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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.