Reaching for a Red Sky


I. A brief introduction

In 1992, At the Gates released their first full-length album after an earth-shaking demo of unprecedented refinement in composition. The full-length, titled The Red in the Sky is Ours, was to become not only the band’s magnum opus but also the greatest achievement of Scandinavian death metal then and since then. Hidden under distinct layers of complexity, ideas at different levels flourish, diverge and converge in ways that are not always easy to follow, throwing the less-than-adamant and less perceptive listener off at every turn and twist of the way. This is not a spurious claim but an observation based on deep acquaintance with the composition of the music in this album as it stands in contrast with the groove-banality of most Swedeath, including favorites of the populace like Entombed Left Hand Path.

According to Anders Björler, this early output was almost entirely arranged by the much aged (about 6 years older than the rest of the band members) founding member Alf Svensson, who painstakingly controlled the process even in the vocal department. To be fair, this debut album is definitely the result of the best talents of all the participating musicians directed in a very concentrated direction by a mastermind. In fact, a distinct At the Gates’ “sound” in this era comes from Tompa’s unique style and the exchange between the quirkiness of Svensson’s style and the melodic clarity and repose of Björler’s, without failing to mention the flexible, stellar and extremely appropriate tailor-made drum arrangements of Erlandsson. Among the often-commented and curious ways Svensson had of getting ideas for At the Gates’ music was playing folk music tapes backwards. The whispers, screeches and screams  of the vocals were also carefully gauged by this guy who even pitched certain passages — a very uncommon practice in death metal.

Given the strange appearance and convoluted (almost perverted) character of the music that confirm the topic of insanity and inner journeys discussed in the lyrics, it has been overlooked in the same way that even the great genius of J.S. Bach may be deemed “no more than a composer with a penchant for writing minor-key melodies” by the blind and the ignorant. This complexity extends from technique to progressive structures all the way to motif and idea.

Lyrically, The Red in the Sky is Ours is very poetic, describing scenes and mixing these visions with colored allusions and evocation of feelings, creating a land between the image and the emotion where the two come together and mix, blend and crystallize into one or the other at a different points. This mystic poetry is not only present in the words of the album but is reflected and paralleled in the music. The concept here is strongly integrated and reinforced at several levels that remain elusive enough to create a sense of mystery yet concrete enough to be identified without a shadow of doubt.

The mention of the use of a violin in the album is in order but should not be overemphasized as gimmick-oriented audiences have often highlighted it as if it were the defining or most interesting thing going on here. The violin is appropriately used and adds a very eerie aura through its intensified fretless access to microtones which make the semitone emphasis  and augmented intervals sound even more off than they sound on the distorted electric guitar. One can still detect an amateur performance at some level on the instrument, but it is not that notes were missed or that wrong notes were played, and more of a lack of finesse in performance.

II. Apparent influences

At the Gates was formed out of the ashes of Grotesque, a melodic-motif-based, riff-salad-propelled progressive death metal band. The creative and savage impulse of the younger band remains in At the Gates, but filtered through a matured and controlled thought process under the guiding hand of a visionary metal composer. In my opinion, the single greatest metal influence on the band were the Americans from Atheist, whose shadow looms over the fully-formed style of At the Gates in The Red in the Sky is Ours.

Atheist’s trademark is found in its jazz-inspired rhythmic playfulness, ever throwing the audience off balance through ploys in the music that never allow one to feel too at home, always carrying the imagination forth in river rapids that form part of a distinctive greater whole that flows in one direction. As good metal, it is composed and not improvised (though improvisation definitely always plays a role in any composition process, to one degree or another). The stability-instability interplay from section to section follows the Gang‘s and Satz‘s  described by A.B. Marx conceptually and through examples of Beethoven piano sonatas.

What At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours took from Atheist was an informed fearlessness in the face of convention that did not destroy the music for the sake of innovation but introduced all sorts of pauses, tempo and time signature changes as well as other creative rhythmic gestures within a homogeneous framework that maintained a clear language that conspired to a strong concept rather than indulging any of the musicians. But the younger band took this further and deeper than veterans even in their masterpiece Unquestionable Presence, creating much more powerful and meaningful gestures by making them varied yet subservient to a layered concept.


III. Creating a language

Usually, one relates a band with a style. This style implies the use of not only certain instrumentation but also musical tropes that the audience can expect. A good reason for a band to adopt a particular style (rather than going rogue and define parameters completely on their own) is intelligibility. Unfortunately, more often than not this is not the reason why bands do this, but rather because they are not gifted in music creation and thus only choose a style as a suit to wear and not as what it actually is: a language to speak.

When it comes to this band’s early works, the first step in understanding just what exactly this style they chose is requires an acknowledging of the fact that At the Gates created a dialect of their own from the firm bases of contemporary underground metal at the time. This consisted in abandoning as much as possible stylistic tendencies in structure or composition and reducing their relation to death metal to rudimentary technique aspects such as blast beats,  d-beats and other variations basic percussion patterns  when it came to the drums, and “tremolo” picking for melodies, power chords (and absolutely no use of any other kind of chord in a single guitar), hammer-on’s and simple, non-tremolo picking mostly for syncopated passages.

It is not claimed here that all this was precisely calculated by the band, and it is acknowledged that in all possibility, it was the result of the unconscious result of musically talented minds searching for self-expression. The following section illustrates approaches in applications of typical then-contemporary death and black metal techniques in the framework of distinct songwriting procedures in The Red in the Sky is Ours.

