Along with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates were chief architects of the Gothenburg death metal sound, a style of music that grafted the sepulchral growls and ripping tempos of bands like Death and Morbid Angel onto the contagious guitar hooks of Iron Maiden. Although they broke up in 1996 after releasing just four albums, At the Gates were a primary influence for numerous U.S. metalcore bands including Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall.
All the members of At the Gates played in other bands for over a decade, making their road to reunion long and twisted. There were shows in 2008 and 2010, but the band members swore they would never record together again. Then in early 2012, during another reunion tour, At the Gates had a change of heart. Now, almost 19 years after the release of their landmark final album, Slaughter of the Soul, the band has returned with At War With Reality, a record that revisits past glories while exploring previously uncharted realms.
Instead of revisiting their now predictable formula, the band have thrown away the rulebook and written an album of heartfelt melodic death metal with atmospheric arpeggios. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg based his lyrics on “magic realism,” a literary device that places characters in circumstances that could never exist in the real world — though it’s hard to tell because most of the vocals are delivered in a death roar and the ones that are decipherable seem to be poetic ruminations on mortality.
Regardless, right from the start, they raise the bar with “El Altar Del Dios Desconocido” (“The Altar of the Unknown God”), a Spanish spoken-word piece backed by the sound of eerie, droning keyboards. Then “Death and the Labyrinth” blasts into thrash beats and tremolo picking, and “The Book of Sand” develops from slow and chuggy to blistering and brutal, ending with progressive guitar lines redolent of Enslaved or Opeth. It may have taken years, but when At the Gates finally agreed to make a new record, they went all-in and the result is easily on par with their best material.