs, and a twisted violin melody at the end.
"Windows" is probably the closest that they come to sounding like their best known work, Slaughter of the Soul, but there is still quite that odd feeling to the riffing between Anders Bjorler and Alf Svensson. This isn't like Sacramentum's Far Away from the Sun, where the counterpoint riffing and unparallell harmonies created something strange and beautiful, these riffs just sound sick. Sure, a lot of times, the guitars grind away in a typical Slayer fashion, but when they don't...they give you a really uneasy feeling. It's as if they are taking the songs somewhere unknown, usually to the bowels of some Lovecraftian nightmare.
Whereas Tomas sounds possessed on here, and the guitar tone sort of wet and swampy, what really sounds strange on here is the violin. At times it provides a bizarre, floating melody, whereas on "The Season To Come," it is rather an afterthought.
This certainly is not an album for a casual fan, as it does demand repeated listens to full grasp what is going on. You're likely to wonder what just happened after listening to it the first time, and even on repeated listens its kind of hard to expereince in pieces. One thing can be sure: this is not the product of sane people.
Within the history of any artistic genre or movement it is often possible to discern a discreet and predictable developmental pattern. Its initial emergence is murky and indistinct, with multiple artists groping awkwardly around the edges of what it will later become. Soon, the inconsistent fumbling gives way to a second stage in which new artists emerge to consolidate and codify, emphasizing the essential and discarding the dead weight the genre founders had carried over from the previous generation. Finally, yet more artists arrive to build upon the now settled foundation, expanding upon it and ushering in a ‘golden age.’
In death metal these three eras correspond roughly to the years 1983-1986, 1987-1989 and 1990-1993, respectively. It was during the last of these periods that the overwhelming majority of death metal’s greatest albums were released. Bands like Deicide, Atheist, Incantation, Amorphis Demilich, Fleshcrawl, Dismember and Necrophobic emerged to push the genre to new heights, but perhaps no band pushed the limits further or faster than Sweden’s At the Gates did with The Red in the Sky is Ours.
At the Gates are often considered the ‘fathers’ of melodic death metal, and while the term itself may be of doubtful utility as a genre tag, it certainly provides a reasonable starting point for understanding The Red in the Sky is Ours. While its basic approach to instrumentation clearly marks it as a death metal album, there is an underlying awareness of the emerging black metal movement in the fluid tremolo picked melodies (sometimes consonant, sometime dissonant, sometimes built just from the fragments of the chromatic scale - always with the chill of the Void in their depths) that form that compositional backbone and chief vessel for meaning in these songs.
Often these melodies are accompanied or embellished with strings. In fact, The Red in the Sky is Ours frequently resembles nothing so much as string concerto emerging from the depths of the inferno. Here, the guitars evoke the demonic, lightning-fingered cadenzas of Paganini (the title track), there a melancholic adagio for cello and double bass (“City of Screaming Statues”). At other times, the melodic lines are juxtaposed disconcertingly with dissonant counterpoint (“Through Gardens of Grief”), bringing to the mind to dystopian visions of the darkest of Modernist nightmares.
Technically, The Red in the Sky is Ours is breathtaking. While it doesn’t aspire to the nth degree musicianship of, say, Cynic, the instrumentation is considerably more complex than one would find even among many technically accomplished bands like Deicide or Morbid Angel (and certainly far more advanced than the viscerally primitive bludgeoning of the then preeminent Stockholm scene).
But what really catches the ear is the vast array of techniques at the band’s disposal and the calculated precision of their employment. The Red in the Sky is Ours makes use of everything from keyless modalism to polyphony to radical dissonance to elements of serialism and set theory to construct, enhance and complement (and sometimes deconstruct) its central melodies. The Red in the Sky is Ours may very well be the most compositionally aware album in death metal history. Still, none of these techniques are applied indiscriminately, and in their seamless incorporation into the broader context of song we are made more aware of the central experience of the whole of the music itself, rather than experiencing it as a series of constituent parts.
For this reason, The Red in the Sky is Ours distinguishes itself not just in the epic breadth of its vision or the diversity and innovative vigor of its technical execution, but in the totalizing holism and lucidity that mark it a master work among master works. The mastery of tactical detail is matched and more than matched by a strategic mastery of metastructure in which each brilliant detail is rendered more vivid and powerful through its placement in the overarching narrative of song. Similarly, each song is enhanced by its placement within the larger context of the album.
