Album Review: To Drink From The Night Itself by At The Gates

     Now lets get into some straight up DEATH METAL for a change, shall we? Specifically, Swedish melodic death metal.. its like death metal.. but spiced up a little but.. smoother… more fun.. like.. if standard death metal is a like a shot of espresso… melodic death metal is like a cappuccino. There’s more to indulge in, it lasts longer, more to enjoy and savor.. but it just don’t give you that punch in the throat like that brutal shot of wonderful espresso does when it wrecks havoc on your senses. Is this a knock against melodic death metal? Hell no, I just had to make a coffee reference. 

     At The Gates made a triumphant return to the metal world in 2011, after being on a hiatus for many years, probably sitting around in graveyards being all darkly Swedish and awesome; and apparently writing some ripping death metal grooves. Their “comeback” album ‘At War With Reality’ was released to generally positive reviews and the fans were hyped the were back in the game spitting that rhythmic deadly fire. But, this record, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself,’ not only has an infinitely cooler, artwork, and thematic elements running through its veins.. it also is a musical achievement for the band as they continue to solidify their place as the reigning kings of melodic death metal. 

     You see, I must present this bias to you, I am not a HUGE fan of the melodic death stuff. Im an old school face-ripping death metal fan all the way. Relentless beating on the bongos? Bring it. Ferocious, rapid riffs with skin-melting solos lurking around every corner with a blowtorch? Check. Growls so guttural it sounds like the singer is spewing up primordial ooze? Please. Can’t understand a word?? Even better! You get it. The melodic stuff is only more of my cup of tea (or blood, or night, if you’re At The Gates in 2018) if its really done RIGHT. “Hold my beer,” vocalist and founding member Tomas Lindberg says to me.

     ‘To Drink From The Night Itself,’ to me, is an outstanding, elegant, artistic, and hauntingly evil approach to their flavor of death metal. And their flavor is blood. The opening dark strings in the orchestra piece “Der Widerstand” carry the melody upon blood raven wings into the title track that absolutely thrashes itself into this dimension and more or less solidifies the tone of this record in stone like Medusa flashing you “blue steel.” Immediately, I notice how intriguing the drums are on this. Their very tribal-esqe, presenting a badass grueling fuel tank for the cool tempos and grooves At The Gates concocts with their evil little mad scientist hands. The third track, “A Star Bound In Stone” brings on the melodic part of this death metal equation, and its pretty beautiful. Now,  I am far from the MDM aficionado, but the first thing I notice is the guitar is not traditional death metal guitar… and they are not a traditional band. In the death metal sense, anyway. They use the evil melody to their advantage with cool slow chord progressions mixed with gallops over the droning notes in a very effective, haunting way. And of course, the drums continue to rage, and into a nice instrumental dark guitar providing a specific dark atmosphere, that, in my opinion, really makes this album complete. Perhaps that was what the last one was missing.

    As the album continues to to carve its path to the monolithic conclusion, the drums are what I continue to be drawn towards more than any other aspect. Hammering through interesting cymbal patterns and making musical bridges of lava through a not too ridiculously fast tempo that again pushes the lurking haunting atmosphere in your face. That whats cool about this record, the magic of this is in the vibe, the SOUND.. not the technicality. It has style… as every good thing does.

    “Daggers of Black Haze” makes you feel yourself being drawn into the death metal void without getting attacked by it. The inclusion of orchestra and vampiric guitar tone make for nice classy piece. The solos don’t shred, they relish and groove in the void. And the album progresses with the next track “Chasm” which is a hard hitter reinforcing that damn drummers command over the band. “In Nameless Sleep” they slow it down for the ladies; making this a very mature classy record. But, the don’t slow it down to much then picks up with more of the same vibe, which actually at this point might seem a little redundant…

    My fears of redundancy are relinquished with what became my favorite track on the record, “Colors of the Beast” that is reminiscent of some CHUGGY old school death metal with the breakdowns that’ll never leave your cranium. It actually has a hint of doom metal to it.. evil and so rad. And there’s so much more of the same awesome metalness bleeding through the rest of the record and breakdowns that show em who the real captains on this ship sailing through a blood storm. All the way to The Mirror Black… black.. like I like my coffee. BOOM!   But this track is anything but your standard cup ‘o joe. The golem, echoing, ringing guitar leads into the drums carrying the melody into what feels like a spell opening up Lucifer’s pit. There’s even some clean singing on here that fits actually beautifully, leading into a closing instrumental piece that mirrors the intro track, bring this bloodsucker full circle… to the gates.. I mean, AT THE GATES… of hell. Or somethin.’ HAH!

    All in all, “To Drink From The Night Itself” is a great achievement for the band. Whether were speaking in strict death metal terms or not, I see it as a beautiful, smart, confident, and mature piece of music. Wether the darkly evil style, atmosphere, tone, and overall haunted vibe of the record are threats of impeding doom or beauty, it makes the record worth while. This is good look missing from a lot of extreme metal that you would be remiss to overlook. Dig it up, children of the night.

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