AT THE GATES The nightmare of being BLACK VINYL
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Undisputed masters of Swedish death metal, At The Gates have always been a fearless force for creative thinking. Formed in Gothenburg in 1990, the band’s highly influential take on the burgeoning extreme metal formula swiftly thrust them to the forefront of the underground. Over the years that followed, they demonstrated an intensity and artistic hunger that few of their contemporaries could match. Their first two albums – The Red In The Sky Is Ours (1992) and With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness (1993) – eschewed the straightforward, melodic approach of their home-town peers in favour of a dark and progressive strain of full-bore brutality, with artful atmospherics and an underlying sense of otherworldly unease.
After sharpening up both their sound and their songwriting for 1994’s Terminal Spirit Disease, At The Gates delivered the mother of all melo-death masterpieces in 1995. Slaughter Of The Soul remains a revered benchmark for both its creators and the metal scene in general, despite the premature dissolution of the band up shortly after its release. During the years that followed, At The Gates’ reputation grew and their influence on a generation of metal bands became abundantly apparent.
A second chapter began in earnest in 2008, with a series of acclaimed reunion shows, before At The Gates made a full-scale comeback to action with fourth album At War With Reality in 2014: a sophisticated and intricate return to top form that also introduced numerous new weapons into the Swedes’ armoury. Faster and nastier than its predecessor, 2018’s To Drink From The Night Itself provided further proof that the band’s 21st century incarnation was easily outstripping the musical achievements of the early years, and subsequent live shows were as intense and celebratory as any they have experienced.
Fast forward to 2021, and At The Gates are poised to release what can only be described as the finest album of their careers to date. A concept album that explores the dark revelations contained in pessimist philosophy, The Nightmare Of Being unveils a newly liberated and adventurous At The Gates, via some of the bravest and most mesmerising material they have ever written. As vocalist and co-founder Tomas Lindberg Redant explains, the new album’s concept emerged from an intense period of reading and reflection.
“I had just read something by Thomas Ligotti – he writes horror and there’s a lot of Lovecraft-like, dark philosophy in there, the philosophy of pessimism. Then I found Ligotti had written another book called The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, which is more a biography of pessimist thought. I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool…’ and when I started reading that, it was him defending his worldview and going into detail about other pessimistic writers that had come before and how they can sometimes be connected to the horror genre. He namedropped so many people in that book, that it became a starting point for finding all this other stuff, and then I knew where we wanted to go with this record.”
Quite unlike anything At The Gates have released before, The Nightmare Of Being plumbs existential depths and conjures some profound questions for anyone bold enough to engage. Fittingly, it is also the most musically inventive and daring record the band have ever made, as Tomas’ brutally poetic lyrics collide with a wild hybrid of classic ATG trademarks, lysergic prog rock detours and moments of jaw-dropping grandeur.
“I told Jonas (Björler) I wanted this to be a really dark record. The last one was dark but maybe more aggressive. It was more about struggle and resistance. This one is deeper, darker and more philosophical, so I told Jonas he could really go far with this one, with the ideas that we always had about putting the progressive stuff in there. Pretty early on he came out with the first sketches for Garden Of Cyrus which is the more King Crimson-like song on there. After that we knew that we could do this and there was nothing holding us back from where we want to go. Of course, it’s not the most commercial album, in that sense, but none of the albums are, and they’re all different.”
Audibly driven by a wide-eyed lust for the new, The Nightmare Of Being is the result of a highly fertile creative period, wherein chief songwriter and bassist Jonas Björler enthusiastically embraced Tomas’ lyrical and conceptual perversities, shrugging off the shackles of expectation in the process. Although there is still plenty of balls-out death metal to be enjoyed on the band’s seventh full-length, there is also much evidence that At The Gates have evolved into a more imaginative and devastating beast than ever before. Songs like the twisted prog assault of Garden Of Cyrus and the malevolent krautrock battery of Cosmic Pessimism – a collaboration with American author and pessimist philosopher Eugene Thacker – bulge with jaw-dropping moments of skewed invention, while still delivering the expected thump to the ribcage.
“Midway through the writing process we did our show at Roadburn 2019,” Tomas recalls. “It was the biggest project we’ve ever done and we felt that people were up for it. We opened with a King Crimson song and we did a Philip Glass cover and people didn’t flinch, and I guess that said to us that people might not think it’s too weird if we went all the way with this record. I guess a true follower would not be shocked by a saxophone. They will understand completely that we love Coltrane and Crimson, so this is logical. We had a violin on the first record, 30 years ago, you know what I mean?”
Recorded in several different studios, The Nightmare Of Being sounds colossal but weirdly intimate and oppressive, in keeping with the album’s unsettling conceptual core. With esteemed studio guru Jens Bogren overseeing the recording of Adrian Erlandsson’s drums and legendary guitarist and producer Andy La Rocque manning the decks for guitars and bass, the album is very much a collaborative effort, with all the sonic richness and ingenuity that only the fizziest creative chemistry can achieve.
“When we realised we were going all the way with all these weird arrangements and diving into these dark waters, we thought that maybe we should have a more natural and analogue feel to it all,” says Tomas. “But also crisp and clear so you hear all the small details. Jens did the drums, and he is so much into the details. But then we wanted to record all the guitars and bass with Andy (La Rocque) because he has a great ear, to bring out the riffs and the solos as clear as possible, because he’s another level of guitar player. Andy plays a solo again, on Spectre Of Extinction, which is great, of course.”
With stunning, evocative artwork from artist Eva Nahon (a recent Roadburn collaborator who contributed to the presentation of Tomas’ festival curation in 2019), The Nightmare Of Being is an extraordinarily complete and cohesive piece of work from one of the truly great metal bands of the modern era. Authentically dark and disturbing and yet undeniably exhilarating from brooding start to epic finish, it’s every bit the equal of At The Gates’ early classics, while propelling the band ever further down that fascinating, left hand path that has served them so well.
“Yes, for some people we are the band with just that one record from 1995,” Tomas concludes. “But really, Slaughter Of The Soul stands out in our career as the most one-dimensional record we ever did! [Laughs] So it’s kind of weird that we’re judged by that one, because all the other records are a lot more interesting, and this one is the most interesting of all. I think the maturity of being at it for 30 years might have something to do with it. We couldn’t have done this before. But we’re always moving forward.”
|Liste des titres
||- Spectre of Extinction
||- The Paradox
||- The Nightmare of Being
||- Garden of Cyrus
||- Touched by the White Hands of Death
||- The Fall into Time
||- Cult of Salvation
||- The Abstract Enthroned
||- Cosmic Pessimism
||- Eternal Winter of Reason
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