IV. Tainting the sky with red

  • Motif forms. Motif forms in developmental variation as described by Arnold Schoenberg in his Fundamentals of Musical Composition is a series of melodic patterns evolve from executing transformation functions on a primordial one. As little as two distinctive notes from this first melodic pattern can be highlighted and played upon as the central motif, while the rest is twisted, expanded, contracted, flipped, omitted or changed in any other way in progressively differentiating ways. This is not to be confused with a theme, which is a distinctive melodic pattern that is kept intact in the relative relation between its notes and which in the most extreme cases is played slower or faster, or in a different register.  Motif forms allow for a wider range of manipulation that nonetheless preserves a link to a central idea that can be sometimes difficult to see at first, leading relations between sections to sound less than obvious. In the case of The Red in the Sky is Ours, this has resulted in accusations of riff-salad looseness, but these allegations do not hold up in light of the evidence. However, it is true that a degree of intelligibility is sacrificed when flexibility is increased, and these two are one of the so many extreme poles in between which musics attempt to find a certain balance or inclination for their expression.
  • Harmonic coloring. After the selection and limitation to a rudimentary “alphabet”, the reducing of building materials to a homogeneous mixture, At the Gates proceeds to define the next layer: their vocabulary. What happens next are the decisions that shape the character and coloring of the music in terms of the relations between the instruments in terms of texture and harmony. Harmony here does not only refer to the horizontal relation of notes at any one point in time, but of the sequence of harmonic implications within or between riffs. In the strictly horizontal aspect, when the two guitars play melody lines, they often play the same, leaving “harmonization” as an afterthought until after the riff has been properly introduced and the listener is very well-acquainted with it. Rather than a way to easily beef-up the music as in Sentenced North from Here, At the Gates makes a much more elegant and measured use of it as if it were a punctuation mark. This is mostly done in fifths, sometimes in octaves and a very few times in minor third intervals. A very few passages make use of short counterpointed melodies of the most basic sort, but inserted in crucial points to a very powerful effect. The use of each of these not as a feature but as part of a set of calculated flourishes is another thing that makes At the Gates rise above most bands. Needless to say, the rhythm-and-lead modality is used by At the Gates very, very little and usually takes the form of something more akin to melody and counter-melody. The second aspect can be noticed in different applications. One of them is playing a melodic pattern in one register and then playing it exactly as it is exactly one semitone above its original instantiation. The band uses this simple technique to expand several riffs throughout their debut and is in line with the music’s apparent penchant for focusing on the semitone as a motif, giving the music a very uncomfortable lingering feeling most of the time as the minor second interval is a very dissonant one only a little step away from perfect resolution. This, in turn, is liberated by the addition of more stable (so-called “melodic” — correct term: consonant) passages that are in turn intensified and elevated by being placed amongst the ever-present hanging melodic, semi-tone dissonance.

  • Percussion. As has been said before, the drums in metal should be more than the strict representation of tempo, but they should not run amok in self-indulgent expressions of virtuosity or “feeling” either. In the band’s debut album, Adrian Erlandsson achieves perfection in balance between creativity and functionality in a very technically-oriented style. Like many of the early classics, this technically intense music can go undetected because of two reasons this writer can think of in this moment. The most easily pointed out is the fact that the basic expressions are rudimentary metal techniques which in themselves do not present a challenge to accomplished drummers. But looks can be deceiving as the difficulty lies in the smoothness between patterns, in addition to the right emphasis within and between them in relation to the rest of the music. This is basically metal drumming taken to classical heights and taking technical cues from the only available precedent: old jazz drumming. A very good example is the way the drums complement (rather than mirror) the speed of the notes and intensity of the guitar patterns. Sometimes these two come together and accents are focused, sometimes the drums will reduce intensity and calm down to a very basic pattern in order to give space and highlight to a particularly melodic-consonant guitar melody interplay and yet sometimes it will blast away as the guitars play moderately midpaced and slow notes. These never feel forced or out of place when seen from the point of view of being an expression inside a larger scheme, but may seem a little “weird” when taken out of context. Unfortunately for the appreciation of this album, most listeners cannot go beyond the moment and the riff or the cool drum pattern. The beauty of truly advanced drum arrangement (as opposed to virtuosic display alone) is completely lost on most of the audience.

  • Silences and pauses.  A subtle but decisive element that elevates the composition in The Red in the Sky is Ours to a place actually besides classical music (as opposed to the many metal albums that are superficially likened to classical music based on this or that pattern in the music) is the use of silences for articulation — yet another device used by Atheist that At the Gates took to a whole other level. Silences throughout the album work mainly as expectation creators, creating an effect of falling through empty space, and as buffers between two different motific areas. It is also worth pointing out that silences do not only occur in total muting of all the instruments. Sometimes the little trick Atheist likes of letting the bass run over a little drum pattern alone only to have the guitars come after it is used. But also, one guitar alone over drums, or only drums, or alternations of all of them (as occurs in the closing passage of “City of Screaming Statues”).

  • Orchestration. The bas-reliefs created in The Red in the Sky is Ours thus run at multiple levels, from these plays of harmony, to motif relations, to textural adjustments in between the instruments in which the percussion plays no small role.  An analysis of the flow of the music from one section to another reveals a painstaking amount of planning and consideration regarding these elements. The album amounts to an extremely expressive and variable set of statements and arguments from a single voice (embodied by the aforementioned homogeneous-ness from adherence to rudimentary techniques and particular harmonic-melodic inclinations). When it comes to orchestration, the decisions of how and when to let the guitars use this or that picking technique, when to make them play the same or in harmony, when to let the drums lead, when to make the drums fade into the background seem to obey a song-wide plan, and not one in which only the shock or pleasing nature of any one passage is considered. So, it is not which techniques or approaches At the Gates used in their debut, but how and to what ends they did. This music speaks out as if it had sentient and emotional capacity of its own beyond the words or the execution of any single instrument that produces it.

“The term orchestration in its specific sense refers to the way instruments are used to portray any musical aspect such as melody or harmony.”

