At The Gates / The Haunted
Reviewed on this page:
Incantation - Gardens Of Grief - The Red In The Sky Is Ours - With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness - Terminal Spirit Disease - Slaughter Of The Soul - The Haunted - The Haunted Made Me Do It - Live Rounds In Tokyo - One Kill Wonder - The Dead Eye - Versus - Road Kill - Unseen
One of the three pioneers of Gothenburg melodic death metal, and they have a more interesting resume than compatriots Dark Tranquillity and In Flames: After flirting with sluggish Satanic metal, the members of At The Gates cooked up a novel mix of death metal and New Romanticism, then dumped that in favor of a revved-up, tricked-out death metal and soon released a touchstone of that nascent genre. Right at their high point, they split up, with most of the members continuing to The Haunted, a more conventional take on thrash with melodic death metal elements. Though they've been all over the map during their career, each album sticks to one approach, often to excess, and I tend to like At The Gates more as a concept than as something to listen to: they're great at coming up with riffs, but not so great at stacking them together to form songs (which is the biggest factor setting Metallica apart, when all is said and done).
Much like Carcass, the band split up in the mid-90s but got back together in 2008 for a reunion tour.
At The Gates (formed 1990) - Tomas Lindberg, vocals; Alf Svensson, guitar; Anders Björler, guitar; Jonas Björler, bass; Adrian Erlandsson, drums. Svensson left, 1993, replaced by Martin Larsson.
Group disbanded, 1995, reformed, 2007.
The Haunted (formed 1996) - Peter Dolving, vocals; Anders Björler, guitar; Patrik Jensen, guitar; Jonas Björler, bass; Adrian Erlandsson, drums. Dolving and Erlandsson left, 1999, replaced by Marco Aro and Per Möller Jensen respectively. Aro left, 2003, replaced by Dolving.
Incantation (Grotesque: 1990)
Grotesque was a death metal outfit containing Lindberg and Svensson plus guitarist Kristian Wåhlin, bassist Per Nordgren and drummer Offensor. Although every heavy metal band worships Black Sabbath not many actually sound like them, but Grotesque did: the deliberate pace, floor-shaking bass, and even the basement-quality sound recall Sabbath's debut. (Not to mention the instrumental horror flick opener "Thirteen Bells Of Doom.") My patience for Satanic screaming is limited, so the EP length is welcome, and they do stay focused on their intense screeds ("Blood Runs From The Altar"; the seven-minute "Angels Blood").
This EP was re-released in 1996 together with four tracks from an unreleased demo and two new tracks as In The Embrace Of Evil.
Gardens Of Grief (At The Gates: 1991)
Lindberg and Svensson formed a new band with the Björler brothers (Anders and Jonas) and Adrian Erlandsson (whose younger brother Daniel would later become Arch Enemy's drummer).
A four-song EP, produced by the band and Tomas Skogsberg, and at this point they still use the deliberate tempos and apocalyptic bellowing of Grotesque, but with a new emphasis on twisting guitar lines and virtuosic drumming ("At The Gates"). The effect is novel, but "All Life Ends" loses its way, and you're better off starting with one of the later discs.
The Red In The Sky Is Ours (At The Gates: 1992)
Sometimes terrific, sometimes terrible, sometimes just really really weird, the first full-length from ATG is never ordinary.
The plethora of violin interludes ("The Season To Come") is offputting, and Lindberg's hysterical screaming - a couple of octaves above his previous work - is downright annoying ("Kingdom Gone"). But along the way they sort of invent melodic death metal, combining extreme speed and volume with technical touches like twin guitar harmonies ("Windows") and tricky time signatures: Erlandsson really shines on the bewildering changes in "Through Gardens Of Grief," though the breaks on "Neverwhere" sound like gimmicks. Similarly, the lyrics are ambitious even if they're ultimately incoherent ("City Of Screaming Statues," a remade Gardens Of Grief number).
Through it all, you hear a band willing to try anything to find a unique sound, and that's a worthy goal - if you're not banging your head, you're shaking it in disbelief.