Equally impressive is the seeming effortlessness of the whole project. For all the studied precision of its instrumentation, The Red in the Sky is Ours exudes the sort of intuitive genius that can neither be taught nor achieved through rote practice. The Germans call it Fingerspitzengefühl – the ‘finger sense.’ It’s a term that strikes exactly the right chord, evoking both the sheer magic the album conjures, and the deft and nearly undetectable touch of the band’s skillful manipulation of the listener.
Despite the labyrinthine complexity of much of the music, there is very little of the jarring discontinuity the characterized the work of many of band’s contemporaries. Where artists like Deicide and Atheist built tension through abrupt rhythmic dislocation, At the Gates achieves the same goal through subtler manipulations of dynamics, texture, harmonic shading and melodic development. As a result, The Red in the Sky is Ours retains a certain grace and fluidity of movement that aestheticizes the violence, rage and alienation at its core without diminishing or obscuring them.
It was perhaps inevitable that excellence of this magnitude would prove unsustainable, at least in the strike-while-the-iron-is-hot world of modern recording. While At the Gates would go on to release three more albums, none even remotely approached the rapturous levels reached with The Red in the Sky is Ours. However, the greatness of this album is such that even subsequent mediocrity can in no way dim the glory of a band that once stood at the very pinnacle of their artform.
More often than not, when someone hears the name At the Gates, the first thing they think of is "Slaughter of the Soul!!!!". So large was that album's impact on the current melodic death and metalcore scenes that it often seems the rest of the At The Gates discography is totally ignored. Thankfully, more seasoned metal fans recognize the brilliance of the works that came before.
When I first purchased "The Red in the Sky Is Ours" over a year ago, I was expecting a fairly controlled melodic death attack, not too far off from SotS, just a tad more complex and not as cleanly produced. What I received was a whirlwind of seemingly disorganized drumming,oddly harmonized but well composed guitar work, a powerful but harsh sounding production, and song structures that could change dramatically every 20 seconds. I was also surprised to hear a violin pop up every now and then. A nice touch, but definitely not what a person who had only heard Slaughter of the Soul would expect. Surprisingly, I was not immediately put off by this album, but instead intrigued. I listened many more times in attempt to understand the intricacies and beauty underneath a fairly oppressive surface.
Eventually, all the songs here began to make complete sense, despite all the rhythmic and thematic changes. Although I would typically find the random use of violins to be gimmicky, it is used so sparingly here, usually to accent one of the more controlled melodic sections, such as the ending of "Within". Still, one could see this as unnecessary.
What The Red in the Sky Is Ours gives us is a look at what melodic death metal should be. Make no mistake, the melodic qualities present on Slaughter of the Soul are also here, only constructed in a much more progressive (as opposed to circular) manner. Rhythmically, it is heavy enough to still be called death metal, as opposed to "Iron Maiden with laryngitis".
There are no real standout tracks, as nearly all songs except "The Scar" are in the same vein. My favorites include the concert favorite "Kingdom Gone", the melodic "Within" and "Windows", and the sheer ferocity of the closing track, "City of Screaming Statues".
So why not 100%? The musicianship, while very impressive overall, can sometimes be hit or miss as far as timing goes (such as a drum fill that goes on for a second too long), but as long as you don't have a metronome branded in your brain, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Some parts within songs just seem like they had more effort put into them than others. Some may find issue with the production, but as long as you're not obsessed with overglossed Killswitch Engage styled recording, it shouldn't be an issue. To the untrained ear, The Red in the Sky is Ours can also be off-putting, which may explain why this album (and its counterpart, the subsequent With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness) are mostly ignored.
If you are interested in hearing melodic death metal played the right way, progressive, complex, and heavy, I highly recommend this album as a starting point. An underrated classic without a doubt.
Upon hearing the first bits of The Red in the Sky is Ours, you know this album is going to completely annihilate your sorry ass. It's classic death metal, you listen to it and you know this wasn't a fluke of a band. Their albums got steadily less brutal, but were great releases on their own merit.
As for the songs on this album, what can I say? The title track just completely blew me away, and the violin parts just adds that odd contrast that many Swedish bands love to do (and I love to hear). The other songs that really stood out to me (which means, made me stop and look at the song number and name) were Kingdom Gone, Within (godly GODLY intro), and The Scar. The rest of the songs were very well made on their own right. Tomas' vocals are great, some of the best death metal vocals I've heard in a long time, and like said before, Jesper's violin is just great. Adrian's drumming is godly, they drive the songs on very well.
The digipack came with two live tracks and a demo, and those are worthwhile as well. Ever-Opening Flower was just great, and I had to keep listening to it because it just sounds amazing. If you hate the 'Gothenburg' scene, I guarantee you that this is an album for you, because it's death metal all the way.