Grotesque In the Embrace of Evil plus At the Gates Gardens of Grief re-issue

April 20, 2015 –

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Hammerheart Records will re-issue Swedish black/heavy/death metal band Grotesque In the Embrace of Evil plus the first release of the band which shortly succeeded it, At the Gates Gardens of Grief. These will be released on vinyl on August 21, 2015.

Grotesque, like Merciless, Morbid, Slaughter Lord, Tormentor (Hungary) and Sarcofago, represented an interstitial state in black metal where bands still in the style of older speed/death like Possessed moved into a sound that approximated black metal without the musical developments of the full genre as came bursting out of Norway shortly afterwards.

When members of Grotesque moved on to form At the Gates, they took their music more in a direction of melodic black metal, starting with their first EP, Gardens of Grief, which showcases their unconventional approach to songwriting and solid melodic development.

Digging further into Abscession Grave Offerings

December 15, 2014 –
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As the title suggests, Grave Offerings has a lot to give. In a metal world bloated with copycats, have-beens, hipsters, cultural appropriators invading the genre, imitators and true-blue kvlt types, it is rare to hear an album that is not only competent but has its own personality.

While most metal musicians focus exclusively on having memorized the major and minor scale shapes on the guitar neck, knowing the most common chord progressions and understanding the concepts of modulation and time signatures, the art of songwriting requires a different kind of technicality. Abscession rises above the herd in knowing the genre, having technical skills, and being able to write songs, but above that their repertoire is strained.

Almost every embellishment such as drum fills or guitar solos is fitting and never overbearing despite the obvious proficiency of the performers. This is not altogether uncommon but it is something that is appreciated by fans of proper music, as opposed to what my good friend Dionysus would refer to as “guitar-shop metal” or the kind of guitar tricks you show your friends but that get old really fast on an album. Grave Offerings displays a variety of Svenska Dödsmetal influences which range from the early foundational bands like Nihilist, going through Carnage, stopping by Entombed for an infusion of Death n’ Roll inclinations and all the way to fully-fledged Gothenburg sound while avoiding sounding like any one of them all the time and occasionally bringing out a voice of its own, although not often enough.

Abscession have the artistic sense to make the songs stay within an idea without wandering off topic. At the same time they do this too zealously and the music always remains so close to the germinating idea that it seems to shy away from any great variations lest they be seen as foreign. Since the songs are, on a general level, verse-chorus pop songs, there is a need for subtle ventures outside the strictly familiar to distinguish each song with a purpose unique to that song. It must effectively convey that purpose through its free expression (the previously mentioned ventures) parting from its stable basis (what was referred to as established idea and “known territory”, not foreign) as one needs a vector to have two points and a direction to effectively communicate information.

When a more distinctive idea does surface it often does so with scherzando overtones — playful, bouncy, not grim — which I find unpalatable in the context of the rigid intensity of death metal and especially in the context of Swedish death metal. This aura has traditionally replicated that of old school horror films in the best of cases and at worse has been borderline cartoonish. By indulging in the more humoresque-like passages Abscession ends up crossing the line into explicitly comic territory. This usually happens when the Death n’ Roll facet of Swedeath is explored as exemplified by the fifth track on the album: Blowtorch Blues.

Both while listening to Grave Offerings for the first time and after having listened to it seven times at the time of this writing, I had the strong feeling that the first four tracks were more than enough: there’s virtually nothing else added by the rest of the album. All in all, if we are going to allow ourselves to give safe mainstream metal from Scandinavia praise for some originality and inventiveness within their miserable sellout constraints, I would be much more inclined to extend this courtesy to the latest album by Björler’s At the Gates (as opposed to Svensson’s At the Gates): At War with Reality.

Interview with Adrian and Ola of The Haunted

October 7, 2014 –

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Back when At the Gates called it a day for the first time, a new band and a new sound emerged in metal. This hybrid mixed the late hardcore style of random and chaotic riffing with melodic metal and grindcore intensity, creating what most called “metalcore” with overtones of “math metal.” Unbeknownst to the band at the time, the entire industry followed their lead.