— Orchestration Wiki

V. Long-range planning

Now comes one of the most exciting and accomplished aspects of The Red in the Sky is Ours: its composition on the scale of whole pieces, rather than in a collection of disparaged cool-sounding passages. Without any assumption of a voluntary or conscious reference by the band to master composers, this writer feels the need to illustrate the outstanding crystallization of advanced thought processes in composition by making a connection between this great metal work to certain general procedures of Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Antonio Vivaldi.

Structurally, the affinity to Beethoven’s method comes first as it refers to the encompassing of motifs and their tying-together by entanglement. The late German master would develop a first main motif, sometimes introducing a contrasting idea that may be mistaken as simple gimmicks for effect here and there. Now, he would not allow these to remain simple dead ends. These initial and apparently random passages that salted the presentation of a first motif would become the seeds for other areas of development, thereby revealing them as hints and vistas of what lay ahead. Like At the Gates, Beethoven sometimes introduced new ideas in a contrasting and almost transition-less manner, and then proceeded to slowly integrating them by interpolating them and already-established motifs, even using them together while always looking ahead in the development.  Beethoven’s late quartets display everything one can look forward to in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours in more advanced arrangements.

The reference to Anton Bruckner may not be as pervading and far-reaching as Beethoven’s, but it is still a key aspect of the character of At the Gates’ debut. This is a specific way of reusing and sometimes transforming a motif which works on a different dimension than the developmental variation. This is the attention to the color of a same idea, perhaps a theme or simply a motif in different contexts as it shines through different harmonies and textures. Brett Stevens has aptly described this as prismatic technique, alluding to the effect a crystal has over light going through it and exiting from different angles.

Last comes the most general and slightly elusive comparison to Antonio Vivaldi’s music. The relation of any metal music which has separate guitar lines can be likened to a lot of Vivaldi’s music for two violins, as this revolves around two lines. The best melodic death metal uses this concept to its full potential. Also, the clarity and rhythmic straightforwardness and affirmative character of this pure, Italian baroque music is a template and reflection of good and simple progressive underground melodic metal such as the album under discussion. In the case of this metal masterpiece, I want to especially call attention to an section-expanding procedure in which a pattern is repeated while elements surrounding it add to its texture in increasing waves or in slide-shift manner that quickly takes one idea and juxtaposes it to a second as the second one takes precedence towards the end of the whole section. (Typical in At the Gates’ music -> G1: A A A’ A’  BBB’B’ B’B’, G2: AAAA  A’BB’B’ B’harB’har)

Last of all, there is a high-level characteristic that gives this music a very organic feeling, that is how the number of repetitions adjust to the needs of the music, often avoiding sounding too squared, too even. Instead of a lot of the typical “repeat four times”  formula we find in metal we find a lot of different combinations that nonetheless favor the even-ness traditional to the genre. What is achieved here is an element that lends unpredictability but does not detract from the music, a small tool used when music needs a little push from un-evenness: odd number of repetitions. This becomes especially powerful when combined with the riff-motif sliding technique just mentioned. A perfect exampled can be distinguished in the middle climax/breaking point of “City of Screaming Statues”.

While most would agree that most death and black metal need to be analyzed with a modal mindset, approaching The Red in the Sky is Ours with this more simple-minded preconception would be doing the masterpiece a great disservice. The powerful way in which harmony, implied or explicitly presented, is used here was unprecedented in its time and has largely remained unparalleled since in the death metal world. Yet it is not this or that aspect what makes it astounding, but the convergence of all the elements and the stacked up layers of refined aspects from playing technique to mind-numbing attention to composition technique in its vertical and horizontal dimensions and in its short and long ranges.

Crafting a unique album in the full sense of the expression, At the Gates gave us an example of how thinking that everything has already been done is just a scapegoat for people who were not meant to be creating artists in the first place. The Red in the Sky is Ours does not introduce new playing techniques or strange avant-garde-isms in strange influences that change the character of the music, but for those with the eyes to see it, they rose above the masses in producing a profound work of art that will remain immortal so long as its objective qualities, at least, are understood. This is an album that stands besides Burzum Det Som Engang Var and Cóndor Duin in showing us how excellent, original and forward-looking music can be created without resorting ignorant attempts at directly redefining paradigms or favoring nonsensical experimentation that results in garbage. Instead, what we have here is sure-footed creativity based on tradition that is carefully gauged through both technical knowledge in its Apollonian manifestation and its inner Dionysian sense to a both logical but unpredictable result.

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95 thoughts on “Reaching for a Red Sky”

  1. …and this is why many of us are fond of David’s writing. DR critics, ball’s in your court.

    1. LostInTheANUS says:

      I don’t think “David” really exists, I mean has anyone here ever seen Brett and David in the same room at the same time?

    2. arbie says:

      Who criticizes David? He brings substance and real music theory (not the be-all-end-all, but useful) to the site’s metal-as-high-art objective, which is well-meaning but veers into woowoo without some real rigour. He needs to write more articles.

      1. Who criticizes David?

        Anything on the DMU will bring out criticism from (1) the mainstream cucks (2) the tryhards and (3) the “autist” self-absorbed basement-dwelling 4chan types.

        1. trystero says:

          Victim mentality

        2. Heckler & Kock says:

          Using ‘cuck’ a noun is indicative of a #3 type.

        3. thewaters says:

          Are you suggesting that there can be no legitimate criticism of DMU and David? Constructive or otherwise?

          1. How did you get that?

            1. thewaters says:

              I was repsonding to this:

              “Anything on the DMU will bring out criticism from (1) the mainstream cucks (2) the tryhards and (3) the “autist” self-absorbed basement-dwelling 4chan types.”

