Probably the most anticipated metal album this year, AT THE GATES' "At War With Reality" will turn into one of 2014's genre events, and not just because it's been nineteen years coming. Cited by more bands (largely from the metalcore and melodic death sanctions) as a primary influence, the Gothenburg peers of the realm haven't lost a lick of their eminence since releasing 1995's "Slaughter of the Soul". Having said repeatedly since their reformation attempts in 2007 and 2010 that there would be no new AT THE GATES album, "At War With Reality" finally comes to fruition. For diehard fans, the wait will be damned well worth it.
With one of the more unique album intros you'll ever hear, the Spanish spoken-word track "El Altar de Dios Desconocido" sets up the album's first blitzer, "Death and the Labyrinth". The latter rockets along until hitting a straightforward mid-tempo mash and cascading chords alongside Tomas Lindberg's blaring vocals. Over with at an effective 2:33, "Death and the Labyrinth" dumps into the similarly-structured title track, which is three minutes highlighted by Adrian Erlandsson's parade of batters and stomps. The guitar solo is superbly dealt between the varied tempos and even the breakdown maintains intensity since AT THE GATES keeps the track ebbing along with no pause.
"The Circular Ruins" is written similarly to the point of predictability, which is really the only fault of the album. Blazing velocity in the beginning and stomping crunch modes thereafter signal a trend that's bound to repeat. However, the playing is so stinking tight and full of ornate passages AT THE GATES remind why they were there long ahead of the pack.
Gothic laces open the otherwise loud "Heroes and Tombs", smothered by a steady throb over which Tomas Lindberg bellows his guts out. The riffs plowed by Anders Björler, Martin Larsson and Jonas Björler gouge into the verses, growing more ornate on the choruses, despite the bitter tones gnashing about them. Afterwards, "The Conspiracy of the Blind" stays in speed mode a while, teetering backwards to another set of marching modes. AT THE GATES does try to shake up the script a bit by letting another racing barrage manifest within the song's mid-tempo flow.
What keeps "The Conspiracy of the Blind" interesting is the band's eloquent layering. If it wasn't for the overwhelming talent of these guys, the script would already be tiresome at this point. However, AT THE GATES senses this by instinct and splices the script with "Order rom Chaos", a slow, heavy number carrying thick chords on the verses and a dark melody on the choruses.
"The Book of Sand (The Abomination)" veers into speed and death metal territory at times, but the expected slowdown arrives midway before peeling off once more. In both measures, the guitars carry up and down in waves, while the jerked about solo is stunning. A final transition out of a quiet bridge into a dramatic, double-hammered finale allows AT THE GATES to pour lava into their riffs.
The gloomy instrumental "City of Mirrors" has loads of blaring guitar layers vying for attention overtop its melancholic melody. Expectedly, "Eater of Gods" comes snorting out from there with equal boom and upfront guitar rakes amidst the song's by-and-large thrashiness. Even the mosh rhythms on "Eater of Gods" keeps the sweat pouring and the tones pounding, that is, until another trooping transition takes the song into a different direction. The fight for dominance amongst the guitars and bass is tremendous, and each layer is worth keying in on. Point blank, AT THE GATES are the legends they are because they give their listeners so much to feast on with each song, no matter if repeat patterns become the norm on this album.
AT THE GATES make mincemeat out of this album and efficiently plot most of their songs to wrap in far less time than their acolytes. The average song on "At War With Reality" clocks in between two-and-a-half and four minutes, yet all feel like far more has transcended. That's something special. Inadvertently and unfairly credited for the ascension of metalcore, AT THE GATES releases a demonstrative comeback album that's simply metal, forget the 'core-rellations.