At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul review

July 24, 2008 at 8:11 pm (Reviews) (, , , )

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul art

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul

Slaughter of the Soul is one of the most important metal releases of the 1990s. The production style, atmosphere, and most importantly riffs forever changed melodic death metal. “They’re just At the Gates rip-offs!” is one of the most commonly heard criticisms of derivative melodic death metal bands. But when you write the book, you have to expect some sentences to be copied…

Slaughter of the Soul is their last album, but At the Gates have a respectable back catalogue of work. From more primitive, visceral Swedish death metal ala Entombed or Dismember on the Gardens of Grief EP to the very ambitious With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness full-length, their progression was slow but persistent. The EP before Slaughter, Terminal Spirit Disease, hinted at what would appear next: the oddly-picked rhythm guitars, Tomas’s increasingly desperate vocals and creative drumming were present, but the ingredients hadn’t solidified.

The first thing you notice about Slaughter of the Soul is the production. The drums are very apparent, the cymbals are bright and the bass drums have enough treble to pull them out of the muddy swamp that engulfs too many metal drum sounds. The snare cracks viciously while the toms are perfectly balanced. The guitar tone, product of a homemade speaker cabinet, is thick and deep while still distinct. The production has a definite clean, almost industrial feel. Aided by the machine-tight musicianship the album speeds forward with mechanical precision. The production is even more impressive after watching the “Making Of” DVD. It shows how low-budget the recording process was. For example, Tomas was forced to run towards a microphone while screaming in order to create a “fade in” effect.

Tomas’ vocals are perfect. On the previous albums his voice sounded forced and a little tiring, but here he performs with undeniable authority. He delivers lyrics with conviction and desperation. My favorite moment on the entire album is the break in “Cold”: the guitars drop out and Tomas pleads “Twenty-two years of pain/And I can feel it closing in…”. The lyrics are claustrophobic, simultaneously isolated from and overpowered by society. They paint images of modern day chaos: “There won’t be another dawn/We will reap as we have sewn” and “Only the dead are smiling”. Many of the lyrics repeat song titles from the album, lending Slaughter more lyrical cohesion. Other Gothenburg bands may have similar riffs and production, but no other Gothenburg album is as lyrically powerful.

The guitar parts on Slaughter of the Soul are unparalleled. Many bands harmonize intelligently while alternating between open strings and pentatonic notes. But the guitarist’s years of experience result in the some of the best riffs and song structure in the genre. Part of AtG’s unique sound is a product of picking style – root notes are sometimes simply alternate picked, or double picked, or “galloped” like Iron Maiden. Pay close attention, sometimes the guitars are picked with a mix of styles, a strange shuffling pattern that flits dangerously around the simplistic “Slayer beat” of the drummer. The songs are streamlined, usually with only four or five riffs. Slaughter of the Soul is perfectly lean. The band only allowed the best material on the album. A bonus track on the re-release called “The Dying” did not make the final cut, despite being better than most melodeath tripe released today.

A few beautiful instrumental interludes tie the album together perfectly, providing an ominous respite during the chaos. “The Flames of the End” works perfectly as the album closer. It plays out like the end credits to a movie. The album would be too jarring with out the closing track. It’s the final song after the musical soundtrack to the Apocalypse. As the ashes are settling the tension mounts one last time before the album returns to darkness. We are once again blind to the worlds within us, waiting to be born…

Links:

At the Gates myspace (includes current US tour/Euro festival info)

Link to official At the Gates guitar tablature (.zip file)

At the Gates official site

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Children of Bodom – Blooddrunk

June 25, 2008 at 10:19 pm (Reviews) (, , )

Blooddrunk

It is nearly impossible to write a review of a recent Children of Bodom release without mentioning the band’s past. Beginning as a melodic death metal band on their impressively well-developed Inearthed demos, the Finns soon released what most feel are their best works. The group’s first two albums feature a fairly heavy-handed classical metal style. Think Malmsteen mixed orchestra hits and black metal screeches. Follow the Reaper showed the beginning of CoB’s progression towards more accessible, less classical, metal. Hatecrew Deathroll was received with mixed reviews. It was at this point the band, after losing guitarist Alexander Kuoppala, really began to grow in fame and change direction.

Trashed, Lost and Strungout sounded far more rhythmic. The production was very industrial and harsh. Gone were the organic production and dynamic guitar leads of Something Wild, replaced with condensed and chunky riffs with the occasional lead over top. Are You Dead Yet? was the band’s last chance at redemption. Most long time fans were disappointed, though hardly surprised. Alexi and co. had stuck with the money-in-the-pocket industrial aggressive metal, featuring more strained singing, more obscenity, and far more rhythmic chord and low-end riffs carrying the melodies, rather than the memorable leads of early CoB.

This brings us to Bloodrunk. While many are screaming “sell outs!” at this album, you have to admit the progression certainly has been slow and deliberate. It’s impossible to know if CoB are really trying to cash in, or if this is what their creative process honestly results in. But what we’re left with is the most unsatisfying CoB release yet. The production is almost impossible to distinguish from Trashed,… or AYDY?. There are even less leads carrying the melodies. “Hellhounds on my Trail” has a melody that contains a particularly unpleasant batch of notes which sound out of key and make the song nearly unlistenable to my ears. “Tie my Rope” was previously released in a compilation, but it’s the album’s strongest. It has some interesting leads and song structuring. “Done with Everything, Die for Nothing” has a great chorus with octave chords and a tense synth background.. The rest of the songs,however, are interchangeable. Screechy screams, sometimes hoarse singing, juvenile lyrics, and tons of filler riffs. The drumming is competent, but unimpressive. Alexi’s once fluid, lyrical, and overall memorable guitar solos have become inconsistent, predictable and boring.

Live Bodom is just about the only Bodom worth paying for at this point. Blooddrunk isn’t even really good compared to the other “sell-out” CoB releases. Use your money to support a band that needs it, as Children of Bodom will glean plenty of money from young poseurs without a clue.

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