              I read your statement to imply that their can be no groups who criticize this sites articles beyond the three categories of people you mentioned. The nature of these people are such that their criticisms are usually irrelevant, as we can all agree. However, I posted my response as a question to you because I don’t think you meant that, and I wanted clarification.

              1. I read your statement to imply that their can be no groups who criticize this sites articles beyond the three categories of people you mentioned.

                There is no reason, in English and logic itself, to assume that.


                “Any time I water my lawn, my neighbor Mr. Rodgers complains.”

                Other neighbors may complain as well. The topic is constrained by its subject.

                1. thewaters says:

                  Thank-you Brett…:)

  2. Daniel says:

    Great article. Too bad there is not more Alf Svensson composed death metal other than the Gardens of Grief 7″, A few tracks off With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, and Grotesque’s Incantation EP.

    1. I don’t like it when people say “a few tracks off With Fear…”
      When credit is given for a song, they credit the main idea, but the whole band participates in its making, usually.
      Same is true of most songs in TRITSIO, same is true of WFIKTBD, Alf’s hand is there too but in different degrees.

      1. Daniel says:

        Well more Alf Svensson structured songs instead of the Anders Bjorler speed metal style is what I should have said. Also the Immolation influence should not go unnoticed; Dawn of Possession is what the band said they were blasting repeatedly. Were they listening to Atheist as much as Demilich (Atheist and uh Bolt Thrower) and Clandestine era Entombed were?

        1. Were they listening to Atheist as much as Demilich (Atheist and uh Bolt Thrower) and Clandestine era Entombed were?

          I would love to know. Also: ABBA influence? Great band.

          1. Daniel says:

            ABBA influence? Cult of Fire? What?

  3. I stand by my claim that Rosales has cleverly spammed this site save for some awesome articles.

    This is one of them articles that deserves a standing ovation.

    As for Brett’s comment, what do you mean ball’s in my butt?

    1. AK-47 says:

      Alf had solo project after At the Gates called Oxiplegatz which released a few albums. I have not listened that closely to it yet but it feels like he went a bit overboard with the experimentation. Listening to Oxiplegatz might be a good way to assess the positive influence the other At the Gates members had on the first three At the Gates releases; they seem to have restrained his insanity and processed his ideas into a more articulate concept.

      1. Oxiplegatz never came together, which is why you do not read about it as much as ATG.

        1. freudian says:

          I remember 2 tracks being techno/electro fodder followed by Lust for Life, which sounds like Queensrÿche with a “weird” riff separating the AOR.

  4. thomasw_ says:

    I have always thought highly of the album; many thanks for taking the time to analyze it so thoroughly. I appreciated your ending remarks in comparison to Condor and Burzum. I wonder to what extent on this LP you think there are Apollonian elements as well as the more evident romantic Dionysian?

  5. Paul Warkin says:

    And that intro… I almost get light headed from the towering intensity. If coffee didn’t exist, I’d take The Red in the Sky is Ours in the morning.

    Excellent thorough analysis.

  6. OliveFox says:

    Wonderfully in depth piece! A true classic, I try to get all of my friends and family who are getting into metal to get this album before someone poisons them with The Jester Race.

    I still find Unquestionable Presence to be superior (not by much, granted), and wonder if you there is as much, or more or less, to say about that classic if you put the magnifying glass to it.

    Again, great article.

    1. I guess it depends on how much value one place on what musical trait… or overall effect.

      1. OliveFox says:

        I’ll tell you one thing I place NO value on. The album cover. The font especially. While the music of TRITSIO is so far beyond reproach it reaches legendary, nay, Mythological levels. That damn font really needed another approach.

        Point for Unquestionable…

        Though, come to think of it, I don’t hold much metal album art in high regard, no matter who or how good the music is.

        I apologize for the needless, and frankly unimportant, point. But I truly do think that font sucks a fat one.

        1. OliveFox says:

          Come to think of it, if you take away the font and the logo, the album cover looks a like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless album cover.

        2. The album cover.

          Things I ignore when writing an record review: #3.

          1. Except if it gives me a warning about something ridiculous :D
            But then it becomes an afterthought and not the reason for judging the music…

  7. Roger says:

    Nice one. One thing, though:

    Why the (in my opinion, unfair) pot shot at ‘Left Hand Path’, but not ‘Like an Ever Flowing Stream’? One can’t say that the former is all that much different to the later.

    1. There is a huge difference between them. If people are having trouble telling the difference because their guitar tone and some trope or another are used by both, then an explanation should be worth giving. The same goes for Amorphis’ debut and Demigod. VERY different…

      1. Roger says:

        Amorphis and Demigod are heaps different, no argument there.

        I think you will have you address the difference between Left Hand Path and Like an Ever Flowing Stream in a full length article ;) Until then I remain unpersuaded about any significant difference. LHP is perhaps slightly more ‘punky’ in technique, but I hear no huge compositional difference

        1. Roger says:

          That is, apart from the final track on LAEFS, which is one of the finest in death metal, and quite different from the rest of Dismember’s tracks.

          1. Daniel says:

            Dismember had a lot of tracks like that. You need to listen to more Dismember.

            1. Roger says:

              Don’t suppose that you know what people have or have not listened to.

              I have been listening to Dismember for 10 years.

              I’m talking about In Death’s Sleep. And no, I haven’t heard another track which is as ‘epic’ and thematic as the former from them.

        2. I think you will have you address the difference between Left Hand Path and Like an Ever Flowing Stream in a full length article

          This is a good topic idea…

          1. Daniel says:

            I’m surprised Entombed vs Dismember is even up for debate. Wasn’t this decided over twenty years ago when Wolverine Blues turned out to be Pantera crap with Wolverine the X-Man on the cover going up against the heavier Indecent & Obscene that had Jim Morrison with his heart ripped out? Entombed practiced jumping up and down in unison like a punk band; Dave Blomqvist taught himself to sweep pick.

