At the Gates are arguably the heaviest of the “big three” bands typically held up as proponents of the Gothenburg sound – the other two being Dark Tranquillity and In Flames – but also seem to have the most varied output in terms of reception, with no album being widely considered to have outdone their 1995 opus, ‘Slaughter of the Soul.’ However, this is a hurdle At the Gates may finally have crossed with their latest album, ‘To Drink from the Night Itself.’
The album begins slowly and ominously with the intro track Der Widerstand. While the creeping atmosphere of this track is a little offset by the beautiful female vocals, it remains unsettling overall, somewhat in the manner of Opeth. The surprising introduction of orchestral elements adds tension, particularly as the choir expands.
Absolutely classic At the Gates / Gothenburg riffing kick in with To Drink from the Night Itself, and the sense that this album captures the glory days of ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ is immediately apparent. Tomas Lindberg’s vocals are tortured and powerful, while Adrian Erlandsson’s drums are devastatingly heavy, and his drum fill in this track is a great moment. Jonas Stalhammer and Martin Larsson’s guitars maintain a tone that carries forward the ominous feeling of the intro track, though this is with increased energy and hellish fury, while the sense of an Opeth-like tone still arises here and there.
A Stare Bound in Stone continues the heavy riffs but with a touch of American-style groove, though overall the track remains true to the Gothenburg sound, with Erlandsson’s drums in particular staying within this mode. With near boundless heaviness, this track absolutely pushes the edges of what could be called “melodic” Death Metal. Lindberg’s vocals are filled with anguish towards the climax of the track, which builds incredibly powerfully as the riffs kick back in with tension and fury, while the groove falls to angst and the track ends with the ominous tolling of a bell.
Palace of Lepers brings back the groove with some excellent rolling bass courtesy of Jonas Bjorler. This is not a slow track by any means, but has a sense of bringing it down a little in that you might headbang a little more slowly in some sections. The bridge however is filled with pumping riffs that build the track into something bigger and faster. Indeed, the track becomes surprisingly empowering as it goes on.
A slow, tense piano intro opens Daggers of Black Haze, bringing in more of a Black Metal feel. The guitar riffs somewhat continue this Blackened sensibility to weave a very dark track, but the underlying melody does keeps it within the Death Metal sphere. Overall, there is an excellent infusion of the Blackened atmosphere while staying true to the spirit of the album and the band. Breathy sighs and semi-acoustic intrusions lead into a great solo from Stalhammer with excellent rhythm and drum foundations. This masterly track is an emotional rollercoaster of the blackest reaches of the heart.
The Chasm kicks the pace back up with greater urgency, while still maintaining an underlying sense of despair. Bjorler’s bassline keeps the track firmly anchored in the earth, while the Stalhammer and Larsson’s riffs threaten to break off into the swirling chaos of the cosmos. Erlandsson’s drums meanwhile are relentless and bold, providing unending power to the track. The Chasm overall, while incredibly sonically dense, never loses its sense of melody.
In Nameless Sleep is another very Opeth track in terms of guitar tone, though the vocal line is distinctly At the Gates. This skilfully handled track shows the band’s ability to draw on relatively restrained riffs to build a diverse sound within the song, while Erlandsson’s versatile drums subtly shift to fit the mood, but only ever as much as required, creating internal cohesion within the track despite how varied the guitar explorations are.
The Colours of the Beast drops down to pure Death Metal with crushingly heavy riffs. In this track the underlying emotional tone of the album is a little more buried, but arises from the murk during the chorus. Further in the track there is a moment of bleak, Blackened sensibility before Lindberg’s vocals become bold, direct and furious. The tone is one of ascending glory despite the shackles of pure anguish, though there is a sense of constantly being dragged back to the sea of despair.
A Labyrinth of Tombs somehow steps it up yet another notch in terms of heaviness and despair, but easily switches to the edge of fury and battle against the encroaching blackness of horror. The crushing weight of conflict grows ever stronger in this track, with Stalhammer’s guitar solo capturing the mournfulness and struggle beautifully, set against a riffing backdrop of despair. The music constructs such an amazing landscape it is even comparable to the complex compositions of Ne Obliviscaris.
There are some distant echoes of Thrash with Seas of Starvation, though the chorus is much more in the melodic Death Metal vein, and somewhat nods to old school In Flames. While still stirring and emotive, Seas of Starvation is less varied than other tracks. The stirring feelings of this song are continued, but again with greater urgency, with In Death they Shall Burn. The heavy, headbanging section of this track reaches out and takes the listener by the throat before dropping them into a hellish tone, then raising them right back to the breakneck pace of before. Excellent riffing and energetic drums in the bridge lead into a fierce dual guitar assault.
The album closes with the pained and lumbering The Mirror Black, with its depressive tone reminiscent of early At the Gates. Firmly ensconcing the album’s ending in black despair, the revisited orchestral elements add to the sense of mournfulness, with distant demonic vocals closing Lindberg’s contributions. With the orchestra getting lower, deeper and darker, it seems to capture the cackling of victorious demons and lamentations of angels, with an echoing wasteland all that remains at the end.
For those who like their Death Metal thick with anguish, ‘To Drink from the Night Itself’ will more than deliver. So many years after what has long been considered their greatest album, this is an absolute triumph and game-changer for At the Gates, speaking to a revitalised band who have found a new peak. This will no doubt be one of the most exciting albums to see live in the near future, and should be an instant Death Metal classic.
AT THE GATES’ ‘TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF’ WILL BE RELEASED MAY 18TH. PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY HERE!