At The Gates' At War With Reality Falls Just Short of the Impossible: Our Review

In terms of sheer scale, At the Gates has to be the most underrated band on the planet.

This is not a statement of opinion.

Out of all the "most influential" metal bands - Iron Maiden, Slayer, Metallica, etc.

- At the Gates has somehow never turned into a household name, despite the fact that the entire blueprint for post-2000 commercial metal has been based on the following formula: Slaughter of the Soul-style riffs + open-chug breakdowns + melodic/poppy chorus = automatic success.??

It's not as if At the Gates has been relegated to total obscurity or anything. Many listeners eventually end up at Slaughter of the Soul through their As I Lay Dying or Killswitch Engage gateways. The specific aped sound we're talking about here is At the Gates' trademark style of riffage.

Far from the first metal band to include harmonized riffs in their sound, At the Gates earned their respect by seemingly finding the exact pinnacle of melody and aggression. Before Slaughter of the Soul, it seemed that riffs were either melodic or aggressive.

Afterwards, riffs could be pleasant, catchy, melodic, etc. and still rip your fucking face off, hence the brilliantly-marketed "metal core" craze that's still with us today.

??So At War With Reality, At the Gates' first album in 19 years, faces a two-fold problem. Not only does it have the typical "can it possibly top the classic album" complication, At the Gates' sound has been ripped off so much that you can walk into any Guitar Center in the world and listen to 10 kids who've never even heard of At the Gates ripping off At the Gates.

The At the Gates sound was done-to-death 10 years ago.

After their initial reunion in 2007 that saw the band playing a string of concerts, guitarist Anders Bjorler seemed to understand this and commented that releasing a follow-up to Slaughter of the Soul would be "pointless" and would only "disappoint people."??

At War With Reality is neither pointless or disappointing. Yes, it's not quite as good as Slaughter of the Soul, but it's worthy follow-up considering the hurdles it had to clear.

The first thing you should know is it's not Slaughter of the Soul Part II. At War With Reality is distinctly slower and moodier and seems to flirt with the hardcore sound of frontman Tomas Lindberg's criminally-underrated Disfear.??

"Death and the Labyrinth" comes crashing out of the gate with Black Metal style tremolo picking after the Spanish spoken-word intro "El Altar Del Dios Desconocido" and, to the dismay of metal-purists, features what could be safely described as a "breakdown." Lindberg hasn't skipped a beat in 20 years and sounds just as fierce as he did in 1995.??

"At War With Reality," the album's title track and first single is the most reminiscent track of the At-the-Gates-of-old sound.

You may feel like you've heard this song before, but that doesn't stop the riffs from punching you in the face.

??Additional highlight "The Book of Sand (The Abomination)" is pretty much At War With Reality in a nutshell. It thrashes along Slayer-style but ultimately proves more interesting than that with its angular guitar work and restrained use of melody. The song features a guitar solo that is by no means a show-stopper but seems perfect in context anyway.

This type of feeling is prevalent throughout the entire listening experience. We keep expecting ultra-melodic riffs but we don't get them all the time. When we do, it's the audio equivalent of opening floodgates.??

With At War With Reality, At the Gates have effectively solidified Slaughter of the Soul's reputation as untouchable. However, At the Gates has at least proved that they're more dynamic songwriters than they were in the early 90s.

Although it has been panned as such, At War With Reality isn't a mere income opportunity for At the Gates and is a worthy addition to any metal fan's record collection.