With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness (At The Gates: 1993)
The last release featuring Svensson. The self-produced sound is thin - curiously lacking in bass - and the self-conscious rhythm shifts ("Ever-Opening Flower") and yelled vocals ("Raped By The Light Of Christ") are as weak as they were on Red In The Sky. And without the violin, the arrangements are less unusual. Still, the band's tense, technical nerd-metal remains odd and occasionally compelling ("Non-Divine"; the seven-minute opus magnus "Primal Breath"), usually because of the cross-chattering of the two guitars ("Stardrowned").
Not as original as the previous album or as solid as Slaughter Of The Soul, but the high points are thrilling ("Blood Of The Sunsets").
Terminal Spirit Disease (At The Gates: 1994)
A big shift in approach, as they move back toward the relentless death metal of Gardens with the compositional complexity from the next two LPs (title track), crammed into shorter tunes ("The Swarm").
The individual compositions, though, often lack bite ("Forever Blind"; the instrumental "And The World Returned") and apart from the brutal "The Beautiful Wound," the disc inspires more admiration than excitement.
Originally a six-song EP, but look for the re-release with three live tracks, as the old material performed in the new style ("Kingdom Gone") sounds better than the actual new stuff.
Slaughter Of The Soul (At The Gates: 1995)
Produced by Fredrik Nordström and the band, and they refined their approach, blending intriguing experimentation and fearsome heaviness; clean sonics and raw power ("Blinded By Fear"); artistic aspirations and reasonable running times. As a result, it's often cited as a high water mark for melodic death metal, but I have to admit it leaves me cold in a way Arch Enemy and Carcass don't: the individual licks are solid, and the performances are relentlessly professional, but it ends up sounding more synthetic than cathartic. Not sure why this is, but it may have something to do with the compositions often sticking to a perfunctory verse/chorus/bridge format ("Suicide Nation"). There are a few wonderful tracks - "Under A Serpent Sun," with the dynamic range that's lacking elsewhere; the furious "World Of Lies" - and everything's at least passable ("Need").
The deluxe reissue has a few outtakes ("The Dying"), covers (Slayer's "Captor Of Sin") and demos ("Unto Others").
The group split up after this release.
The Haunted (The Haunted: 1998)
The Björler brothers and Erlandsson soon put together a more thrash-oriented band with frontman Peter Dolving. The sound isn't very different, though: they were already playing at top speed and top volume. Dolving yells rather than growls, which is a difference I suppose but if you like one you probably won't mind the other.
"Bullet Hole" and "Choke Hold" are the standout tracks.
Otherwise there's nothing to complain about in the energy department ("Hate Song"), but the tunes are nothing to write home about... you may rock out while the record's playing, but you'll be hard pressed to remember anything when it's over ("Soul Fractured").
After this debut, Erlandsson split to join Cradle Of Filth while Dolving went solo.
The Haunted Made Me Do It (The Haunted: 2000)
The introduction of new vocalist Marco Aro - whose guttural growl resembles Lindberg's - and drummer Per Möller Jensen.
The record is even closer to the Slaughter sound than the Haunted's debut, with one speedy, precisely delivered riff tune after another ("The World Burns"; "Bury Your Dead"). Somehow, though, the feel is a bit looser ("Leech," not far from Black Album-era Metallica) and thereby more satisfying if you found their earlier work a bit sterile.
"Trespass" is particularly fun, with a midtempo middle featuring the unison string bending I always associate with the Scorpions.
Certainly not as influential as Slaughter or as groundbreaking as Red In The Sky, but an easier listen than either.
Live Rounds In Tokyo (The Haunted: 2001)
A live album, drawing on the band's whopping two studio releases ("Bullet Hole"; "Hollow Ground"). Making the disc still less essential, Aro's not a great frontman - his patter is basically limited to shouting the name of the next tune on the setlist - and there are no surprises in the performances or song selection. On the other hand, the musicians are sharp and the material (particularly from Made Me Do It) is solid, so it's a harmless diversion. And while I often complain about records lacking range, this time the fact that every song is fast and loud somehow works in its favor, building a bracing full head of adrenaline ("Three Times").
There's one new studio recording ("Eclipse"), evidently an outtake.
One Kill Wonder (The Haunted: 2003)
Right from the propulsive, profane "God Puppet," it's more riff-charged aggression without many tempo or arranging changes to mix things up.
The good side of that is, there's plenty of effective carthartis ("D.O.A." - a successful single), and the party feel of Made Me Do It, largely due to Jensen's drumming, which is technical without sounding uptight ("Shithead").
