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At the Gates - To Drink the Night Itself

Label: Century Media
Format: Download
Released: 2018
Reviewed By: Jack Mangan
Rating: 8.5/10

At the Gates are Gothenburg Death Metal legends in the truest sense. It’s not hyperbole to say that their 1995 “Slaughter of the Soul” album changed Metal forever. My personal feeling upon hearing that song back in the day was that nothing in music would be the same again. They proved (to me) that it was possible to create great music and be intensely melodic against ferocious Death Metal vocals, blood-dripping lyrics, and face-contorting tempos. Then, in 1996, At the Gates called it quits.


Fast forward to 2018, elevens years after reuniting, and they’ve put their storied legacy on the line with “To Drink the Night Itself” album, their second since “Slaughter of the Soul,” and only their second since reforming. Possibly of most significance, it’s their first without founding guitarist, Anders Björler. Can At the Gates still live up to the greatness of their past? Short answer: yes.
This is not your father’s At the Gates, but it’s a good approximation. Guitarist Jonas Stålhammar does a commendable job filling the departed Björler’s enormous shoes, and the guitar lines of “To Drink the Night Itself” mimic the high-speed alt-picking and harmonized lead riffs of classic AtG. There are still subtle differences, though. It’s a changing of the guard, and I won’t call it better or worse, just different. Also, with age and evolution, Tomas Lindberg’s voice has become less shrill, and there are even moments that almost growl. Again, the change is lateral, neither an improvement or a degradation.
As with any album, though, good songs are what matters most, and “To Drink” has plenty. I’d draw an analogy between this record and “. . . And Justice For All,” when it was first released in Metallica’s catalog (What would come after isn’t relevant to my point. Stay focused.). “Justice” is an unbelievably great album, worthy of the lofty name, but still not quite as earth-shattering as what came before. I’d say the same for “To Drink.” Really, it’s unfair to hold this record up against the artists’ past. Taken as an independent work unto itself, this one of the best Death Metal records of the decade. Compared to the music that established At the Gates as genre titans, though, this set of songs is simply good.
Any new At the Gates album comes with massive expectations, and “To Drink the Night Itself” hits them with a megaton of force. Recommended tracks: “Palace of Lepers,” “Daggers of Black Haze,” “In Nameless Sleep,” “The Colours of the Beast,” “A Labyrinth of Tombs,” “In Death They Shall Burn.”

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