            Just remember the final rerecorded Carnage songs are CD bonus tracks; the album ends on In Death’s Sleep. Nicke Anderson from Entombed plays the solos.

            1. Roger says:

              We’re comparing Left Hand Path with Like An Ever Flowing Stream. Not Entombed with Dismember in general.

    2. I dunno Roger. I guess there isn’t all that much difference between my cock and yours…
      except mine’s a true weapon of anal destruction!

      What about bands like Utumno, Grave, Mega Slaughter, Authorize, Nirvana 2002? All of them
      released material in 1991-92 and already by that time they seem redundant.

    3. Daniel says:

      Carnage/Dismember/Blomqvist and Estby composed songs in a much more metal way. The most death metal and best song on Left Hand Path is Left Hand Path. Then the album gradually turns into deathcrust. The only thing Entombed and Dismember (and Carnage) shared are the Autopsy influences and d-beating. The riffing, songwriting, leads, drum fills, and influences are different. Little kid Nicke Anderson met little kid Fred Estby at summer camp (I’ve seen a photo of this somewhere. Swedish Death Metal the book?) and Nicke showed Fred punk and Fred showed Nicke metal and that’s basically what the bands sound like too.

      The guitar tone is different too. All they share is the HM-2 pedal. If you can’t hear it, then you must have a horrible listening setup or shitty reissues/MP3s. The original pressings of Like an Ever Flowing Stream that sound good are rare.

      Entombed = Multitracked hard-panned left and right into a dimed Boss HM-2 pedal (this must be dimed otherwise it sounds like shit) into Peavy 40w Studio solid state combo. Centered is another track with a Boss DS-1 pedal instead of the HM-2. The multitracking and DS-1 is why the Stockholm/Sunlight bands’ tone is so much better than the “Entombedcore” metallic hardcore bums who often use much better amps but with just the HM-2. The HM-2 on its own kinda sucks.

      Dismember = dimed HM-2 pedals into Marshall JCM 900 heads with every knob dimed all the way. Yes that’s retarded but it causes additional distortion. The tone is much wider, fatter, more uncontrolled, and higher gain than Entombed’s. I don’t know what the Carnage tone was but it was much thinner especially for Amott’s leads.

  8. GoKarts to Adramalech says:

    In the first picture, of the band… look at all them Chuck Taylors! My niggaz rep Converse HARD! :)

  9. freudian says:

    Same with Atrocity (Longing for Death), Gorgoroth (Antichrist), and… not many more – this band releases an underrated or under appreciated classic and turns to crap immediately after, though I like certain tracks from WFIKTBD (but it’s inconsistent from start to finish). Anyway, most metal is worthless compared to these albums. This is true death metal – disturbed genius.

    1. Same with Atrocity (Longing for Death), Gorgoroth (Antichrist)

      Maybe add Trolltaar and some of the more ambitious Graveland and Absurd experiments in there…

  10. arbie says:

    I like this album but I’m not always feeling smart enough to pay attention and keep up with all the changes and variation going on. It still makes sense emotionally and maintains a strong sense of linearity if I zone out, but it can be frustrating. It almost feels stream-of-conscious but teases you with moments of recursiveness.

    Luckily dummies like me have stuff like Hell Awaits and Pure Holocaust to reach for when Massacra and this album are just too much… :)

    Definitely one of THE albums that separates those who get metal from those who don’t. See: the RYM rating, allmusic trashing it, the band themselves (now much older, more “mature” and “professional”) dismissing it, etc.

    1. Not to sound arrogant, but it’s about levels of perception, IMO. Once you get used to a certain level, by going back and forth between enjoyment and appreciation, sometimes we just “get” the album, and then it makes sense in a natural way. It is also a matter of propensity. TRITSIO clicked for me at several levels of understanding as I explored it and studied it through several years, but it did have a certain attraction from the beginning because I grew up on Bach and Vivaldi, perhaps, and was attracted to whole harmonies certain atmosphere in the baroque style. But for Burzum, I had to stand on my head to “get” it, but once I did, once it clicked, each album I “get” of his tells me something and the classics are definitely breath-taking.

      1. it did have a certain attraction from the beginning because I grew up on Bach and Vivaldi

        More metalheads should inform themselves with an extensive classical background among the big names of classical.

        How can you appreciate Onward to Golgotha without the type of awareness fostered by familiarity with the works of Bruckner, Nielsen, Beethoven, Haydn and Handel?

        1. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
          I’ve been going over Onward to Golgotha this week again and again! Then again, it isn’t surprising that you mention them since you really worship that album (and it really is worth worshiping)

        2. Escaped Goatse says:

          I don’t know, but I do!
          If I was familiar with Bruckner & Nielsen ‘n shit, would Incantation be even BETTER?!

    2. Roger says:

      Oh I Dunno. I get metal, have been listening seriously for 10 years.. and I sold Red in the sky a couple of years ago! I find some of it boring, and unfocused. Out of all their records, I only own the Gardens of Grief EP, and I like that VERY MUCH.

      1. I find some of it boring, and unfocused.

        True of almost any album but not the great classical pieces.

        I agree on Gardens of Grief. What an amazing EP, and even more conventional that The Red in the Sky is Ours.

        1. Daniel says:

          Gardens of Grief was also recorded at Sunlight so it sounds a bit better.

    3. I like this album but I’m not always feeling smart enough to pay attention and keep up with all the changes and variation going on.

      Focus harder. There’s nothing wrong with your brain.

  11. Frank says:

    Good article on what may be the best metal album ever written. Tabbing the songs on this out is like decoding madness. Am I completely out of mind for feeling a not-obvious similiarity between this and Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht?

