REVIEWED: At The Gates - 'The Nightmare of Being'
When it comes to accepting or (God forbid) perhaps even actively embracing a band’s natural sonic evolution, our beloved extreme metal scene is hardly renowned for its tolerance of such troubling stylistic shifts and flirtations. Particularly when the artist in question is a towering institution of a death metal band whose early work has long been prized as one of the most untouchably sacred and influential cornerstones of the genre. Indeed, since the landmark release of continually-lauded classic ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ back in 1995, these forward-thinking Swedes have already ruffled more than their share of purist feathers with an ever-expanding array of musical trappings all but guaranteed to leave the old school gnashing its arthritic jaws in indignation. Suffice it to say, then, that throwing a saxophone solo into the mix this time around will likely do little to placate this particular, heavily grizzled demographic. But while this is a record that experiments freely with everything from airily psychedelic lashings of jazz to blackly opulent orchestral flourishes that ooze apocalyptic grandeur, rest assured that ‘The Nightmare of Being’ is an extreme metal album in the most vital and lividly visceral sense of the term. Furthermore, it should here be noted that the majority of its more melodic and progressive facets actually enhance, rather than detract from, this oftentimes darkly explosive long-player. Not convinced? Let’s take a closer look…
We begin our sonic odyssey into these as yet uncharted territories at a comfortingly familiar point of reference with newly released single ‘Spectre of Extinction’. With its gilded, elegantly whirling chord progressions imploding in a white-hot profusion of expansive dual guitars that abound with black-hearted majesty, it’s clear the Scandinavians have lost none of their trademark knack for penning thoroughly compelling extreme metal. Then it’s headlong into the densely sinuous, signature grooves we know and love so well, before ‘The Paradox’s’ generous lashings of gothic choirs and agile, finely-sculpted fretwork floods the senses with adrenaline. From here, ‘The Garden of Cyrus’ does a fairly seamless job of splicing notey, Porcupine Tree-flavoured intricacies in amongst its more traditional aggressive trappings before being borne aloft on fluidly unfurling flurries of saxophone that (to this reviewer’s ears at least) feel a touch stylistically mismatched.
But with a deliciously thick, ink-black core of pulverising groove, ‘Cult of Salvation’ once again finds us firmly anchored to the heavier end of the sonic spectrum, its every crippling blast and razor-keen accent of tremolo reverberating with aggressive intent. Deftly intermingled with an absorbing repertoire of sweepingly expansive orchestral trappings, it’s also pleasingly awash with a palpable aura of menace in what proves to be one of the most skilfully assembled compositions 'The Nightmare of Being' has to offer.
Whatever your stance on (and indeed overall tolerance for) metal bands diversifying into ‘softer’ or more unconventional sonic avenues, there’s no mistaking the audible joy these skilled musicians have taken in the crafting of this vicious yet frequently varied new opus. Meticulously arranged, bristling with aggression and, at points, utterly electrifying, this is an album that contains more than its share of pleasingly brutal and black-hearted highlights.
'The Nightmare of Being' is out 2nd July 2021 via Century Media