Almost two decades later, The Haunted return at the same time At the Gates is making a bid for return, and many remain curious as to how this band will continue its own evolution and contribute to the future of metal-punk hybrids. We were able to get in a few words with Adrian and Ola of The Haunted, thanks to Century Media’s Nikki Law.

The Haunted is returning with a new album and what seems like a new direction. Is that so? How does what you’re doing now compare to your previous album?

Hi there. Yes the new album definitely showcases a new style for the band. Its a return to our thrashy roots in some ways, but rather in a more modern version than what we were doing on the first few albums. It doesn’t really compare to Unseen. its just so far removed from that album on so many levels. Not strange though cause it was in sense a very different band with a different outlook and approach to what we are today.

The Haunted is widely credited with establishing metalcore, the style that took post-hardcore style composition and added in metal and melodic metal riffs. What is metalcore? How did The Haunted contribute to it?

I really have not got any clue about these genres. We just play the stuff that we like to listen to and the kind of tunes we like to play. Categories are really for people that needs to file music into compartments… For us they really are not that important.

Ola, you are in Feared as well, a band that sounds like Pantera performing Metalhead as performed by a deathgrind band. What influences your sound in Feared? How much of that will you bring to the new The Haunted record?

I keep my ideas separated; it’s clear to me when I start writing a song if it will be a song for the Haunted or for Feared. When I write songs for the band they were written a bit from a fan perspective initially before I started finding my role in the band. I bring youth and aggression to the outfit.

It’s impossible to discuss The Haunted without mentioning At the Gates. Why do you think At the Gates was so influential? What part of that sound lives on in The Haunted?

I really don’t know why. I guess it was a combination that we did what we wanted and did it with a lot of conviction. What we did hadn’t really been done by that many at the time when we did it… And then we disappeared. That’s what I think made it such a hype. My playing in The Haunted is way more open than what I do on the drums in At the Gates. When you hear the new At the Gates album i think you will be able to understand what i mean.

Adrian, you were in the original At the Gates lineup and founded The Haunted. How did the final At the Gates album, Slaughter of the Soul, contribute to the The Haunted sound?

It didn’t contribute at all. The Haunted was formed by Jensen and me the day after At the Gates split up and we wanted nothing to do with the last At the Gates album at that time. It was a fresh new start with brand new influences. I guess that the last At the Gates album contributed in the way that we knew how we didn’t want our new band to sound…

Slaughter of the Soul seemed like a break from the traditional At the Gates sound, and less death metal than a modern take on the melodic speed metal of Ride the Lightning or Don’t Break the Oath. Were those influences?

Slaughter of the Soul was influenced by a lot of different albums but mainly by the hardship and legal shit the band when through during the touring for Terminal Spirit Disease. We were so filled with aggression and wanted to make a full on album, a condensed more direct album than its predecessor.

How do you think The Haunted has changed death metal, and what is the nature of this change? Are the old school days dead, or did all of these genres (death metal, hardcore, speed metal) sort of merge into one?

Metal has merged in so many different ways and bands are combining different styles left right and center. I have actually stopped paying attention. My favorite metal albums are mostly from the 80s and early 90s. For The Haunted, we will continue mixing the different influences we have collectively within the band, play and write the kind of stuff we like regardless of what the style its called.

Ola, you have also played in Six Feet Under. How is it different to play in a Tampa-style band from a band like The Haunted?

Six Feet Under was pure death metal whereas The Haunted’s back catalog has so many different aspects to the playing and songwriting. I enjoyed Six Feet Under as well as shaping the future with The Haunted.

How does The Haunted write songs? Do you come up with riffs and then put them together, or use Jenga or another type of puzzle to make them all fit together, or is there some secret alchemy (numerology, occult symbolism) that explains these riff-mazes?

The songs are sometimes a contribution by one person that writes the whole thing. Sometimes they are a combination of someone’s verse and someone elses’s chorus and intro riff. There is no fixed formula. If the songs that takes shape is good then its a success.

You’ve got a new lineup and a new start as The Haunted. What do you hope your music will communicate, and how are you looking forward to sharing this with fans on tour?

