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At the Gates - Gardens of Grief
Review: A cryptic influence on the black metal to follow, At the Gates applied lead-picked melodies of single notes at a time in dark and fast morbid music, harmonizing in the style of Iron Maiden without the circular songwriting, creating the atmosphere of touring alien worlds where consciousness flows in sentential form in parallel with music. Although credited with launching the "Gothenburg melodic death metal" sound, on a structural level At the Gates resurrected progressive death metal from the rock ghetto of odd chord shapes and offtime rhythms, and instead directed it toward sculpting longer songs from interlocking melodies with an exacting sense of context producing enduring atmosphere.
At the Gates achieve two threads with this style of songwriting: vision, or song structures that follow a narrative of discovery, and atmosphere, which is the shifting complex of moods created by following melodies that silhouette rather than delineate a tonal shape. A parallel complex rhythmic technique, reminiscent of what Suffocation and Morbid Angel were attempting at the same time, expands the range of continuity accepted in variable strings of riffs inlaid sequentially to sustain the melodic inertia of granular and isolated dynamic fluctuations of consistency toward overall modal tendencies.
Like a sweeping rainfall, this vision of melody hides behind violent death metal riffs wedged between the simpler, "black metal" trademark tremelo lead riffing. Its rhythms break, not in a suspension but a crossover as they transfer energetic tension between driving and self-destroying, anti-motion forces. Streams of molten sound, presaging what Darkthrone would trademark on Transilvanian Hunger, escape the wash of noise generated by power chords, and instead stack melodies against one another in successive dialogues through neo-counterpoint techniques, creating an internal harmonic texture that asserted the contrast necessary to give dimensionality and thus the space for atmosphere to the music.
In this mystical sound, At the Gates layer reflections of not only darkness, but violence, with a sensitivity that suggests an understanding of the dark side of life through a sacred reverence for life itself, as if to say that without death life is meaningless. Variety marks these riffs through the difference of approach: some are fast falling, others unwinding, still others seeming to mimick natural sounds like the breaking of wood or stalking of a forest panther. Vocals, like guitars, are mid-range and treble more than bass, which was also a huge departure in death metal at the time and foreshadowed the ethereal production of black metal to come.
Vocals are a singed scream rather than the pugilistic cadenced barks of most contemporaries, allowing an imprecise vocal rhythm that escapes the kiddie music tendency of much metal to have vocals ranting the rhythm of riff interaction with drums. Signature guitar and bass instrumentalism lends texture to vigorously self-evident structures. In the hazy days of 1991, much of the forthcoming development of metal existed only as notes on mental napkins, but At the Gates seized the idea of delicate melody in sweeping neo-Wagnerian progressive death metal, and they executed it not only brilliantly but to the enrichment of the genre.