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The Gates Made Me Do It - 40%

doomknocker, November 25th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Century Media Records

The return of formidable melodeath masters At the Gates was not without both fanfare and unsure demeanors. To be honest I was at first curious to know the how, why, and wherewithal that came with this sudden revival, but then the bitter reality of how big it all went down with some folks out there came to be and, therefore, new material to placate the desire for more Gatesian antics as well came to be. But whether or not this can be seen as a real return to form or a simple product to continue their latest upward trend of attention-seekingness is truly up to the listener's sense of cynicism or positivity.

Evidently taking the years-long lessons of mid-paced pounding mixed with dark harmonies of their ashes-rising heir apparents The Haunted, "At War with Reality" offers a bit more than the subsequent revival act in terms of a more varied arrangement scheme and increase in melody and atmosphere yet retaining that same middle-of-the-road pacing, simpler variety and a rather milquetoast level of performance. Easily taking more cues from the straightforward thrashing of "Slaughter of the Soul" versus the unearthly delights of "The Red in the Sky...", there are occasions where the whole of the music sounds honed and more inspired than the rest of the song(s)/album itself, whether it be the tingly harmonies ("City of Mirrors"), thick-as-jungle-fog riffwork ("The Book of Sand") or occasional clean guitar sections that prove to be worth more weight than the heavier moments ("Order from Chaos" had that down as well as AtG could ever hope to achieve). These moments aren't as numerous as I feel they should have been, but even their minute amount was able to keep "At War with Reality" from being a complete bore. As well, the grungy production and unpolished guitar tone keeps this from being too modernized and product-like for its own good, thereby resulting in the band sounding like a real act versus a studio hack-job overediting every single track and bringing about a little more appreciation on my end, for rarely do you hear a post-millennial recording actually sound like a fucking album over something so post-produced perfect as to be unable to be replicated on stage. DragonForce this sure as shit ain't...

But that's not to say that this is, by any major stretch, the comeback album to outdo all other comeback albums. The main bulk of the album doesn't stray from the same mid-level tempo, rendering the material and performance sounding more fatigued than it really should; there are moments where it almost feels like each respective member recorded their parts after a late work shift and just didn't have the energy the songs desperately need(ed) to make them spectacular instead of "meh" (I found myself tapping my fingers more than a few times during "Heroes and Tombs", a track that really felt twice as long as it really is). I place most of the blame on that on the halfway-inspired songwriting and phoned-in drumming (which is a serious bummer seeing as I know how well Mr. Erlandsson can devastate the kit). And as iffy as I found the vocals (not quite sure whatto think of them, to be honest...), I did find them to be the most genuine of all the At the Gates folks by way of the amount of energy that went into the otherwise off-putting shouts/screams/what have you. If ever the album needed a real saving grace, that would have to be it, which certainly doesn't do the whole affair any major favors in the least. You want to be able to absorb the whole damn thing versus just one or two elements, which clearly did not happen here. But hey, too many years apart will do that to a band, I fear...

In the end "At War..." is, at best, 30% interesting ideas and 70% tired and dull plodding. Those expecting the second coming of "Red Sky..." or even "With Fear..." will walk away plenty disappointed, maybe even a bit pissed, so try not to place this on so high a pedestal. It's not completely worthless, but also not really a necessary listen given the talent involved. Worth a single listen, then you can judge it for its own merits afterwards.