Inevitably, though, a bunch of the tunes seem humdrum as they're just less memorable copies of the songs alongside them ("Everlasting"; "Downward Spiral").
Michael Amott guests on "Bloodletting."
rEVOLVEr (The Haunted: 2004)
Dolving rejoined the band at this point, and though there's still plenty of battering-ram intensity ("99"), they do try a few new tactics ("Abysmal," with slow sections and a spoken opening; "Nothing Right" has a furious denseness recalling Lamb Of God).
The downside of that is, as they no longer have a distinctive approach, when the hooks are ordinary they sound pretty much like any other metal band ("Burnt To A Shell").
Produced by Tue Madsen, who would also produce their next two discs.
The Dead Eye (The Haunted: 2006)
The Haunted are all pulling their oars in the same direction here, and the result is a sharp, taut, exciting album ("The Medication"). Some of the riffs are challenging, others are simple (the measured battering ram "The Fallout") but nearly every one hits the mark. It also helps that Dolving has worked on his voice, and can range from a burly baritone to a high-pitched but controlled yelp.
Two conceits dominate the disc, one neutral and one negative: each song title starts with "The," and who cares; however, the repeating pattern - fast start, slow middle, midtempo grinding finale - of each tune starts off exhilarating ("The Flood") but soon becomes predictable and eventually irritating ("The Cynic"). (Only the dirge "The Program" and the fragment "The Highwire" deviate from the plan.) If you can swallow that, there are a lot of pleasures like the bombastic closing solo on "The Failure" and the frantic bashfest opening and closing "The Drowning."
Versus (The Haunted: 2008)
A return to the simpler, unvarnished thrash of their debut ("Iron Mask"; "Little Cage"), but with the broader vocal palette Dolving displayed on Dead Eye ("Moronic Colossus," with deep spoken vocals, melodic half-shouting, and growling). Many tracks are just too similar to make an impact ("Crusher"),
though there is some balance, such as the measured, creepily quiet "Skuld."
The pithy, muscular approach means you may not notice how ordinary tunes like "Ceremony" are until they're over, but in the final analysis, there's not much here to get excited about.
There's an iTunes-only bonus track, "Walk On Water," which I haven't heard.
Purgatory Unleashed: Live At Wacken (At The Gates: rec. 2008, rel. 2010)
A live document of the 2008 tour by a reformed At The Gates. (There's also a 3-DVD set, Flames Of The End, containing the same show plus
a two-hour documentary and a ton of other live tracks.)
Road Kill (The Haunted: 2010)
A CD/DVD live album, with five bonus studio tracks which change speeds from the atmospheric coda "Infernalis Mundi" up to the frenzied "Seize The Day"; none are classics, but "Meat Wagon" is an outstanding riff tune.
The Brothers Björler tend to be scrupulously exacting (not to say anal), and the pluses and minuses of that are in evidence. Plus: The set list is exactly what it ought to be, pulling the best songs from each era ("Trespass"; "99"), calculated to represent everything the band does well. Also plus: they knock everything out with concise precision, with the easy mastery of a nerd clearing low levels on a favorite computer game ("The Drowning").
On the other hand, there's never a thrill of the unexpected, a sense that they (or you) don't know what's behind the next corner. If, like me, you look for a live album to open a new window into an act, you'll be disappointed. But if you're just hoping to be rocked furiously, they've got the goods ("Medication").
Unseen (The Haunted: 2011)
At this point, The Haunted are reliably entertaining if limited, able to serve up powerful albeit predictable riff tunes at will ("The City") - the way AC/DC was for so long. They can still rev up to thrash speeds ("Never Better") though often seem more comfortable at deliberate tempos (the lumbering, crunching "No Ghost"; "Disappear").
On the other hand, the subpar tunes are tougher to wade through than ever ("Catch22") because there's no hope of hearing anything unexpected (apart from the brief, Coldplay-ish "Ocean Park"). The guitars bite, the vocals menace, the rhythm section flexes its muscles, and every tune seems to come off the same assembly line ("Them").
If this were a movie, it'd be one you stayed on whenever you flipped across it, but that you'd never make plans to watch.
Wilson & Alroy made me do it.