It’s always a risk when a legendary band reunites; and even more so when said band releases new music. At The Gates have long been held as death metal royalty, and for good reason; over the course of four albums between 1992 and 1995, they came to largely define melodic death metal, with albums such as Terminal Spirit Disease and Slaughter of the Soul rightfully held as melo-death classics, which have had an incalculable influence upon death metal.
So, for a band held in such esteem to not only return, as they did in 2007 after initially splitting in 1996 – but to then release new material? Well, to say expectations were high for comeback album At War With Reality would be an understatement. Yet, the album largely did what could be expected of it. It displayed a group still able to conjure up those sounds of old, more or less, without really testing the boundaries of what an At the Gates recording could sound like. Now, with To Drink from the Night Itself, and with new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar joining the ranks following the departure of founding member Anders Björler, the group face possibly an even sterner task – they have made a decent comeback album, but are they able to keep the momentum going? Well, based on this offering, the answer is… kinda.
First, the good news: To Drink from the Night Itself sounds like At The Gates. Their trademark melo-death sound is intact, and for all the talk in the press release about this album representing a reinvention of the band, only the most devoted of listeners will be able to spot any signs of substantial evolution lurking behind the tremolo-picked, melodic leads and Tomas Lindberg’s bark. It’s an album more reminiscent of Terminal Spirit Disease than it is Slaughter of the Soul or their earlier, more complex songs – there is often a melancholic edge to the music; songs like “Daggers of Black Haze” and “In Nameless Sleep” have something quite dark and bleak about them, especially in the emotionally-tinged leads.
Such melancholia is nothing too new for At the Gates though, as demonstrated by revisiting 1994’s Terminal Spirit Disease; but that’s not to say that there aren’t more uptempo moments that recall the driving, groove-laden energy of Slaughter of the Soul. The title track in particular is a forceful, driving slice of melo-death at its best, propelled along by catchy leads, powerful drumming, and Lindberg’s commanding snarl; as is “Palace of Lepers” during parts. Yet such moments are in the minority, making To Drink from the Night Itself a bit of a bleak listen, despite all the dexterous melodies on display.
Check out the official video of the title track and single “To Drink From The Night Itself” here.
There is also something of a negative about To Drink from the Night Itself that can’t be avoided, though. The past twenty years have seen an explosion in melo-death bands, and whilst the sound was somewhat novel even by the time At The Gates originally split in 1996, the same can’t be said now. As such, during much of the album they don’t just sound like themselves; they sound like one of the many At the Gates-influenced bands out there. Most notably, it’s hard not to be reminded of The Haunted – hardly a surprise, given that bassist Jonas Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson have been playing in that band ever since the mid-90’s, but it does make it hard to get excited over To Drink from the Night Itself (especially as The Haunted haven’t exactly been scene-leaders for a long time).
There is something depressingly workman-like about much of To Drink from the Night Itself, and though there are moments of interest – such as the clean guitar sections during “Daggers of Black Haze”; the atmospheric “A Labyrinth of Tombs”; or the energy put across by the title track – once the songs slip in to familiar verse/chorus/verse structures, they often feel very interchangeable. Part of this is down to the modern, clean production, which can render the songs little more than a wall of noise during their most intense parts, with individual elements struggling to break free from the whole. But it also feels like the band often retreat into a melo-death comfort zone, not pushing at the boundaries as hard as they might want to. Fans wanting a revisit to their older albums, and for the music to sound like you’d expect At The Gates to sound, will most likely be satisfied by To Drink from the Night Itself; but those who are looking for something refreshing and exciting from the genre will want to search elsewhere.
To Drink from the Night Itself Track Listing:
01. Der Widerstand
02. To Drink from the Night Itself
03. A Stare Bound in Stone
04. Palace of Lepers
05. Daggers of Black Haze
06. The Chasm
07. In Nameless Sleep
08. The Colours of the Beast
09. A Labyrinth of Tombs
10. Seas of Starvation
11. In Death They Shall Burn
12. The Mirror Black
Run Time: 44:48
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Record Label: Century Media