    1. Good thing tabbing it out isn’t really that difficult, because each section is not difficult, but the overall organization and thinking is quite impressive as a plan.

      1. Good thing tabbing it out isn’t really that difficult, because each section is not difficult, but the overall organization and thinking is quite impressive as a plan.

        Same is true of Beethoven. 12 notes; patterns differ. Good observation.

  12. Nate says:

    Fantastic article. Have you seen these vids? While novel I think this guy might be on a good track. It is at least a way to “see” in action some of the things discussed.

  13. AK-47 says:

    I really appreciate all the work you guys have started to put into these articles, a review like this is a new form of artwork in itself as it highlights aspects that even the artists themselves might be overlooking. My impression is that this is true in most cases; the majority of metal artists aren’t traditionally schooled musicians or lyricists so the quality comes from pure intuition and raw talent.

    You can’t find this type of in-depth analysis on any other ‘review’ sites (ingredient sites would be a better term). Time to go spread the word on Metalsucks and Blabbermouth. :)

    1. Angry Metal Fag says:

      The other review sites are just shills for metal industry. Angry Metal Fag just gave some flaming turd album a positive review that the staff here gave a gasoline enema.

      1. The other review sites are just shills for metal industry.

        I agree. They are advertising and nothing more. “It will tear your head off!!1!”

      2. Which album was it?

        Does anyone know if mainstream metal writers read ? Is that plausible?

        1. ANGRY SWANO FAG says:

          The Deathwhite one.

        2. Incucktation - Onward to Coontown says:

          There was one mainstream-ish metal site that plagiarized DMU’s Carcass – Surgical Steel review. Go figure.

    2. You can’t find this type of in-depth analysis on any other ‘review’ sites (ingredient sites would be a better term).

      You’re right — David Rosales does great work. We are sorry to lose him.

      1. Daniel says:

        He’s gone?

      2. hypocrite says:


      3. Gabriel says:

        I hope he’s not leaving because of the wannabe elitist trolls that populate the comments section. David is a fantastic writer and critic.

        1. Nah, that’s just an extra motivator…

  14. freudian says:

    Question for Brett Stevens:

    Have you considered a Dark Legions Archive book? It can give the history of the site, the metal FAQ, the review archive and interviews in one book for easy access/convenience. It could be the truest metal book, and stand apart from the sea of “post-modernism” interpreted through black metal fetishism or misguided death metal fanboyism (like anything with the Decibel magazine name attached). Since metal turned into product and there really isn’t much to say now except “band x sounds like bands y and z with gimmick a or b”, and I imagine articles like this will become infrequent considering the range of “must listens” probably stops at about 50 if lenient… you can at least monetize the years of honest work and study.

    1. Have you considered a Dark Legions Archive book? It can give the history of the site, the metal FAQ, the review archive and interviews in one book for easy access/convenience

      Yes ;)

      I have another book — occult/political/philosophical — which must arrive first.

      1. Pawn of Decisions says:

        “sorry to lose” D.Rosales? Is he dying? Wrote his swansong (this article) and quit? What… the FUCK, BRETT.

  15. cuckpunjiwhitenigger says:

    I hope the best for Mr. Rosales as he ventures to new heights and leaves us lemmings to our own devices in these soiled trenches.

    1. haha, how about we all keep working at understanding more and doing more of what we think we can do?

  16. Incucktation - Onward to Coontown says:

    Superb article, David. But what’s this business about leaving editorship? Please continue writing for the site, even if intermittently — I will miss your contributions! (Brett is too busy writing about how Obama’s gunna take ‘er guns away to do this site justice.) And it’s “scapegoat” not “escape goat” lmao.


    What’s the best CD to get for that Stokowski arrangement of Bach? Shit is killer.

    1. OOPS
      You see I am not fit to be editor XD

      I just realized how hilarious an “escape goat” would be!

      1. Grail's Mysteries says:

        David, thank you for your service at DMU. I am particularly grateful for your recommendations of Luciferian Rites, Perversor, and Exhumation.

    2. Incucktation - Onward to Coontown says:

      If anyone’s interested, I found this CD which has a good recording of it:

  17. Crag says:

    Having read this (exceptional) article, I was inspired to try this album. Again. This must be the fourth or fifth time that I’ve put it on for intensive listening purposes.

    I don’t get it.

    Don’t get me wrong – I get it. Totally. I know exactly what they’re doing, I can read the music like a book. It’s very well put together, it’s interesting, it moves in good directions, but this is totally not what I’d call a “good metal album”. “Good album”, perhaps, but it’s not metal. That’s the bit I don’t get. I don’t know what shit you guys have been snorting, but this is heavy jazz written by autistic life-lovers, not fucking “death metal”.

    There are cool bits, even intriguing bits, musically speaking, but the attitude I feel coming off this record is nowhere near that which you find in Death Strike, Bathory, Sarcófago, even Mercyful Fate (all of which have a greater – and more positive – effect on the human subconscious). There’s way too much emo in this album, not enough furor/power/vira. You can tell even at this point what kind of band they’re going to be later on, just because of the general weakness of their playing/presence. – more metal in the first second than in all of that At the Gates record. TRitSiO sounds like they wanted cock and pussy more than death, to be brutally honest. Maybe recognition as good musicians, as well, but it’s not fucking death music, whatever it is. Too weak. Strictly human. Give me Beherit any day, please. No need for complex riffs, there (DDtM): structure alone suffices, and makes for a much more powerful record.

