The legacy and influence of At The Gates approaches almost mythological status. The impact of Slaughter of the Soul on the metal landscape, coupled with the band’s breakup soon after left a massive footprint dozens of bands were eager to fill. Whether you blame or cheer ATG for the foundation and onslaught of melodic death metal (or NWOSDM or the Gothenburg sound or whatever you choose to call it) that followed in its wake, you can’t deny the spark that ignited it. Now with the release of their second post-reunion album To Drink From the Night Itself it’s up to us to determine if they’re carrying the legacy forward or merely riding the wave they first created.
Easier said than done in my case: I came to the band well after their initial demise, so by the time I arrived at Slaughter of the Soul I had already been exposed to the few peers and myriad of clones that had come after. By chance more than anything else my introduction to the sound back in the early 00s came courtesy of In Flames, Soilwork, and Dark Tranquillity. If I remember correctly I think I even heard The Haunted before At The Gates (pretty sure it was One Kill Wonder). My point is sometimes it’s all a matter of timing when it comes to exposure, so while I could hear the skill and craft in tracks like “Blinded By Fear” and appreciate it, I didn’t get the same goosebumps it seemed so many others did. That timing was a large factor for my relative indifference to 2014’s At War With Reality. Everything was there, it was tight, but it was also nothing I ever felt the need to revisit.
So where does that leave To Drink From the Night Itself? On the surface it feels like an extension of At War With Reality, which itself felt like an extension of Slaughter of the Soul. So I’m going to guess if you love those albums you’ll love this. The absence of Anders Björler doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the songwriting; in fact I’d say To Drink… is a stronger effort, with tracks tonally reaching a little further back in the band’s catalog. You can get a sense of the chaos and anger inherent on The Red In the Sky Is Ours on “Daggers of Black Haze” and “A Labyrinth of Tombs” which have the benefit of not immediately jumping out with a “Blinded By Fear” styled riff.
Not to say those riffs are bad. On the contrary, listening to the first three tracks (although am I alone in thinking how similar they each start off?) you can immediately feel that ATG vibe. “Palace of Lepers” is probably the standout, using its pulsing attack to drive forever forward, yet having enough variety in its attack to stand out as more than a jumble of impressive riffs. Not surprisingly, Tomas Lindberg’s voice is as vicious as ever, and the rest of the band, anchored by Jonas Stålhammar and Martin Larsson on guitars as well as stalwarts Adrian Erlandsson and Jonas Björler sound as tight and in sync with each other as you would want them to be. The second half of the record stands out with some dynamic shifts away from the patented ATG template. “In Nameless Sleep” and “The Colors of the Beast” both have an intensity that comes with the shift away from the more immediate hooks of the first half of the record.
Nothing I can say is going to change your mind about To Drink From the Night Itself. If you’re a big At The Gates fan, guess what? You’re going to be mighty pleased. If you hate them (and to be sure – there’s nothing to hate here), guess what? That ain’t gonna change either. Having left so large an imprint on the landscape, there’s certainly nothing left for the band to prove, and after giving it a few more listens I’m slowly starting to get down with the record – especially the second half. At this point there’s nothing left for At The Gates to prove, so whether you think this is the second coming or a retread or – like me – somewhere in between, it doesn’t really matter. For years to come bands will look down at that gigantic imprint and endeavor to emulate it. Maybe that’s all that matters.