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There have been some unlikely, unforeseen reunions in recent times within the extreme metal world, where bands' initial goal has been nothing more than to bask in all the jovial prospects that nostalgic reminisce will bring. Many have obstinately asserted that no new material will be forthcoming with comments such as "what's the point so many years on?" Atheist did it in the mid-noughties... then, a few years into their reunion, a new album materialised. Carcass are more recent about-face converts within the "definitely no new album"... "we're thinking about recording a new album"... "we're recording a new album" camp. However, perhaps the most unlikely U-turn of all is upon us, courtesy of Swedish melo-death pioneers and onetime hegemonists of said subgenre, At The Gates.

When I asked guitarist Anders Björler during an interview with The Haunted in May 2010 whether we can expect anything else from At The Gates following their 2008 reunion shows, he responded with: "That’s finished. The DVD was the final thing. We had a good time and we became friends again but that’s the most important thing...We had the time of our life in 2008 and we want to leave that memory." So it was quite a surprise when they reformed once again, for more shows, at the tail-end of 2010, and continued with live performances throughout the next two years. Then, in 2012, band members started hinting about the possibility of recording brand new material. Two years on and here we have it, 'At War With Reality'. So are they primed to reclaim their erstwhile hegemony with this suite of new material? By fuck, they most certainly are.

'At War With Reality' is At The Gates' first studio album since 1995's seminal 'Slaughter of the Soul'. Such was the latter's influential prevalence within the scene, of which the sonic affects can still be heard within the melo-death subgenre to this very day, it sounds as fresh and as relevant today as it did almost two decades ago. So just how do you go about topping the majesty and, what many would argue, perfection, of said album? The short answer is, you don't; you just continue with what you do best. And that's exactly what the Swedes have delivered here - a series of skilfully composed, riff-tastic tunes with a firm nod to the past, although delivered with a 2014 passion that evidently reflects where At The Gates are at both emotionally and as musicians in the present day. So yes, there are distinct old school flavours throughout, as well as the band's inimitable melodic and heavily atmospheric idioms, although with a concomitant compelling, contemporary energy and flair that instantly places this bunch of Swedes firmly back at the forefront of the melo-death pack.

So this is in no way 'Slaughter of the Soul' Mk II, and nor is it intended to be. At The Gates' reformed personnel does boast the exact same lineup as back then, a corollary of which certain passages, be they characterised by riffage, melodies, vocal phrasing, drum patterns or a combination of those elements, sound reminiscent of the band circa-1995. And that's to be expected; after all, it's the same musicians who've crafted this new metal gem. However, 'At War With Reality' is also a darker, more diverse and forward-thinking record. For they fuse their melo-death aesthetic with a modern sounding aggression across a whole array of mood-driven tempo changes and melodies. It's also great to hear Tomas Lindberg's uniquely growled vocals back within the context of brand new At The Gates material. His post-At The Gates output has been of a high standard (for me, The Great Deceiver's 'A Venom Well Designed' is up there with 'Slaughter of the Soul'), although here he is back in the melo-death saddle, and he rides it as well as he ever did. And with Fredrik Nordström producing and Jens Bogren mixing, the album's general sound is, expectedly, rather wonderful. Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief as At The Gates have delivered a work of unmitigated metal awesomeness.
Century Media
Review by Mark Holmes
27th Oct 2014
1) El Altar Dios Desconocido
2) Death and the Labyrinth
3) At War With Reality
4) The Circular Ruins; 5) Heroes and Tombs
6) The Conspiracy of the Blind
7) Order from Chaos
8) The Book of Sand (The Abomination)
9) The Head of the Hydra; 10) City of Mirrors
11) Eater of Gods
12) Upon Pillars of Dust
13) The Night Eternal
"Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief as At The Gates have delivered a work of unmitigated metal awesomeness."