Album Review: AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself
In the world of metal, it’s practically impossible to not know the name At The Gates. The melodic death metal act took the community by storm in the 90s, as they spearheaded The New Wave of Swedish Death Metal (in particular, through the Gothenburg scene). At The Gates gained immediate attention with their debut LP, The Red in the Sky Is Ours in 1992. While they would go on to release two more records afterward, it was the band’s fourth studio album, Slaughter of the Soul, that would become one of heavy metal’s greatest achievements. Among press and fans, the album became a shining example of melodic death metal, brimming with emotion and technical prowess. It wouldn’t be until after the band’s 12-year hiatus, that they would release their fifth record, At War with Reality in 2014.
Here we are now four years later with the band’s heavily anticipated album, To Drink from the Night Itself—which is out this week through Century Media. A lot sits on the shoulders of At The Gates with this new release. On one hand, is the matter of creating a great record, but on the other hand, is the notion of living up to their legacy. So where does this work stack up in the At The Gates discography? Along with Slaughter of the Soul, To Drink from the Night Itself is a magnificent accomplishment for At The Gates.
Before diving into the music and themes, it’s important to note the minor change in the lineup. Longtime lead guitarist Anders Björler departed from the band back in 2017 and was replaced with Jonas Stålhammar. Martin Larsson still maintains the rhythm component of guitar work, with Jonas Björler still on bass, Adrian Erlandsson on drums, and Tomas Lindberg on vocals. Even after all these years, the lengthy hiatus, and the inclusion of Jonas Stålhammar, At The Gates sounds remarkable. Over the course of their career, their professionalism persists, and they continue to craft moving music.
Like At The Gates’ previous records, To Drink from the Night Itself contains rich themes that examine our culture, the struggle of existence, and art. The direct inspiration for all of this comes from the German writer Peter Weiss and in particular his book, The Aesthetics Of Resistance. In the book, Weiss presents a cast of art students who discuss how art can be used as tools of resistance and/or revolution. At The Gates wanted to capture this feeling of desperation for a struggle or resistance; where victory may appear futile, but the fight continues on. To Drink from the Night Itself is also a work that represents the band’s love of art, and how they live their lives for it.
“Der Widerstand” opens the record on haunting piano keys. Choir singing begins to enter the progression, along with the introduction of orchestral strings. There’s a gothic air to its presentation that is both romantic and haunting. It makes for an epic and emotional introduction to the album.
The self-titled track holds nothing back, immediately bringing a savage pummeling of drums and vibrant guitar rhythms. The high tempo thump of the bass adds an extra kick to the rhythm. The latter emits a menacing tinge through its smooth production. The song structure is simple, allowing the work to breathe and share everything it has to offer. There’s a brief drum fill towards the middle that adds more excitement to the catchy and adrenaline-fused chorus. From beginning to end there’s a terrific presence in melody. This sets up the overall atmosphere to be felt throughout the rest of the record.
“A Stare Bound In Stone” starts with a mid-tempo rhythm as guitars play to an enchanting vibrant smoothness. The bass is ever-present as it thunders away, never getting lost in the mix. Drum work crashes with a terrific rage, playing into the song’s overall ferocity in tempo and tone. And even with all the delightful chaos taking place instrumentally, the vocals come through clear—bringing their own ferocity. The track constantly rides mesmerizing waves of melody, blending various light and dark shades of sound.
“Daggers Of Black Haze” comes with an introduction in piano work. This gentle direction doesn’t last long as the rest of the band comes in. This time around, tempo isn’t as hectic or speedy. It scales back here to present a new mood to the material. Guitar notations emit a twang that strings through the work at times, offering more tones that linger on the listener's ear. Even as the drums, bass, and vocals keep to a higher pace, the guitars offer more of a haunting, atmospheric element to the music.
Lindberg expresses a poetic presentation of lyricism across all tracks. Such lines such as, "Through the fall of creation / A death mask transforms the past / The contours of a labyrinth emerge," paint evocative images. Or lines like, "The language of the flood / In a fever black / Monumental and cold / The earth now belongs to the dead," bring out a visceral emotion through Lindberg's cold and ravenous voice.
At The Gates play to a professional level of technicality, offering an array of various inflections in tone and pitch. Both Jonas Stålhammar and Martin Larsson present fans a delicious combination of sensational melodies and rhythms. Rather than present a bland delivery, they switch up their style by playing with timing and sound. The same can also be said for drummer Adrian Erlandsson and bassist Jonas Björler; both demonstrate the ability to constantly expand upon song formula, always introducing new rhythm patterns to a track’s flow.
There’s something really fascinating about listening to this album in 2018, however. Nowadays, most metal bands try to cram in as many elements as possible. Sometimes this pays off. They consequently create something sincerely progressive that exhibits technical proficiency. Other times, it sounds like the band is trying way too hard to impress listeners. The really interesting point about To Drink from the Night Itself, however, is that while there is plenty of technicality taking place—the formula is generally straightforward.
This is absolutely not a bad thing at all. It's actually a remarkable quality that At The Gates pulls off, and is more of a learning experience for other bands to keep in mind. Rather than try to shove their musicianship into anyone's face, the band let the music speak for itself. Many bands today just want to show off how many things they can pull off with their instruments. In the case of At The Gates, however, they keep to their melodic formula and make each song unique and genuine. Their professionalism is more relaxed; it contains more maturity and control through their work.
“A Labyrinth Of Tombs” continues the band’s tradition of profound mood and catchy heaviness. Ominous guitar notes shiver as the song opens, leading to a brief yet frenetic drum beat. The bass pounds on, blending with the mix of dark and light guitar tones. This latter quality makes for a great impact across all of the album’s material. The atmosphere is a tremendous part of the record, and these various inflections in guitar pitch establish heartfelt emotion. The album’s final track, “The Mirror Black” ends things on an epic and theatrical means. The guitar notation emits a chilling aura, as, again, they scale back on high-speed melodies. This is produced through the slight touches of trickling bright notes, along with waves of haunting melodies. The song concludes as the album began: orchestral strings that are both elegant and somber.
To Drink from the Night Itself is an astounding achievement in the world of metal. At The Gates present a record that embodies so much variety in their iconic sound. They've also presented a unique work that speaks volumes to our current standing in metal. Their professional, technical mastery and passionate artistry are felt all throughout their music. They are masters of their craft and will be remembered as legends. The album captures the essence of humanity in our struggles and will. It's both as chilling and brutal as it is beautiful and immaculate. To Drink from the Night Itself is not only a perfect record but a perfect work of art.