There was no deep hidden meaning in the creation of Exit Wounds other than huge “Fuck off, we are not dead! Here we are and we are heavier than we have been in years!” Come and see for yourself at an upcoming gig! It will smoke you!

Thanks again for your support and hope to see you on the road!

At the Gates releases title track from At War With Reality

September 23, 2014 –

First observation from the newest At the Gates track is encouraging. This is clearly better than the sing-song candy-pop that blighted Slaughter of the Soul and ventures tentatively into the land of darker melodies and stark contrasts that defines the death metal approach to mood.

Approximating the descending chord progressions from Terminal Spirit Disease, “At War With Reality” reveals At the Gates applying the more popular aspects of their sound as a means of intensifying older-style tremolo riffs. The solo comes straight from modern death metal and incorporates many elements of older heavy metal and hard rock, and the song builds itself out of a strict verse-chorus loop with overlays and internal melodies via lead rhythm guitar. As such, “At War With Reality” does not return to the good old days, but mixes the later days of the formative period of this band with newer styles and produces a song with more depth and power than the singalong material of Slaughter of the Soul.

As far as those hoping for the complex arrangements and internal melodic dialogue of the first At the Gates album, “At War With Reality” does not go that far. It is however only one track from the album, albeit the title track, so the rest remains an unknown quantity. But this shows the band moving closer to a form of music which has greater intensity, and in the process tempering the lite jazz and post-hardcore/emo influences of recent death metal hybrids, and so takes a positive step for At the Gates and death metal as a whole.

At the Gates releases teaser for At War With Reality

September 12, 2014 –

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Something lurks in humanity that afflicts all of our best efforts. When we create something, and then start seeing it as a tool or means to an end, the principle of its greatness is lost. It seems to occur because when the object is directed at humanity, it attends to what we think and wish were true instead of what is. Thus metal bands go from creating vast fantasy to creating ludicrous self-prostituting visions of excess to make their audience feel important, and the beauty of the music itself is lost.

This gauntlet looms over every death metal band that makes a “comeback” album two decades on and claims it is returning to the old style. Recently At the Gates made such a claim, and in face of public skepticism and vast anticipation, released a teaser. This contains about 45 seconds of music amidst the visuals and branding, so any assessment of it speaks only to that portion. The album could vary from it, although smart money says that such a turn would be anomalistic given that this snippet is what the band chose to promote the album. Nonetheless, this tiny window into the soul of At the Gates may tell us what to expect, and showcases the phenomenal production and art direction this record has received. Clearly Century Media intend to make this the metal event of the year and have every chance of succeeding.

The excerpt provided shows us At the Gates using the type of melodies they used on Terminal Spirit Disease and the second half of With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness which would be at home on a 1970s jazz-infused stadium rock album but in power chords take on a more sinister mood. However, these are presented with the type of frenetic riffing using internal texture to bolster the otherwise sparse melodic pattern that we see on Slaughter of the Soul and the first album from The Haunted. The result suggests some promise but lacks the developmental depth of Terminal Spirit Disease due to the intensified speed and desire to keep phrases short and hookish in a conventional manner as was used on Slaughter of the Soul.

As noted above, this track shows us only part of the album but it reveals the part that the band, label and management likely think will most appeal to the audience they are targeting. It seems that their attempt is to make a version of Slaughter of the Soul which embraces the rhythmic frenzy of The Haunted and the slightly more musical approach of mid-period At the Gates, which taps into both metalcore and Opeth audiences and should produce a best-seller for this band.

At the Gates reveals At War With Reality cover art

August 21, 2014 –

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Swedish death metal/metalcore hybrid At the Gates revealed the cover artwork for their upcoming album At War With Reality and issued some details about the concept and purpose of the new work.

The artwork, designed by Costin Chioreanu, reflects the topical direction of the new album toward “magical realism,” a literary genre that emphasizes the fluidity of what we think of as a static and linear reality. Said Tomas Lindberg, vocalist:

The concept of ‘At War with Reality’ is based on the literary genre called ‘Magic Realism’. The main style within this genre is the notion that ‘reality’ is ever-changing, and needs to be constantly re-discovered and re-conquered.

