Man, At The Gates. What can I say. The seminal band created an entire genre, one which has since been so overdone Gordon Ramsay would straight up kill a man. Regardless of your opinion of melodic death metal and the proverbial brick wall it has run headfirst into (with very notable exceptions!), you cannot deny the influence At The Gates has had, with their 1995 release Slaughter of the Soul being a pinnacle of the Gothenburg sound and a masterpiece in my not-even-slightly humble opinion.
That was their last album, in 1995. When Windows 95 came out and Bill Clinton was still the US President. Toy Story came out in 1995. Tupac was alive in 1995. 1995 was a fucking long time ago, is what I'm getting at.
And yet those crazy Swedes still got it. I guess being Nordic warriors gets stale after a couple decades and you gotta get the old band back together. Opening with a spoken track similar to the start of Blinded By Fear, they charge into the Death and the Labyrinth with Tomas Lindberg's distinct vocals causing a subconscious grin to spread across my face. It's like nothing has changed, if anything Lindberg's iconic death growls have increased in badassery over time. I had the pleasure of seeing the band a few years ago and it was, hands down, one of the best sounding gigs I've ever heard. This may be because their previous releases sound awfully like they were recorded inside a bathroom during a thunderstorm but hey, I'm not here to critique 90s production values.
The first riff is immediately recognizable as At The Gates, which is impressive feat in itself because in 20 years and 200 clones, nobody has quite been able to emulate their sound. Actually, the riffs throughout the whole album are fantastic, with Martin Larsson, Anders and Jonas Bjorler in expected fine form with gut-wrenching chugs and soaring harmonies. It's a concept album, with themes of war and darkness apparent from the title track At War With Reality and The Circular Ruins. Heroes and Tombs creates a fantastic brooding atmosphere that reminds us all that there is actually still a reason to love melodic death metal. Conspiracy of The Blind hits hard and sees the band beginning to turn up to 11 in the second half with Adrian Erlandsson showing off his brilliant drumming skills in personal favourite The Book of Sand (The Abomination). Anders solo in Eater of Gods over Lindberg's rasping is another highlight followed by the thrasher Upon the Pillars of Dust. The album winds down with a score of brilliant harmonies in closer The Night Eternal.
It's angry, it's melodic, It is everything you could possibly expect from a release from this band. If you weren't a fan before, you won't be one now, but these guys have mastered and honed their craft and have proved that once again, they are the masters of this genre.
8/10 would listen again