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At The Gates - To Drink From The Night Itself (Album Review)

Thursday, 24 May 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

At The Gates have had a rough old time of things. Splitting up in 1996, a year after releasing their melodic death metal masterpiece ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’, the Swedes endured a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, reunion shows and cryptic teases before releasing ‘At War With Reality’ four years ago.

That record, much like its predecessor, set a new high bar for this sort of music, making modern-day In Flames sound like S Club 7. But then…nothing happened. Everyone went wild for the reunion and the reception to the album was glowing, but At The Gates seemed unable to spark the sort of excitement they received when they weren’t around.

Given how many people say they love At The Gates, the band should be selling out much bigger venues and denting the charts. Instead, they’re put in front of apathetic midday audiences at Download Festival. And that’s frustrating, because ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’, the band’s sixth full-length, does a lot of interesting stuff.

Founding member Anders Björler may have left, but his replacement, Jonas Stålhammar, teams up with Jonas Björler to deliver that twin-lead, Iron Maiden-in-a-graveyard guitar sound you crave. The title track, Palace of Lepers and A Labyrinth Of Tombs are full-on, epic At The Gates anthems where Tomas Lindberg’s shrieked, bizarrely accessible vocals are as disgusting as ever.

He finds pockets of melody in every twisted vowel, every “Ugh!”. Yet for each cosy familiarity, for every particle of air Adrian Erlandsson chokes with his kick-your-loved-ones-in-the-spine drum fills, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ benefits just as much from its oddities, and its sense of expansion.

It’s not just about re-treading old ground. It’s about sprucing up. Renovating. At The Gates’ early material always aimed for a melancholy, spooky vibe, but fell short due to poor production values and ropey songwriting. Piano passages and the odd, folky elements from those young efforts have evolved into luscious, orchestral undercurrents, fattening The Mirror Black with genuine gravitas rather than just seeming like an add-on.

Now, when they’re integrating those haunting, semi-clean guitar breaks into songs like The Colours Of The Beast and A Stare Bound In Stone, it’s so much more impactful. They can take a dissonant dirge, In Nameless Sleep, and slap it straight into death ‘n’ roll Entombed territory. Easy.

And, in a first for the band, gang vocals are employed. They’re not cheesy. They’re not overdone. And they’re definitely not happy. They lend Daggers Of Black Haze a sense of dread, an overbearing, evil character. The word ‘mature’ might make you retch, but that’s exactly what this is. It’s a grown-up At The Gates finally achieving what they attempted in the early ‘90s.

But now they’re part of the furniture, it seems. Old reliable. That perception can’t be allowed to continue. This band made one of the best comebacks in metal with ‘At War With Reality’ and ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ keeps that momentum going. To be this far into their career and still offering this level of invention? At The Gates are miles – Swedish miles, they’re much longer – ahead of their imitators.

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