The band also released some of the song titles from the new album, including “Death And The Labyrinth,” “The Circular Ruins,” “The Conspiracy Of The Blind,” “Order From Chaos,” “Eater Of Gods” and “Upon Pillars Of Dust.”

The album was recorded with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman. Jens Bogren, who mastered the new work at Fascination Street Studios, had this to say about the musical experience that it promises:

At the Gates line-up:
Tomas Lindberg – Vocals
Anders Björler – Guitars
Martin Larsson – Guitars
Jonas Björler – Bass
Adrian Erlandsson – Drums

At the Gates finishes recording new album At War With Reality

August 14, 2014 –

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Swedish melodic death metal band turned melodic speed metal band At the Gates finished recording its latest album At War With Reality and plans release on October 27th in Europe and October 28th in North America via Century Media Records.

Vocalist Tomas Lindberg issued the following statement:

We are very excited to finally have finished this new album. An album that we’ve been working on for over a year now. It’s by far the most challenging record that we have made, but it’s an honest album and I think that you will feel that it is faithful to the legacy of AT THE GATES.

We have, through the process of creating it, been true to ourselves and our art. From hearing the first demos that Anders presented to the band last summer, through the extensive stages of songwriting, pre-production, rehearsals, recording and mixing, we now finally got the finished album in our hands.
We are very happy to have managed to produce an album that we feel is truly ‘us’. Something we can all stand behind one hundred percent. I can’t wait ’til you all get to hear it!

Recorded with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman and mixed by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios, At War With Reality shows the return of the classic At the Gates lineup with their first new material since best-selling but fan-disappointing Slaughter of the Soul, which showed the band drifting toward Metallica Ride the Lightning era speed metal given the melodic Swedish metal treatment.

The band recorded this in-studio statement:

Simultaneously, the band have announced an international tour for 2015. Dates are as follows:

AT THE GATES + support:
20.11.2014 – Tampere (Finland) – Klubi
21.11.2014 – Jyväskylä (Finland) – Lutako
22.11.2014 – Helsinki (Finland) – Nosturi

AT THE GATES, GRAVE, MORBUS CHRON:
27.11.2014 – Göteborg (Sweden) – Trägårn
28.11.2014 – Stockholm (Sweden) – Arenan
29.11.2014 – Malmö (Sweden) – KB

AT THE GATES, TRIPTYKON, MORBUS CHRON:
04.12.2014 – London (UK) – Forum
05.12.2014 – Manchester (UK) – Academy 2
06.12.2014 – Glasgow (UK) – Garage
07.12.2014 – Birmingham (UK) – Academy
08.12.2014 – Cardiff (UK) – Solus
10.12.2014 – Essen (Germany) – Turock
11.12.2014 – Hamburg (Germany) – Markthalle
12.12.2014 – Eindhoven (The Netherlands) – Eindhoven Metal Meeting
13.12.2014 – Leipzig (Germany) – Conne Island
14.12.2014 – Wien (Austria) – Arena
16.12.2014 – Aarau (Switzerland) – Kiff
17.12.2014 – Munich (Germany – Backstage Werk
18.12.2014 – Antwerpen (Belgium) – Trix
19.12.2014 – Cologne (Germany) – Essigfabrik
20.12.2014 – Berlin (Germany) – Postbahnhof

AT THE GATES – live 2015:
08.01.2015 – Istanbul (Turkey) – Jolly Joker
09.01.2015 – Athens (Greece) – Stage Volume 1
10.01.2015 – Thessaloniki (Greece) – Principal Club
31.01.2015 – Dublin (Ireland) – Academy
26.02.2015 – Oslo (Norway) – Vulkan Arena
29.05.2015 – Johannesburg (South Africa) – TBA
30.05.2015 – Cape Town (South Africa) – TBA

Codex Obscurum – Issue Five

August 4, 2014 –

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Codex Obscurum graces these pages frequently as one of few print zines who uphold the idea of the underground: a focus on music, not popularity, and insight into the motivations and mentation of those who pursue the unholy music of death. Issue Five from this promising zine takes its power to new heights.

