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Anybody who’s ever heard the Gothenburg take on melodic death metal knows full well the limitations of the style and how easy it is to be burnt out after hearing just a few of the albums that are supposedly representative of the subgenre. Bands like Dark Tranquility and Soilwork are poor examples followed all too often, with In Flames probably being the death knell for anyone wishing to look deeper into the style. Surely there was something coming out of Sweden in the mid-90’s that wasn’t complete sugar-laced horseshit, right? Well thankfully there was, Gate of Ishtar being among a small cadre of quality musicians whose work is far less celebrated than their commercially successful peers but who added a touch of class to melodic death without castrating the heavy metal at its core.
The Gates of Ishtar sound is not unique; they’re certainly on the more melodic side of Swedish death metal. But it’s the Gates of Ishtar presentation that convinces the listener to give them a more serious approach than your typical cut-and-paste Gothenburgers. Theirs is an unpretentious, almost nonchalant take on the genre, as if the band were saying to the listeners “yeah, we didn’t invent this stuff, but since we’re going to play it anyway, we might as well do a damn good job with it.” Their attack is minimalistic, consisting of constant riffage (sans frills) with variant but battering drum accompaniment and not a whole lot else, save the rasped vocals and occasional lead bits. There’s less in the way of stock Maiden melodies and more in the way of harmonized tremolo riffs, some of which wouldn’t look out of place on an early Gorgoroth album had different equipment been utilized. The songs lean toward the shorter side (the whole album is only about 32 minutes long) and this brevity keeps the formula from becoming stale in light of the lack of experimentation. Indeed, only the title track briefly attempts to expand the sonic landscape with keyboard and clean accompaniment. Everything else is no-nonsense melody-infused death metal; yeah seriously, there’s virtually no screwing around with this stuff.
All this is enhanced by a clear, even production that highlights nothing…and therefore highlights everything, while maintaining an older sound (in terms of death metal anyway). Lamentably, they end the album with a W.A.S.P. cover they couldn’t possibly do justice. Otherwise it’s a worthwhile excursion into an oft-maligned (and oft-rightly so) genre whose true gems will probably never gain the exposure they deserve. And hey, if you dig this one, they have two more CDs that are almost as good.
It’s mid 90s. The melodic death metal was growing in the northern lands, especially in Sweden. In Flames were already famous and produced good albums, while new bands were growing like mushrooms in a wood and among these ones we could find Gates of Ishtar too. Their style, at least in their debut, wasn’t yet so definite and clear. They embraced also a lot of influences from another famous band in that period: Dissection.
You can see it also from the titles of the songs and, mostly, you can listen to it in the music. The intro is a good guitars duet in Iron Maiden style with the heaviness of the death oriented distortion. A perfect introduction for one of the greatest tracks here, “Where Winds of Darkness Blows”. Here the Dissection influences are preponderant on the fast parts where the riffage is colder, alternated to sad melodies. The following “The Silence” is even heavier with blast beats and sudden cold and excellent lead guitars parts.
The fast sections are full of lead parts with the aggression of the rhythmic guitars. These parts are full of open chord riffs to create a really devastating and cold atmosphere. This sound is able to recreate perfectly the winter storms. The vocals are mostly black metal oriented with shrieks and this is another point in which we can reflect about the influences. There is always the perfect blend of melodic death metal with melodic black metal passages.
“Tears” is a bit calmer in the tempo, showing good, alternating riffs and truly sad melodies. Here the traditional metal plays the most important part with those guitars duets and the melodic solos which are mostly concentrated on the central part. Another slow song is “The Dreaming Glade” where they throw the fundaments for bands like Skyming and Divine Souls. The riffs are slow, meditative with lots of sad melodies and the arpeggios of the electric guitars.
“When Daylight’s Gone” is a bit more impulsive for the use of some parts on blast beats and slowly bring us to the third and last part of the album that is characterized by a bit faster songs, that anyway, don’t forget about the lead guitars work and the melody that comes along. The sadness and the coldness these songs are able to transmit is something great. The solos are perfect and truly evocative while the rhythmic section is always precise.
The final title track is again characterized by frozen tremolo picking for the guitars and sudden blast beats. This time the Dissection influences are truly dominating, also during the fast bass drum parts. The production itself is great because never too clean but perfect and truly icy. The use of some keyboards sounds and the melodic arpeggios always sends me chills everywhere. All in all, a forgotten classic in a period of growth for the melodic death metal scene in Sweden and a jewel to rediscover for its pureness and sincerity.
So, somebody tell me, why doesn't anyone ever talk about these guys? For all the complaining about Gothenburg clones, people really don't seem to dig too far to find what's beneath the surface. Gates of Ishtar is a melodic death metal band from Sweden, who started back in the mid-ninties (sounds like every other band, right?) Two of the band members' names even share at least part of it with another member from Dark Tranquillity. But, that's where the real similarities ends and the music starts.
Drawing influences from all across the board, from Darkthrone style black metal to punk (I'm serious here) to thrash, Gates of Ishtar forged ahead and blazed a new path that many bands would follow in the footsteps of.
So then, you ask 'why should I go looking for that stuff when I can go buy the new Children of Bodom with sparklign production at Tower records?'
Because this is the stuff that started it all. And, in this reviewer's humble opinion, it's better. Lacking the commercialism or the over the top mixing of their future cohorts, Gates of Ishtar have presented us with a gritty and emotional debut, filled with quality song after quality song. That's these guys' MO- consistanty. Though there may be faster more brutal versions of this style, there's what can only be described as more soul to A Bloodred Path and the following two albums release before the band's break up after their third release. Headbangers, grooves, straight up thrashers, the full blown death metal assault, it's all here.
Overall, if you like original and highly melodic death metal, you may not think this is it, but it's almost ten years old, remember, and what better way to listen to Gothenburg than to listen to some of the first? And upon second listening, and each thereafter, you will hear more and more what makes these guys the underground (but still underappreciated) cult icon they are.