At the Gates – The Nightmare of Being
Released: July 2, 2021
Tomas Lindberg // lead vocals
Martin Larsson // guitars
Jonas Stålhammar // lead guitar, Mellotron, backing vocals
Jonas Björler // bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Adrian Erlandsson // drums
In 1996 At the Gates’ seminal masterpiece Slaughter of the Soul dropped and popularised Swedish melodic death metal, or Gothenburg sound, that would influence not only bands in Europe but plenty in the UK, USA and Australia as well. It was a triumphant moment but short lived as the band broke up and moved onto other projects (notably thrash band The Haunted). When they reunited in 2008, anticipation was high as fans wondered if the band could follow up the legacy of Slaughter. At War With Reality (2014) and To Drink from the Night Itself (2018) demonstrated that not only were At The Gates back and up to the challenge, they still had plenty to contribute to modern metal. In between, founding lead guitarist Anders Björler departed, replaced by Jonas Stålhammar.
Which brings us to 2021 and the release of The Nightmare of Being, the first release with Stalhammer contributing to the song writing. The result is an album that is as much the sum of their early career peers (such as Entombed) as it is prog and classical music. It’s a thrilling and adventurous album that captures much of what made At The Gates a standout in the 90s and showcases what wise heads bring to the scene now.
The album’s first three tracks are very much classic ATG. Opener ‘Spectre of Extinction’ wouldn’t be out of place on Slaughter and will no doubt slay when they get to perform it live. ‘The Paradox’ is a straight ahead belter, thrashing with madness and just hammering riff after riff. The title track has a slower intro and Tomas’ trademark spoken word style. The tempo picks up when he starts growling but it’s largely a melodic affair with Larson and Stålhammar exchanging licks. The closing stages draw on doom metal, adding to the apocalyptic imagery on the album cover.
Things take a change towards the strange with ‘Garden of Cyrus’. It’s the first in a sequence of tracks that explore other regions of melodic death metal, including the use of baritone saxophone. The opening is almost grunge influenced, a repetitive harmony leading to heavier chords, a great Pink Floyd influenced guitar solo, and the aforementioned baritone sax. Certainly will remind some fans of Ghost’s instrumental ‘Miasma’, but Tomas adds a deep growl performing a death metal poem. If anyone ever questions the artistic merits of death metal, this is a track to show them. ‘Touched by the White Hands of Death’ has a prolonged gothic intro, before breaking into a classic metal gallop.
It culminates in the album’s centrepiece – the nearly 7 minute epic ‘The Fall into Time’. Far more progressive, with strings, percussion and choral chanting, it is unlike most of their cannon but also the most heavy and melodic ATG song ever. It’s a complete riff fest, with harmonies and those sweet chuggy riffs that force your face into a frown. Stålhammar’s leads really work well within the band’s layered sound and Erlandsson really gets to shine with some sick fills playing off Björler’s bass line. Following Tomas’ final shrieks it returns to slower intro riff, a well bookended track that is worth repeat listens.
The final third returns to the Gothenburg Sound. ‘Cult of Salvation’ is a mid tempo death metal song with a nifty piano interlude. ‘The Abstract Enthroned’ starts as another straight up ATG track, dealing with the equality of death, before a string interlude leads to the heavy climax. ‘Cosmic Pessimism’ is musically almost a hard rock song, with Tomas’ spoken word verses, the accessibility of the track interrupted by the death metal chorus. The superbly titled ‘Eternal Winter of Reason’ is a fairly straightforward melodic death metal track to end on. Interestingly this is one of a few songs with Anders Björler gets a co-writing credit, possibly because some of the riffs come from earlier demos or ideas.
The Nightmare of Being is a brilliant album that reinforces At the Gates as a founding father of the subgenre who haven’t stopped progressing as a band. Far from resting on their laurels, they’re not afraid to explore the intersection of melody and death metal using different instrumentation and mixing up their song writing tropes. The album is a must listen for older listeners and even metalcore fans who only know of the legend that is At the Gates.
At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being tracklisting:
1. Spectre of Extinction
2. The Paradox
3. The Nightmare of Being
4. Garden of Cyrus
5. Touched by the White Hands of Death
6. The Fall into Time
7. Cult of Salvation
8. The Abstract Enthroned
9. Cosmic Pessimism
10. Eternal Winter of Reason