Over the preceding issues, Codex Obscurum refined its approach to layout, personality and content and now appears in a fully mature form. Layouts are readable and densely packed with information, interviews dig into the thoughts and emotions of those who are active in the underground, and content selection shows a strong preference for the ancient spirits of obscure music as well as an inclination to pick from current music the few bright lights who understand it in spirit as well as mechanics.

Layout for example shows great evolution. High-contrast pages of black on white or its inverse use sparse but intense images to anchor smoothly-flowing, tightly-packed text. The result proves readable for those in a computer age who wish for a professional layout in a print magazine, and allows the content to pop out at the reader without interference or confusing background. The resulting more efficient use of these pages allows the staff to cram in more interviews, notably more reviews, and features that show a concise but outspoken style.

Issue Five begins with a stream of interviews including most notably Brutal Truth, Krieg and At the Gates. These show the seasoned journalist at work, avoiding most of the standard background questions of mechanics and instead querying the musicians in detail about their compositional and stylistic choices. That approach elicits answers which deepen the connection between band and reader by escaping the surface world of rock and looking at metal as a series of choices united by a shared identity and way of looking at the world.

The At the Gates interview reveals the workings of of legendary band as the questioner probes into the branches of its career and the resulting changes in the music. Focusing also on the upcoming At the Gates album At War With Reality the interviewer knits past and future through the words of the band. A candid Brutal Truth exploration follows with bassist Dan Lilker talking about his approach to music and his history with the second-wave grindcore act, after which a cerebral Krieg interview digs into the questions that metal finds troubling. Witness this exchange:

Where do you see the place of black metal in the greater context of the development of musical styles in human culture?

I don’t see it as culturally important to humanity as a whole, only some countries it’s made a direct effect on their history and even then in the grand scheme of this shit circus it’s about as important as that one time you jerked off that one day that you don’t quite remember but you know that you did. It was engaging for those few minutes but then you finished and went on with your life. That’s how I see it in the big picture. But seeing that we’re Americans and American society places incredible emphasis on solipsism, then for the individual it’s touched it could be the greatest cultural movement of his/her life and for however long that individual is alive it’s the one thing they carry that had the greatest significance possible.

A welcome change comes in the form of the reviews which pack the ending pages of this zine. These take a longer form and look more in-depth at the music and use less rhetoric and judgment than before, which makes them more informative. In this issue, an editorial of a true metal nature follows the reviews and brings up a number of significant points for any thinking metalhead to ponder. This type of fully-developed personality shows the strength of this zine in its second year and fifth issue and promises even greater heights for its future.

Sentenced North From Here: the album that exploded melodic metal

July 22, 2014 –

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Back in the chaotic early 1990s, most death metal bands were racing to catch up with albums like Morbid Angel Blessed Are the Sick and Deicide Legion. Bands increasingly experimented with complex rhythms and riffs but eschewed the radio-friendly sound of the last generations of metal, including the melodic harmonized guitar attack of Iron Maiden.

Enter Sentenced. Like At the Gates before them, this Finnish band decided to work with melody in addition to complex riffs, and to do so began to work with lead-picked single-string melodies. After their first album of Swedish-inspired primal death metal called Shadows of the Past, Sentenced improved musically and artistically and took the leap into melodic metal. At this point, almost no bands would touch this style as it seemed an anachronism held over from the 1980s where death metal was forging ahead with chromatic riffs and difficult tempi.

Sentenced took the Slayer approach to songwriting with verse-chorus songs interrupted by transitional riffs for emphasis wrapped around a lyrical concept and added to it the Iron Maiden style harmonized guitars producing a melodic effect. Following a lead from At the Gates, the band also allowed melodies to evolve over the course of a song, creating an immersion in similar sound in which slight textural and phrasal changes could take on greater effect. Along with other bands like Unanimated and Cemetary, Sentenced forged a different path which succeeded because it kept the alienated and dark sound of death metal.