    Listening to first track of TRitSio again, and I’m going to stake my honour on this assertion: this is the birth of “modern extreme metal”, the shit that killed all the good stuff by ’93/4. This is the doorway for all of the ‘core crap, this is the gateway for all sorts of symphonic bullshit and hipster whinery. Fuck this record, man. If they re-recorded the whole thing as a string quartet, I’d bum the shit out of it, since it’s exceedingly good from the compositional perspective, but this is simply not a heavy metal record in any way. No power. No balls. No soul. No death. Life music for life worshippers. I spit on the grave of this record. Whatever dies isn’t worth it.

    David, your review was better than the album itself. Herein lies the folly of seeking objective worth when the subjective is all for which existence can be claimed: no matter how good something looks on paper, the experience of it is the determiner of its worth. I completely agree with everything that is said in the review, I can point out examples of all of the identified aspects of the music, and can tell why they’re good ideas and why they could lead to powerful experiences, and yet the album leaves me completely cold (and not in the good way). What I’m looking for isn’t something to make my brain cum; I want something to set my soul on fire, and that’s not weedy widdly mental gymnastics but honest, potent, deep music. This record might have depth, from a certain perspective, but power and honesty? Not that I can hear.


    1. >”but this is heavy jazz written by autistic life-lovers, not fucking “death metal”.”

      Then you don’t get jazz or death metal…
      Especially jazz. It is definitely light years ahead of knucklehead death metal, but it is nowhere near pleasure-based and goal-less jazz.

      >”There’s way too much emo in this album, not enough furor/power/vira. ”

      I hear plenty of vir, and I don’t see the emo, except if you mean that all personal introspection = emo.

      >”Listening to first track of TRitSio again, and I’m going to stake my honour on this assertion: this is the birth of “modern extreme metal”, the shit that killed all the good stuff by ’93/4. ”

      Couldn’t be further off the mark.

      >”David, your review was better than the album itself.”

      No, haha. What happens is that my review is far easier to understand than the album. The review is not based on the subjective. The subjective statements were peripheral. This was about FACTs about the music.

      Not expecting even 20% of the audience to actually get the album, to recognize its objective merit, but it has to be said for those who do have the eyes/mind for it.

      1. Crag says:

        I got into jazz only last year, through predominantly ’60s-’70s stuff. I’m probably not very deep into it, yet, as other things have come up in the meantime, but I liked what I found when I looked. As a “heavy jazz” album, this At the Gates record is great. It’s just nothing at all close to what I’d call “death metal”, since there’s no death, and the metal seems only a surface treatment at best (or a leftover from heavier days). As I said, give me this music in a more appropriate form and I’d eat it breakfast, lunch, and dinner – just don’t try and tell me this is metal!

        Knucklehead death metal would kill and eat whatever non-knucklehead death metal one might prefer. It’d die off eventually due to its inability to work with others, but not before utterly annihilating the inherently incapable introverted in its midst. The modern comfort afforded to brainy-yet-brawnless counts for nothing in the real world. Thought-palaces serve only to imprison their constructors; to be free of thought is to be freedom itself, and the expression of that state is pure and powerful, unlike this music.

        Personal introspection is the heart and soul of emo. “Me me me” = emo. Investigation into the personality presupposes a person; investigating as to whether or not any such person exists, the universal conclusion is that there’s no such thing. People generally fail to make that initial enquiry, working off the back of assumption alone. Only a person would assume that a person exists; the reality knows no persons. That’s what is meant by a saying like “only death is real”. To die before one dies is to recognise that that which dies cannot be oneself; that whatever one takes oneself to be cannot be oneself; really, that the notion of “one’s self” is a non-entity in anything other than its own imagination. To seek this death of death requires a courage, honesty, and (intellectual) integrity that is generally lacking.

        TRitSiO seems life-affirming in its willingness to deal with human issues on the human level. It speaks of madness as suffered by man; not madness as imposed by the Master. I expect death metal, and, indeed, all metal (especially extreme metal) to be dealing with human issues in a transcendental way, if at all. I’m not a bonehead; I simply seem to be more of an elitist than the DMU clientelle.

        When I said that TRitSiO was the birth of modern extreme metal, I meant that in the following way: that this is the point, or near enough, when the idea overcame the reality (at least in the minds of adherents). Not difficult, seeing as how that’s the entirety of the modern disease in a nutshell. To expand: there is within this music the seed of the soulless, self-serving solipsism of “tech death”, Opeth, ‘core, and all such things: the music becomes a means to a personal end (propaganda?) instead of a vehicle of unfiltered expression (art). I will make the point clearly, in keeping with another article that was published here recently: there is too much of the human in this music – especially in this recording – and not enough of the reality. Perhaps this has something to do with cooks spoiling broths.

        To be perfectly honest, I’m not at all invested in any of the assertions I’m making. Whether or not anyone agrees with me that, for all its refinement, this is a lacklustre record, I’m going to say it because it’s what I’ve found. If saying it stirs shit, so much the better – healthy discourse often arises out of initial disagreement. Perhaps my being so blunt can serve to help further define what, exactly, makes music “metal”, especially “death metal”. It’s clearly not structure, mode, sound, or technique; it’s far more likely to be spirit/intent. My claim is that these are lacking in this music. Someone show me what I’ve missed, for my own sake!

        1. fenrir says:

          >” It’s just nothing at all close to what I’d call “death metal”, since there’s no death, and the metal seems only a surface treatment at best (or a leftover from heavier days).”

          My impression is that it is actually the other way around. It is backed up by a deeper technicall analysis of the music. The jazz influence remains on superficial expressive gestures while the structure, goals and construction remains very much a metal one heavily influenced by classical music.
          Classical music is a far stronger influence here than jazz, which is peripheral and limited mostly to some drum technique and some momentary gestures.

    2. ANGRY SWANO FAG says:

      Let me guess. Crag hates Demilich too?

      1. Crag says:

        Demilich is A grade. It was clearly made by people who had a vision beyond the human.

