Artist: At The Gates
Album Title: To Drink From The Night Itself
Label: Century Media Records
Date Of Release: 18 May 2018
To even be reviewing a new album from At The Gates is something for which I am supremely grateful. One of the true originators of a whole new subgenre of metal, and the creators of one of the greatest melodic death metal albums of all time, ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’, At The Gates called it quits soon after its release. That was it, we thought – no more At The Gates.
And then, in 2008 came the reformation for a ‘farewell’ tour. I saw the Swedes at Bloodstock Open Air and the atmosphere crackled with excitement and not a small amount of wistful nostalgia, if such a thing is possible to a soundtrack of razor-sharp melodic-tinged aggression. From that point on, some of us dared to believe that we might see more of Tomas Lindberg and crew, but very few of us expected new material. However, in 2014, following increasing rumours, our unlikely prayers were answered with ‘At War With Reality’.
And now, a further four years later, we are blessed with more new material, this time under the moniker of ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’. To quote from the accompanying press release:
“Conceptually, To Drink From The Night Itself originated with German writer Peter Weiss and his novel, The Aesthetics Of Resistance. The idea was to capture the desperation of a struggle or resistance, where victory is unachievable yet the fight presses on. Lindberg also was enlivened by Weiss’ discussion of art—all forms—via his characters and its various uses, either as a weapon of oppression or as a signal of opposition. As witnessed throughout history, art has been and will be labelled unfairly decadent or ridiculously triumphant or secretly obstructionist.”
One hopes that the album’s loose concept is not a metaphor for the band themselves – fighting a war that they can never win. In my eyes, and the eyes of many more, At The Gates have already won, such is their legacy to the melodic death metal scene. And yet, it remains a fact that it is always a risk for a band to return time and again after releasing what many consider to be a never-to-be-bettered masterpiece, particularly when it was released such a long time in the past.
It becomes even more of a risk when the band suffers the loss of such an integral member of the team. In this case, guitarist Anders Björler departed last year, apparently because we was ‘done with metal’ according to vocalist Lindberg. These are big shoes to fill, but in has stepped Jonas Stålhammar to do just that. And the world has waited to hear the results.
All-in-all, I have to conclude that ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ is a very good album. But then, this is At The Gates, so a poor album was always highly unlikely. The thing is, though, that this record stops short of blowing my mind. It took me a long time to realise what it was that was stopping me from falling in love with it but finally, the penny dropped: ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ is just a little inconsistent. When the band is on fire, they absolutely nail it. However, there are a couple of times within the twelve tracks where the quality dips a touch and some of the all-important momentum is lost.
This is a real shame because there are some classic moments to be heard on this album. After a relatively forgettable, albeit grandiose orchestral intro, ‘Der Widerstand’, the title track leaves no prisoners and delivers one of the most vital, memorable and powerful melodic death metal songs in recent years. At its heart is undoubtedly the ghost of ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’. In the same way that ‘Blinded By Fear’ tore out of the speakers to leave me open-mouthed some 20 years ago when I first heard it, so does ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’. It is a fast-paced and savage composition that delivers a killer set of riffs and an instantly enjoyable central melody that sets me grinning ear-to-ear. Listening to this opening salvo has me harking back to the glory days of this special band and I instantly get the feeling that we’re in for one hell of a ride with this new record.
In part, this initial thought is true and well-placed because ‘A Stare Bound In Stone’ continues the fast-paced assault that marries an urgent rhythm section with sharp, incisive riffing and Tomas Lindberg’s unmistakeable gruff bark atop the aggressive soundtrack beneath and surrounding him.
‘Palace Of Lepers’ maintains the momentum and actually raises it thanks to yet more classic sounds emanating from the band, especially in the guitar department as Stålhammar joins Martin Larsson to great effect, providing more memorable riffs that can rightfully be added to the list of the bands’ best. And the icing on the cake is the final minute or so which veers into anthemic territory thanks to a gorgeous, catchy dual guitar riff. This has to be a stand-out moment on the entire record as far as I’m concerned.
Elsewhere, the black metal-esque opening to ‘Daggers In Black Haze’ catches my ear, as does the section within it where the aggression pulls back a touch and allows the bass of Jonas Björler to come more to the fore. And the addition of a string section, as well as a notable lead guitar solo and both very welcome touches. But it’s the melody that grows to the point where it becomes quite infectious with time.
I also love the slower, churning, chugging riffs and dark atmosphere of ‘The Colours Of The Beast’ a track that stands out because, stylistically, it feels so different from most of the material that surrounds it.
It sounds like I love this record as I’ve waxed lyrical about each of the opening four tracks. However, it isn’t all plain sailing, as a few of the songs in the mid-to-latter stages fall a touch short of the excellence that litters the album early on. I think that some of this has to do with the fact that At The Gates have sought to create the perfect blend of each era of the band. It means that there is an injection of more of the atmospheric leanings of the early records, something that becomes more pronounced as the disc develops.
So, in my opinion, the likes of ‘The Chasm’, ‘In Nameless Sleep’ and ‘A Labyrinth Of Tombs’, fall between two stalls – they have neither the rawness or naivety of the early albums, nor do they have the instant hooks and likeability evidenced on ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’.
In spite of all this, I feel I need to place my comments into some kind of context. Despite the misgivings that I have about some of the songs on this record, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ still sits head and shoulders above most melodic death metal that’s released in this day and age. It is bound to be perceived as extremely unfair, but At The Gates are victims of their own success and it is almost impossible not to judge new material against their impressive back catalogue. As a result, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ is not the best release from At The Gates. But it still kicks a serious amount of ass and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoy listening to it.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse