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At the Gates – Glorious Swedish Death Metal

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

At the Gates - "Slaughter of the Soul"

[Editor’s note – I am going to spend the next week or two doing something different here; I plan to plow through my record collection where I have all kinds of metal treasures languishing in un-listened obscurity. Some of them are old and some of them are (relatively) new, but all of them are neglected slabs of vinyl that I need to tackle – to listen to and write about. So I am going to try to crank out one short post every day about some of these albums.

This exercise will not only give me the opportunity to listen to some new stuff, but it will also allow me to explore the origins of today’s wild and wooly contemporary metal scene. In other words, it will help me figure out how we got Maldavian progressive death metal, Greek operatic metal, Israeli Oriental metal, Chilean doom metal, and Bulgarian dark industrial metal.]

At the Gates – “Slaughter of the Soul” (Expanded Edition) (Earache Records, 1996)

First up is At the Gates’ 1996 masterpiece of Swedish melodic death metal “Slaughter of the Soul.” This album confirmed that At the Gates weren’t like other death metal bands. Sure, the disc is chock full of thrash tempos, crunching guitars, and  Maiden-like melodic riffs and solos, but it also featured several developments that set it apart from ye olde generic Swedish death metal.

At the Gates – “Slaughter of the Soul” <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJme5uubkyQ>

The first innovation I notice was Tomas Lindberg’s vocal style. He doesn’t bark, growl or vomit – pick your verb – the usual Cookie Monster style of death metal vocals. Instead he sings at a higher pitch that sounds like Kermit the Frog would sound like if Kermit tried to sing while Miss Piggy wrung his neck. I didn’t say it was better than the Cookie Monster type; I just said it was different. And, honestly, there has to be a happy middle ground between these two Muppet-derived vocal styles.

The second difference between At the Gates and the rest of Swedish death metal is the lyrics of their songs. Let’s face it, the last thing heavy metal needs is more songs about wizards and demons and, thankfully, “Slaughter of the Soul” confounds the death metal stereotypes by not including a single song about swords, trolls, halberds, dragons, dwarves or Satan. The album consists of paens to existential dark nights of the soul instead of songs about their dark overlord. And I, for one, cheer this innovation.

At the Gates’ album “Slaughter of the Soul” is glorious Goteborg death metal at its best.

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