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At the Gates - With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness
Review: The crux of change between death and black metal exploited one of the questions dating back to the origin of heavy metal: when to get heavy with thunderously chromatic chords within the few frets low enough to produce grainy, bassy power chords, and when to inject melody to give a sense of rising above the chaos? Heavy metal, like most Romanticist art, specializes in finding beauty in darkness and noise to bring transcendence to listeners by affirming the place of evil and destruction in a healthy normal life. With At the Gates, death metal found the pivotal ferment of its melodic concept.
Adroitly this band interleave melodic intervals with lush harmonies of power chords, extending to a range of chord shapes not seen since Voivod, balancing these figures over an understated version of the technical death metal drumming that infested the genre at the start of the 1990s. In a style derived from Iron Maiden, dual layers of lead playing establish a theme and highlight it with shifting melodic frames, creating an unraveling effect simultaneously checkmated by an increasingly rigid rhythm guitar. High-pitched whispery vocals, offtime like later black metal, blur distinctions between changing riffs and create the ultimate disorienting rhythm instrument, only serving through negative space to reinforce the solidity of dominant motifs.
Unfortunately, like the career of this band, With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness presents an uneven balance between the theoretical and its practical realization. Songs of the inspired first half spring from longer melodies that unfold over the course of a song in two pairs of complementary patterns, deriving their inspiration not from conflict but a sense of musical space, like the involuntary thrill that occurs when leaving a forest to find oneself on the bank of a cliff, looking down over a sudden distance that re-frames perspective on self and reality. Like much of Northern European art, these tracks are meditative, eschewing vast gestures for a sense of enfolding. Beauty emerges slowly from darkness, and by balancing itself against that darkness, demonstrates a continuity between the two seeming opposites.
In this the triumph of art rises over the petty dynamics of personal fear and struggle, calming the mind into an acceptance of light and darkness as equals. After this initial thrust, the style shifts to a speed metal style, where a single chord is emphasized in rhythmic and harmonic fills around an unaltering tonal presence, and as a result, song structures cannot be driven by change in melodic figure, and require a constant application of rigorous tonal motion against contravailing rhythmic transit. By rumor this marks the departure from songwriting by the Bjorler twins and Alf Svensson, and shows the dominance of vocalist and drummer instead. This change impoverishes the music as now it is very mundane but dressed up in a deliberate attempt to be clever and "progressive," meaning that standard song structures are interrupted by blocks of deliberate but self-symbolic musical motion (a technique Gorguts later mastered on Obscura by fitting motion to narrative) which creates a hollow, echoing sense of self-reliant vacuity.