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At the Gates - The Red in the Sky is Ours
Review: Pushing aside aesthetic contributions, what At the Gates gave to metal comes through on this album: a style that has left the rock paradigm of riding a chord and then using harmonic changes to advance a song behind, and instead drives the song forward through changes in motif in which the phrases of riffs complement each other and create contrast, which with the advanced harmonization and melodic neo-counterpoint used here, creates a style halfway between long-riff heavy metal like Black Sabbath and modernist classical like Anton Bruckner or Richard Wagner.
Their riffs use power chords as anchors to their wandering, lushly indulgent melodies, but for the most part are single notes tremolo picked in sequences that with protean rhythm adapt to what they express, coloring all of it in melancholy but through dynamic difference in riff shape, creating within that sensation a series of moods that together form an atmosphere. This poetic style of song construction allows the form of each song to adapt to the content, not the other way around as in most popular music, and gives it a flexible voice which like a story or verse is a narrative of changes between mental states leading to an evolution in awareness.
Like all good death metal, specifically the materpieces from Incantation (Onward to Golgotha) and Infester (To The Depths, In Degradation), the first At the Gates full-length leads the listener through labyrinthine constructions which uses the phrasal style of riff to create a constantly-expanding context, avoiding both linearity and circularity for a hybrid between the two that does not return the listener to an intellectual starting point; its precepts do not equal its conclusions, as they do in most popular music. Instead it is like a journey from an innocuous start through conflict and an exploration of alternate views of the same rough origin, presenting a brachiated traversal like crossing a mountain range in a snowstorm.
Instrumentally, this CD is precise as any from the progressive rock camp, with adroit drums following the lead rhythm guitars and vocals highlighting those through enunciations that stretch across beat and offbeat alike, avoiding the choppy sound of vocals synchronized to instrumental rhythms. Keeping with the quiet production, songs avoid being "busy" and are content to let a melody stand on its own, accompanied by subtle bass, periodic violin exploring harmonic possibilities, and of course in the Iron Maiden-inspired style, guitars harmonizing each other within power chord shapes. While most including later At the Gates albums imitated The Red in the Sky is Ours for its stylings, the essence of this album is its refreshingly multifaceted view of composition and as a result, elevation of death metal to an art not merely entertaining noise.