AT THE GATES: The Nightmare Of Being
Release year: 2021
Label: Century Media
What if you don’t like an absolutely classic band, a band whose status and stature are well beyond the realm of opinion? Should you review their latter day output; can you give it a fair treatment? Or, from another point of view, are you better suited to review it than someone who’s view might be skewed by adoration of past glories? Does it matter at all?
Such are my thoughts as I approach The Nightmare Of Being, the most recent output by Swedish At The Gates, grand old men and veritable icons of melodic Swedish death metal. This is a band who has not only cast a long shadow over all Swedish death metal and act as the bridge between the “old school” sound and the melodic Swedish sound that was all the rage around the turn of the millennium – but also crafted a sound that is so strongly their own that few dare imitate it.
They are also a band I’ve never particularly cared for. Sure, I do own one CD by them (Slaughter Of The Soul), but I never listen to it. The rest, I’ve never bothered buying or have sold away. Because, quite frankly, whilst not denying any of their import, they’ve just never tickled my ribs. But all the same, here I am writing a review of their newest album.
Okay, so, with the background of not really being an aficionado, I approached The Nightmare Of Being with what I consider a healthy sense of realism: I probably won’t be all over this one, but I know how At The Gates sound and I can probably say whether this is a good or bad At The Gates record. And from that perspective, I’ll tell you this right from the bat: this ain’t a bad one as far as At The Gates goes.
Of course, at this (late) stage in their career, At The Gates sounds like At The Gates. You know the drill. Melodic death metal, but far from generic; there are thrashing elements to be found, as well as blackened corners, and a sound that is well and truly characteristic of At The Gates, and At The Gates alone. No small part of this are the vocals of Tomas Lindberg – that tightly wound, agonizing hoarse shriek is pretty much a trademark.
But at the same time, At The Gates aren’t satisfied with just churning out another assembly line ATG album. There are small elements here and there which speak of greater ambition. The odd section here and there is jazzy, even progressive; and there’s a bit of saxophone to be heard on Garden Of Cyrus. And it’s in these small details that the charm of The Nightmare Of Being lies; for the most part, the band offer what they know the audience wants to hear – vintage At The Gates brand death metal – but there’s enough of something else to keep the album interesting.
And, even when they do what they’re renowned for, At The Gates aren’t by any means beating a dead horse. To their credit, whether you like the band’s sound or not, even after all these years it doesn’t sound like they’re doing it by the numbers, grinding out yet another formulaic album of what they know will sell. Sure, this sounds like the kind of stuff the fans’ll be thirsting for, but it sounds vivid and genuine. It sounds like their hearts are in it.
No, I haven’t become a convert. I haven’t seen the light. I’m not gonna climb on top of the mountain and declare my newfound adoration for At The Gates. I must still admit their sound isn’t quite my cup of tea. But having said that, I can also fairly say that for a band who started out 31 years ago, At The Gates are in respectable form. They’ve created an album that at the same time sounds like you’d expect it to, but also manages to have some unexpected turns. That is a respectable achievement.
In other words, The Nightmare Of Being is not the album to convince the unbelievers. But it is an album that shows At The Gates can still deliver the goods, and it doesn’t taste stale. If their palette has previously suited your palate, then you’ll like this one as well.
Summary: Fans of the band will not be disappointed – the Swedish legends are still masters at their own game.