Just a few years later, this sound would explode as bands like Dissection mixed more of the NWOBHM melody and even more abrasive death metal and black metal technique into the mix. After that, clone bands like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames took this style further toward radio metal, but for a few years, this small group of melodic death metal bands revealed the potential of this style. North From Here much like its iconic cover transports the listener to a consciousness beyond the everyday in which union with the empty cosmos and the potential of transcendence of the everyday propels the mind through not only darkness but into a sense of magical light which rediscovers life as a visionary journey. Without losing any of the intensity of their earlier album, Sentenced layered emotion on top of aggression and produced a lasting and unsurpassed testament to the power of this genre.

An At the Gates career retrospective

January 28, 2014 –

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Since the days of being a small child I have been fascinated by how things fall apart. At an early age I could recognize decay, but knew it was separate from the tendency of human efforts to disintegrate once they grew past their initial effort.

A simple example was our veterinarian. He started out with a group of other animal doctors. Then people realized this one guy does great work. He struck out for himself. Soon he had too much work to do. He expanded, hiring more people and getting a new building. Soon he was no longer doing great work and he was more expensive. It took people a decade to find out. Most of them were still telling each other the accepted truth that he was doing great work.

At the Gates have announced their reformation as part of the 2013-inspired wave that saw Gorguts and Carcass return. Unlike the 2009-wave of returning bands, like Asphyx and Beherit, this retro-underground-revival has featured classic bands “modernizing” their sound. It also generally exhibits bands who had already cast aside their metal roots for musical reasons. Where the previous wave was more a sense of bands returning to pick up where they left off, the new wave seems to be about bands participating in the new metal scene and trying to siphon off some of that interest, newsworthiness and cash flow.

At the Gates started from the ashes of Grotesque back in 1990. They quickly released an EP, Gardens of Grief, followed by an LP, The Red in the Sky is Ours. These two works constitute the important artistic output from At the Gates because they were so radical in death metal. First, they incorporated melody as a structural device, where previously it had been used as a technique and worn to death. Next, they showed song development that surpassed what most bands were doing. Finally, their use of single-note picked riffs and spacious drumming produced a greater range of dynamics for death metal. Between At the Gates and other Swedish death metal acts that used melody such as Therion and Carnage, the roots of black metal were laid.

After that, things got confused. With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness followed in 1993 but lacked the clarity of the early work, showing a band in conflict over whether it wanted to follow its initial style, or get more power chords and catchy choruses in there. This led to the departure of original member Alf Svensson and regrouping with guitarist Martin Larsson, formerly of House of Usher. At this point, the band reformulated their sound to be more like regular death metal and yet also more like accepted rock music, including displaying the technical chops expected in that field. Now, like countrymen Dissection, At the Gates sounded like a death metal wrapper around a regular rock band, and a good one at that. Interest soared. The band released Slaughter of the Soul to grand acclaim despite the album having more in common with the speed metal of the mid-1980s than the death metal of the 1990s.

After their most popular album ever, the band fragmented when the Björler brothers moved on to form The Haunted. Most metalheads recognize that moment as the ground zero for melodic metalcore, which combined the 1980s speed metal approach to songwriting with the late hardcore tendency to value random riffs stacked together in carnival sideshow music style. However, for a new neurotic generation, this distraction-oriented music was a perfect soundtrack, and The Haunted became a success in its own right. At the Gates put out a few retrospectives and occasionally re-united but basically was dead.

In 2014, it’s hard to imagine the band not making Slaughter of the Soul II. It was their greatest success and introduced themes of self-pity, such as suicide, which are always popular with the youth of narcissistic parents who essentially feel doomed from puberty onward despite living in relative luxury. Slaughter of the Soul was a clear precursor to The Haunted which took the frenetic randomness of bands like Discordance Axis and Human Remains and made it into a new style that, by using the sweet sounds of Iron Maiden-styled harmony, found mass appeal.

At the Gates made the following statement:

We know you are all curious about the new material, and to make a simple explanation of where we are at musically, we would describe it as a perfect mix between early AT THE GATES & ‘Slaughter of the Soul’-era AT THE GATES, trying to maintain the legacy and the history

This leaves us wondering what they consider “early” At the Gates since presumably that’s everything before Slaughter of the Soul, and they did not specifically mention the first EP or LP by name.