Comeback hype, buoyed by hazy, revisionist memory (and no little vain optimism) rarely bears fruit. That’s the well-established, seemingly legit, conventional wisdom in popular music. However, recent comeback stints from Autopsy and Obituary, alongside the relentless, entropy-defying longevity of acts like Vader that are only just now reaching full potential, have defiantly pushed the bloody river of contemporary metal and its myriad associated tributaries past these hazardous shoals of severe irrelevance toward shores more akin to jazz, a lake of long simmering creative magma where age and experience coalesce into bubbling white light/heat driven far beyond the shallow depths of what passes for (corporate) youth culture [sic].
Nineteen years after dropping their sub-genre defining 1995 LP, Slaughter of the Soul, veteran Gothenburg melodeath pioneers (yes, pioneers), At The Gates are back with a brand new full-length, At War With Reality. And, much like Carcass’ successful 2013 return effort, Surgical Steel, At The Gates defies the low rate of creative return (and mercenary motivation) that one typically associates with trad comeback records to deliver one of 2014’s best, a blistering, headlong riff assault from beginning to end. Most importantly, At War With Reality firmly respects, and thus reinforces, the legacy of one of metal’s most influential acts of the last 25 years.
Notoriously mercurial frontman Tomas Lindberg has highlighted the “meticulous” writing process that ATG undertook with AWWR, borne in secret after running through what Lindberg describes as “a thousand different filters” before going public with the news of their surprising reanimation. This careful craftsmanship manifests in straight-razor sharp hooks and a clarity of vision girded by years of trial and error (and no doubt proven by a history of friction). Meaty, mighty cuts like “Heroes and Tombs,” “The Head and The Hydra,” and “Eater of Gods” effortlessly slice through the glut of substandard shitcore generica, effectively giving a clinic in how to use instantly identifiable Gothenburg tropes (which, let’s not forget, became so over-saturated for a time in part thanks to ATG‘s initial rate of influential return) without resorting to lazy, hyper-Protooled clichés or awkwardly trying to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans from Hot Topic.
And like most bands primed for longevity, ATG unabashedly embrace the sound most associated with them (for better or worse, depending on your too cool for school quotient) without apology, nor desperation. The maturity displayed by first single “Death and the Labyrinth” and the epic-but-economical title track, apparent throughout the entire record, emphasizes this collective focus in near-perfect equilibrium, thanks to the “positive, creative vibe” that Lindberg credits to hard-earned experience.
Whether ATG can maintain this fine balance for long, especially considering the personalities involved, remains to be seen. But, for now, fans should take full advantage of this perhaps fleeting moment of delicate celestial alignment while it lasts. Either way, AWWR is almost guaranteed to be entirely ubiquitous once the December deluge of year’s best lists starts to drown the metal landscape with a tsunami of pure sonic hellfire. At War With Reality marks a powerful return for At The Gates, and a monumental statement of intent, delivered with maximum impact.