If you've done any amount of reading or writing reviews of albums by bands playing a style influenced by the Gothenburg sound, then it is virtually impossible that some reference to AT THE GATES wasn't involved. Personally, I know for a fact that I've referenced AT THE GATES over 800,000 times, and that's just in reviews of albums by American metalcore acts. That is why it was almost surreal to be reviewing an actual AT THE GATES product. Throughout much of the superb/mandatory 320 minutes of "The Flames of the End" I kept catching myself thinking about the fact that the very band I watching/hearing was largely responsible for creating the famed Gothenburg sound and influenced so many acts the world over. That historical importance and the fact that "The Flames of the End" is an exceedingly well done 3-DVD set filled with great music is why you should start saving your pennies now in anticipation of a purchase in the very near future.
The comprehensive history of AT THE GATES is meticulously told through interviews with band members (past and present), producers like Fredrik Nordström, fellow Gothenburg-sound veterans like Mikael Stanne (DARK TRANQUILLITY), and assorted others on Disc 1: "Under a Serpent Sun: The Story of At The Gates". The editing of guitarist Anders Björler (THE HAUNTED) is masterful and comes with loads of cohesively assembled interviews, as well as performance footage and vintage photos, and all the while is taking you to the actual places where the magic happened. The early material is most captivating, as we watch a young ambitious group of dedicated death metal musicians developing one of the most influential metal bands in history, as they steadily gain acceptance and respect, culminating in the signing to Earache (after stints on Delores Records and Deaf/Peaceville) and the release of watershed album "Slaughter of the Soul". Beyond the specifics of the AT THE GATES story, you are also treated to discussions with Fredrik Nordström during a time when he was trying to get a fledgling production career off the ground.
What is most apparent is the band's dedication to its craft, the love of death metal, and the hunger that drove them to make such seminal albums through trying recording experiences and challenging tour episodes. Björler leaves no stone unturned in telling the tale and presents it in a way that is both captivating and exciting as hell, as though you were right there as it was all happening. The 40-page full color booklet complements and adds value to the audio/visual component as well.
In addition to several bonus deleted scenes (interviews, etc), Disc 1 also contains four videos for "Kingdom Gone", "The Burning Darkness", "Terminal Spirit Disease", and "Blinded by Fear". The music video portion of most DVD packages is seen as almost an afterthought; relevant in a sense, yet the absence of it wouldn't necessarily be seen as a point of contention. On "The Flames of the End", the videos are just as important, as they help in painting the overall picture. Having watched the stories behind the videos during the documentary portion, you'll find the experience most interesting since those four succinctly capture the development of the band's sound over a career that was much too short.
The Wacken performance that constitutes the second disc, "Purgatory Unleashed: Live at Wacken 2008", as part of a reunion tour that would serve as AT THE GATES' proper farewell, is simply magnificent. The 18-song set spans the group's recorded career and is performed by the musicians with all the passion and fire of a band that has clearly recognized the impact their music has made on the lives of so many. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg is on top of his game and obviously loving every minute of his band's first-ever Wacken performance. The audience appreciation level for the five members on stage is off the scale and as frenzied as you are ever likely to see during any live set.
Serving as more than just an odds-and-ends wrap-up, Disc 3, "Only the Dead are Smiling: Live Material from the Vaults", contains performances from 1991 through several 2008 reunion dates at select venues from around the world and further bolsters the AT THE GATES story. The package just wouldn't be complete without it. "The Flames of the End" is that rare DVD that warrants repeat viewings (and that includes the documentary disc) because it so well done, so historically relevant, and so damn enjoyable. It is essential, absolutely essential.