At The Gates’ “The Nightmare Of Being” at the intersection of melodic death metal and progressive experimentation

Author Samantha Chilli - 4.7.2021

At The Gates’ latest release, “The Nightmare Of Being”, is something of a metal museum; it houses the revered, feverish riffs of the Gothenburg melodic death metal pioneers then at times feels almost academic. The album, unleashed 2 July via Century Media, artfully stitches together the experimental, the thought-provoking, and the unexpected in the form of progressive, jazz, and doom elements.

A somber acoustic guitar eases the listener into “Spectre of Extinction” but then promptly accelerates into high-speed riffs that inspire dreams of returning to circle pits. “The Paradox” follows that path into familiar At The Gates territory delivering a well-rounded melodeath exhibition of the talents of Tomas Lindberg (vocals), Adrian Erlandsson (drums), Martin Larsson (guitar), Jonas Björler (bass) and Jonas Stålhammar (guitar). The album immediately cools down into the title track: progressive, moody, and full of chord choices not indicative of traditional melodic death metal. “Garden of Cyrus” offers a deeper experimental angle, most notably including a saxophone woven into layers of spoken word, choral vocals, time signature shuffles, and other twists.

Pessimist philosophy reigns as the album’s lyrical concept, reiterating, in Lindberg’s words “the bleakness of the human spirit and the blind force that drives humanity”. “Touched by the White Hands of Death”, among other songs on the album, embodies this theme: “Repressional mechanism, our ancestral curse//Emptied of all the illusions, distorted since birth.” Another noteworthy track is “Cosmic Pessimism” whose grooving, progressive motifs depart almost entirely from all previous At The Gates material. “The Nightmare Of Being” is the third release since At The Gates re-formed, the second with Stålhammar in the lineup, and the first opportunity to hear how his playing style and personal enthusiasm for progressive music have become enmeshed with the band’s direction.

Lindberg addressed Chaoszine’s question about the “trance-like bubble” that was mentioned in a March 2021 Messed!Up Magazine interview. The singer highlighted the physical and mental conditions in which the band composed “The Nightmare of Being” saying: “Even though most of the outlines for the record were conceived before the pandemic, the ‘bubble’ kind of stayed as we were involuntarily isolated. It gave us a chance to look more into what we wanted to do ourselves, what kind of album we wanted to release at a moment where there is fuck all to do. You need to put on your headphones, isolate yourself, and come into this piece of art fully. I guess you could say this is the most full At The Gates album that’s ever been released”.

Larsson added: “There was a period, at least for a few weeks I think, when we had new versions of songs coming daily to consider and reflect upon. I’d say most versions are version 15″. Lindberg chimed in: “That doesn’t mean we threw out good ideas. We practiced humbleness towards each other in the ‘bubble’; critique is not a bad thing, and in the end it makes the album a richer experience for everybody”.

If you’re expecting a straightforward, old-school melodic death metal album a la “Slaughter of the Soul”, this isn’t it. But for those willing to challenge their ears and preconceptions as much as At The Gates has challenged its musical boundaries with this album the effort is worth the reward.