Thursday, March 27, 2008

At the Gates - The Red In the Sky Is Ours (1992)


At the Gates rose from the ashes of Grotesque, a Satanic Swedish Black / Death Metal band from the late 80s. With the Gardens of Grief E.P. the band already showed a definitive shift from the sound of Grotesque to a heavier, more bottom-heavy sound more related to other bands of the time. The vocals were much deeper as well, for the most part, but the release showed promise.

The Red In the Sky Is Ours is the debut full-length from Sweden's At the Gates. This is truly a masterpiece of an album, and far surpasses anything the band would go on to release. The spirit of Grotesque lives on here, but in much different form. This is not typical Swedish Death Metal, at all. It is actually much more reminiscent of early Burzum. In many aspects, this album possesses a similar feel and the structures are quite more complicated than most Death Metal. However, it does feature some of the rhythmic structures of that subgenre.

Vocally, Tomas Lindberg's style is a terrible shriek, that fits alongside that of Varg Vikernes. It works brilliantly with the hauntingly miserable melodies of this album. It sounds much less controlled than on later releases and is one of the best aspects of this album.

"The Red In the Sky Is Ours / The Season To Come" starts off furiously with tortured screams, blasting drums and fast tremolo riffs. This album gives the impression that the band could have easily chosen to go down a different path. They could have made the transition to Black Metal, such as Darkthrone did, and been quite successful. One can even find minor similarities between this and Soulside Journey. It is a shame that At the Gates chose a simpler way, following this album. At the conclusion of the opening track, there is the sound of thunder and rain, accompanied by a violin. This seems to accentuate the atmosphere very well.

To explain the production, the sound is clear enough but not overdone. It's not exactly raw, either. To best describe it, one would have to compare it to the first two Burzum albums and even Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism from Immortal. The guitar is definitely audible, but not very sharp. Really, the album may have benefited from the guitars being a little bit louder in the mix, but this is a minor complaint. The drums drive the songs nearly as much as the guitars do, so it may not be right to bury them in the mix.

In some places, one can find doom-inspired riffs, maybe in the vein of Dissection's The Somberlain. There is definitely a dark and somber atmosphere being created with this work. "Through Gardens of Grief" is one of the best songs on here, and features brilliant harmonies. There is also another violin piece in this song, going further to add to the depressive feeling. The song is mostly fast-paced, but not entirely. The vocals really convey a deep hopelessness here.

The epic feeling continues on the next song, "Within." It begins with a doomy riff, yet manages to get up to full speed later on. There is even another violin passage that blends in, seamlessly. And it is at this point the listener must realize the pure genius of this record. Here, At the Gates have created an absolute masterpiece, yet it seems to have occurred naturally. Many bands try to achieve such lofty goals, only to fall short. They try too hard. On The Red In the Sky Is Ours, the members of At the Gates flawlessly executed their goal. They brought their vision to life, and it was only a coincidence that it turned out so brilliantly. It was an extension of their creativity, which seemed to have no boundaries at this point. Only later on would they appear to limit themselves and thus suffocate this brilliance.

As the album continues, "Windows" offers great melodies filled with tension and dread. "Neverwhere" is certainly one of the standout tracks on this album. The dark melodies, agonized vocals and lyrics flow together, perfectly.

"Life doesn't belong here."

"The Scar" seems to be more of an extension of the previous song. The mood is much the same, though the delivery is much more subdued. Though quite simple, the song does well in painting a very bleak picture.

"The end, it reaches out for me. My soul still calling to be free."

This short piece manages to, effectively, create a very bleak and hopeless feeling. As the album draws to a close, the pace picks back up, somewhat. We also get a new version of "City of Screaming Statues" which was originally released on the Gardens of Grief E.P. This song is blindingly fast, most of the way through, yet it is a fitting close to this monumental album. Such an achievement would never again be equaled by this band or any other that attempted to follow in its wake. This album represents that peak of creativity for At the Gates. If you have not yet heard this, then you do not truly know this band.