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At the Gates - Terminal Spirit Disease
Review: Where the first album created their style in full, and the second album tried to bridge toward other successful styles, the third album came after other bands (Dark Tranquility, Sentenced, Dissection, Sacramentum, Unanimated) had already differentiated the melodic metal style that would become standardized as "Gothenburg," and carved out an audience for it, and so tried to be both groundbreakingly progressive and dramatic heavy metal that would appeal to an audience who liked sentimental, technical, but very pop-oriented guitar music.
The result is a tendency to work very hard to disguise standard circular, verse/chorus pop song structures with adornments that are harmonically apt but artistically discontiguous, and simultaneously, to simplify the music and make it pander to the ears of an audience who want to hear what they already know and not have doubt injected into their worldview. Consequently, most of this album shuttles between "good cop" and "bad cop" riffs: a jaunty offbeat, expectation-driven verse riff and then a more freely-flowing, uptempo chorus riff with a smooth melodic integration of past notes into a continuity with the root note. In this, erminal Spirit Disease is the inverse of nu-metal or Opeth style composition, which feature mellow verses and angry choruses.
Nothing here is poorly composed but it is directed at simple targets where the precepts equal the conclusions so it passes, like a meaningless pretty landscape, and the attempts to use harsh vocals and faster tangential riffs sounds more like a fetish than a commitment to exploring a darker side of life. Like the more commercial album to follow, much of the riffing here follows a speed metal model in which death metal riffing is used for fills or interludes, but forms little of the basis of the music. Much like later Iron Maiden, these songs are so much technique and so little challenge to their own assumptions that they feel very much like jingles, and the choice of happy rock pocket drumming to accompany sentimental melodic riffs gives the album a sing-song, kiddie feel.
The inclusion of an acoustic guitar piece does not dissipate this sense of bad meta-atmosphere, in which there is no sense of exploring life beneath the surface, because "And the World Returned" reflects a postcard view of the emotions it analyzes. The three earlier songs played live survive way through a simplification that bestows coherence, but feel out of place with the other material on what is essentially an EP. While it is hard to find fault with any one element, as a whole this album is a decay of the At the Gates concept to a bite-sized, historically repetitive travesty.