It’s the simplicity of Slaughter Of The Soul that made it a classic. Released during melodeath’s ascendancy, it was metal at its most direct: three-minute songs, each built on one or two riffs, that pummelled unrepentantly before vanishing. It was so rapid and episodic that every second, every lyric, every breakdown was an earworm. Nineteen years later, At The Gates’ comeback, At War With Reality, kept the same ingredients as its predecessor, but added to the recipe. The nihilistic wordplay, thrashing refrains and mosh-inciting climaxes were back. However, they were sharing space with closer The Night Eternal’s elongated gloom. Similarly, follow-up To Drink From The Night Itself dabbled in new black/doom undercurrents.
Those dynamic flourishes pale in comparison to the experimentation of The Nightmare Of Being, a progressive barrage that’s as brilliant as it is jarring. How is the band that once decimated with Blinded By Fear now composing Garden Of Cyrus, a stomper that halts midway through for a chilled sax solo? Shortly after comes the seven-minute The Fall Into Time, its first half defined by frontman Tomas Lindberg seething over a full orchestra. Cosmic Pessimism largely dispenses with growls, favouring whispered cleans, all before Eternal Winter Of Reason wraps to the sound of a synth line. Yet, amidst the complexity, At The Gates remain the riotous death metal maestros. Acoustic guitars underpin The Paradox’s riffs, but that only makes their aggression more expansive. Cult Of Salvation is a jolt with a giant chorus, proving anthemic even despite a quaint piano segue.
The Nightmare Of Being is weird. Yet, therein lies the beauty. It commits to making the jump that the two albums before it merely hinted at. The result is something that finally escapes the shadow of Slaughter Of The Soul. The last time At The Gates sounded this original, they transformed metal forever.
The Nightmare Of Being is released on July 2. Pre-order the album on Amazon now.