    3. Incucktation - Onward to Coontown says:

      Go back to the NWN forums.

      1. Crag says:

        I’ve never been. I like my metal powerful, not braindead. Spectra etc.

        1. ObscureMonk says:

          I love this album, but I get your point. What albums would you consider to be great death metal? I have a feeling you’re into Effigy of the forgotten, Onwards to Golgotha, Legion, Seven Churches, Stillbirth Machine etc…

          1. Crag says:

            That’s my Christmas wishlist, minus Effigy of the Forgotten. Human Waste I can appreciate, but I’ve never given Suffocation enough time to properly get into them. Something about EotF has put me off for a while, though your suggesting it there means I should probably give it another try!

            Great Death Metal (other than what you’ve got there) is Morbid Angel’s first two (for quite different reasons), Deicide’s debut, Soulside Journey, Dawn of Possession, To the Depths… In Degredation! There are some others, here and there. Mostly it’s weird, gruesome, obscure (at least in sound or atmosphere), and takes one beyond oneself. Bad death metal makes you more yourself, and thus serves no greater function than pop music or anything like that. All this emo “me me me” music coming across as if it’s death or black metal – fucking crock of crap, seriously.

            Oh yeah, Death Strike. Already mentioned them. Might as well throw Celtic Frost in there for good measure, even if it’s “proto-Death” at best (still serious death music, not weepy whiny emo shit!). Slayer – Hell Awaits (for atmosphere), Massacre – From Beyond (to have a cut-off point).

            1. Daniel says:

              Somebody cranked the bass up way too high in the equalization for EotF which muddies up the sound and not in a cool hole in the ground Onward to Golgotha/When the Levee Breaks way.

            2. OliveFox says:

              Deicide (s/t) over Legion? Most people would find that incorrect. But, I’ll admit, I’ve spun their S/T album a lot more than Legion over the last few years.

              Effigy is a great album, but falls well short of Onward and Dawn as far as I am concerned.

              1. Crag says:

                I meant Deicide s/t alongside Legion, but I’d personally take the debut over the latter!

            3. ObscureMonk says:

              Great taste Deicide’s debut and Dawn of Possession are two of my all-time favorites one is great for drinking the other is great with pot (although all good Metal goes well with pot), I mentioned Effigy of the Forgotten because it’s pretty much the heaviest and most devastating Metal from the 90s it sounds like Satan on steroids destroying all in his path.

              1. Crag says:

                Funny, I’d say that EotF is only heavy in the production, but the playing and the music itself is not so heavy… Infester is much heavier in that respect! I’d say Deicide is heavier too, though definitely not in production. True heaviness in the aura or atmosphere, not so much in the sound (else deathcore would be heavier than the Doors, and it just isn’t).

    4. Mercyful Fate and 90’s Burzum has the same sentimental issues you describe in different music. I don’t have a problem with it though.

      Also, what about Sacramentum and Iron Maiden? What about something like Disma? Aren’t they just projecting darkness and anger because they’re fat and their live are probably boring? I mean they’re like 40 year olds playing generic and popular semi-underground sounding death metal.

      Speaking of the brainy but brawnless, isn’t Fenriz just a narcissistic bitch? That documentary seems to suggest as much, if just doing the documentary in the first place didn’t. Also, I think of Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger as a classic – more so than this even if I consider this album a classic as well.

      You seem to be someone who actually listens to metal without a youtube whiner personality so I’d like to read what you have in mind. I’d recommend not listening to jazz though – it’s worse for your mental health than anything “spooky” well off Scandinavians could make. Except techno and Ihsahn.

      1. Crag says:

        Mercyful Fate puts the human condition in the context of occult forces (musically as well as lyrically), instead of letting the human condition fester in itself. Burzum puts the human condition in the context of… Well fuck, I don’t think anyone’s ever figured that one out. What a dark, foreboding landscape… Yes, one could interpret certain aspects of these offerings as being “sentimental” in that they appeal to common human emotions at certain points, but what marks both MF and Burzum apart from TRitSiO is that they’re transcendental. They ultimately go beyond the merely human to the potential human (which is more divine than human). Burzum transcends even that – there are moments of absolute stillness hidden within those flowing textures. God knows how he channeled that, though the purpose is clear.

        Iron Maiden is fun, like pillaging a village and getting blind drunk afterwards while listening to the more erudite of your followers sing the tales of your people. Myth, fantasy, modern living, everything tied up into nice bouncy jumble that is honest and sincere enough to speak deeply to one with the ears to listen. Sacramentum… Well, I haven’t listened to them for a long time, but I always got the sense that they were singing more about the sunlight than the clouds, despite being so “far away” from it. A lot of that style of “black metal” (the Maiden derived one, hehe) is very solar, very inspiring, definitely “good-guy” music rather than “bad-guy” music, at least in the point of origin. Afraid I don’t know Disma at all well!

        Fenriz is an interesting guy, I’ll leave it at that. He might present a veneer of narcissism under certain conditions, but he’s also a very genuine guy, at least in certain things I’ve seen/read of him. I know people who’ve met him, encounters range from “we got blind drunk to Molly Hatchet” to “he barely acknowledge that I was there”, so can’t go off anyone’s accounts, really. All I’ll say is that I liked that bit in the interview with that German dude when he sings Rock’n’Roll Gas Station.

        My mental health is really none of my concern. Difficult for dead minds to have health or concern for it… Good metal is certainly very bad for your mental health – kill your mind! That’s what the headbanging and booze is for ;)

  18. ruufio says:

    wat da fuk d/rasalies ever do 2 uz faggots?

  19. greg says:

    Great article. I would like to know who these idiots are that dismiss Bach as a composer with a penchant for minor key melodies.

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