It may have taken 19 years and 2 separate reunions, but at last, Swedish Death Metal titans At The Gates have released their fifth studio album. 19 years is a long time by all accounts but especially so in the music industry. In the rock scene alone, we have seen the birth and death of numerous sub genres and hundreds of bands, so to re-assert themselves into the metal landscape, they’ve got to be unleashing a death metal paragon, right?
At War With Reality is less a grand oil painting masterpiece and more a competent example of painting-by-numbers. By which we mean it’s good but it’s not the life-affirming release we expected.
In fairness, it is a pretty solid album. ‘Death and the Labyrinth‘ gets things off to a bruising start and is a promising sign of things to come. These guys are 40+ years old now, but Tomas Lindberg’s vocals are visceral and unrelenting, while Anders BjÃƒ¶rler and Martin Larsson deliver crushing riffs with pin-point precision. The title track continues the trend but on the whole, there’s not a whole lot to differentiate the two as separate tracks save for the obligatory gap in between.
Now that we mention it, as we click through the album, a lot of it sounds vastly similar. Again – this is no scathing criticism, because At The Gates do what they do very well. We’d even go as far as to say that nobody does At The Gates better than At The Gates. And when you look at it in terms of this band being one of the pioneers and key figures in melodic death metal, that is quite the honour.
Of course, there are high points for this album, with the instrumental ‘City of Mirrors‘ standing as a testament of their melodic traits before the album explodes back to life with the raucous and wild ‘Eater of Gods‘ that sounds even more epic and brutal than its given name, complete with screaming guitar solos and frightening levels of brutality. The final 6 tracks of At War With Reality are the bits that really shine.
But overall, you cannot shake the feeling that this is pure and simple melodic-death-metal-by-numbers. Granted, At The Gates pretty much invented the sub-genre so fair play to them, but there’s nothing here to really grasp your attention. The album plays through without much consequence but there is no denying that At The Gates are back in a big way.