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The nightmare of growing old. - 69%

JetMeestard, July 21st, 2021

I ought to start this review with a disclaimer: I got into At The Gates through their post-reunion output, more specifically To Drink From the Night Itself, which in turn prompted me to look into their past works. Sacrilege, I know. That being said, I did quite enjoy those albums, and their influence can’t be understated. Slaughter of the Soul specifically proved to be a template for the hundreds of melodic metalcore bands that came to be in the 2000s. Since their reunion though, At The Gates has been trying to recapture that album's essence, to varying degrees of success. When The Nightmare of Being was announced, I was cautiously optimistic, since the leadup singles to it were actually able to pique my interest in the album. Turns out, the band had other plans in store.

This album is inconsistent to high hell. For every good and energetic track there was at least one that just left me scratching my head in confusion. I did read that the band experimented with some new things on the album, but I did not expect a damned saxophone to show up at “Garden of Cyrus”. It was one of the many moments that had me checking my music player to see if I was still listening to the same album. The band has obviously used non-metal instruments in the past, and they still do, but its inclusion here and nowhere else on the album makes it stick out like a sore thumb and gives the impression of “hey, this sounds neat, let’s add it”. There are plenty of orchestral additions sprinkled throughout the album which are far more successful, like choir vocals and the violin that any fan of The Red in the Sky is Ours will appreciate, no doubt.

There’s also the fact that some songs end abruptly, as if the band just decided to stop playing with nary a crescendo to be found. Tracks like “The Paradox'' and “Garden of Cyrus” (yeah I’ve a bone to pick with this one) just kind of stop, the latter in particular spending most of its runtime feeling like it's building up to something that never comes. It’s just stuff like that that gives me the impression that the album needed some more time in the oven.

That being said, there are plenty of strong tracks here, full of catchy melodies that stand out and leave a good impression. “Spectre of Extinction” is an extremely strong opener, and the tremolo riff used throughout brings to mind melodic black metal, which was a pleasant surprise. There are also tracks that bring to mind the Slaughter... era, with rapid fire riffing that gives way to some great chugs like on “Touched by the White Hands of Death” and “The Abstract Enthroned”, the latter of which has one of the best riffs on the album.

The production is also excellent, as expected of a band of At The Gates’ caliber and with the backing of a label like Century Media. Everything sounds crisp and clean without being powerless, while the mixing also helps bring out the most out of every instrument, particularly the bass, which actually gets plenty of moments throughout the album.

Lyrically the band tackles social malaise, with themes of hopelessness and the futility of human existence permeating the entire album. All that is delivered by Tomas yet again, whose voice seems to have lost some of the power it used to have. His growl has always been one of the band’s defining characteristics and to hear him sound as strained as he does here is saddening.

The Nightmare of Being shows us an old band trying its best to keep up. It feels like an attempt at expanding towards new horizons with a lot of experiments, not all of which are successful. It’s an album that could be considered one that showcases growing pains in the future, if we ever end up getting one that expands on what’s heard here. As it stands, it’s probably their weakest effort so far, barring Terminal Spirit Disease. One can only hope this was merely a misstep and that we’ll be treated to another quality album in the future.

Highlights: Spectre of Extinction, Touched by the White Hands of Death, The Abstract Enthroned, Eternal Winter of Reason