At the Gates - The Nightmare of Being Music Album Reviews

At the Gates - The Nightmare of Being Music Album Reviews
On the strongest album of their unlikely second act, the Swedish melodic death metal band lets their weirder side take the reins.

At the Gates became one of the most influential bands of the Swedish melodic death metal boom by boiling their sound down to its essence. Their 1995 album Slaughter of the Soul funneled its gut-punch riffs, venomous vocals, and sugar-rush melodies into pop-adjacent song structures, unwittingly spurring the early ’00s metalcore explosion led by bands like Killswitch Engage and Darkest Hour. To make Slaughter, At the Gates had to subdue the experimental impulse that ran through their earlier work, and just as they were beginning to reap the rewards of that transformation, they broke up. Now, three LPs into a once unthinkable second act, we can finally hear the promise of the more exploratory band that could have been.

The Nightmare of Being is At the Gates’ second album with bassist Jonas Björler as their primary songwriter, following the departure of his twin brother, Anders, in 2017. It was Anders who first pushed the band to write more approachable material back in 1993, and in his absence, At the Gates have started to sound more like those exuberant teenagers who put an extended violin solo on the first song on their debut album. While 2014’s At War With Reality and 2018’s To Drink From the Night Itself tried to split the difference between these esoteric inclinations and their more streamlined sound, on The Nightmare of Being, their weirder side claims a decisive victory: It is their best, most diverse, and most provocative album since reuniting.

Nearly every At the Gates record has incorporated non-metal instrumentation to some degree, but on The Nightmare of Being, those parts feel just as integral as the churning guitars and pummeling drums. At a key moment in “The Paradox,” Björler underpins a particularly throat-ripping scream from frontman Tomas Lindberg with a plink of piano, where his brother once might have put a chugging riff. Anders Gabrielsson’s snaking saxophone emerges from the center of “Garden of Cyrus,” picking up the lead melody from the guitar and building in intensity as the band thrashes around him. “Touched by the White Hands of Death,” one of the more straightforward songs, complements its furious death metal assault with a string quartet, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and tuba. None of these parts sound like mere window dressing, nor do they undermine the essential death metal-ness of the album.

Björler’s impressive songwriting and arrangements wouldn’t have the same impact without Lindberg’s signature rasp at the front of the mix. As his work with punk-aligned acts like Disfear and Lock Up suggests, the veteran singer’s take on death metal is rooted in hardcore—more staccato bark than guttural growl. This style is hard on the vocal cords, and over the past decade, Lindberg has often sounded totally spent, both onstage and in the studio. Nightmare, however, is the strongest vocal performance he has given on an At the Gates album since he sang about his “22 years of pain” on Slaughter of the Soul. Of course, he doesn’t sound that young anymore, but he’s learned to weaponize his exasperation and exhaustion.

That effect is enhanced by Lindberg’s lyrics, which are fixated on the philosophy of pessimism extolled by fatalistic thinkers like Thomas Ligotti and Eugene Thacker. “Cosmic Pessimism,” a bouncy, krautrock-inspired track, takes its lyrics directly from Thacker’s book of the same name, in a surprising act of interdisciplinary collaboration. The key tenets of philosophical pessimism are that humanity is doomed, the planet is inhospitable, and the universe is indifferent. That sounds bleak on its face, but for At the Gates, embracing the philosophy helped put their art into perspective. “Pessimism is, weirdly enough, comforting,” Lindberg told Revolver in a recent interview. He went on to explain that the pandemic helped him appreciate the small things and warned against setting goals that will only end in disappointment. From that view, making an album is a laughably low-stakes affair, and Lindberg would likely make fun of the idea that The Nightmare of Being is somehow life-affirming. Yet its power, both in spite and because of its core ethos, is undeniable.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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At the Gates - The Nightmare of Being Music Album Reviews At the Gates - The Nightmare of Being Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on July 15, 2021 Rating: 5


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