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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.