Saturday, August 1, 2009

At the Gates - With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness (1993)

In May 1993, At the Gates released their second full-length, With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. This album would be the one that planted the seeds of the change in sound that was to come. However, it still retained a great deal of creativity, placing it within the classic era of this band; i.e. the period before they dumbed-down their style in order to appeal to the mainstream metal fans.

"Beyond Good and Evil" is a fast-paced, intense song that works well to get things going. There are no eerie intros, here. There are still some riffs that would have worked within the context of Black Metal, but the song structures prevent that from being the case. Still, At the Gates was quite alone in possessing a unique style, at this point, especially when compared to the other Swedish Death Metal bands of the era.

The next song is the real highlight of the album. "Raped By the Light of Christ" starts out with a somber acoustic piece before the sorrowful main riff comes in, like a fresh razor slicing your throat and wrists. It circles around you, cutting into your feeble heart, leaving little behind. As on the previous album, Tomas gives an agonizing vocal performance, sounding like he's been gargling broken glass. At this point, the thrash riffs are only a small part of the proceedings, taking a back seat to the tremolo riffs. However, already they are a bit more present than on earlier releases.

"I have traveled through suns
And the darkness of the end
Now I surrender to the void
And join with the pulse of the universe"

With "The Break of Autumn", it becomes clear that the thrashier riffs mixing with the tortured tremolo melodies is more the work of Alf Svensson, than anyone else. For, in his absence, they truly went for a more simplified approach. Here, the dark art that they created was still worthy of high praise. During these years, Tomas Lindberg really was Sweden's answer to Varg Vikernes, having the most tormented screams east of Bergen. The solo, near the end, fits perfectly with the dismal mood of this recording.

Already, it seems that the sound is a bit more streamlined than on The Red in the Sky is Ours, also lacking the violin and cello parts. For some, this was a step in the right direction, though I remain in the minority. "Non-Divine" is one of the songs that go, largely, unaffected by this. The song features plenty of tempo changes and a lot of atmosphere. Really, the structure and drumming are the prime components that keep this from drifting into Black Metal territory (as well as lyrics). However, the aura created by the tremolo riffs and the torn throat of Tomas cannot be over-emphasized.

"Primal Breath" slowly fades in from the silence, with separate tremolo riffs coming together to form one cohesive melody. This is the longest song on the album, clocking in over seven minutes. The atmosphere, in the opening moments, is quite dismal and almost serves to drain your energy. Though the pace picks up, this feeling never goes away. Where this song really shines is during the slower sections, where the riffs are able to dig their icy claws into you, ripping all semblance of hope from your withered frame. This song bears an epic quality that places it among the best that this band ever recorded. It may be a little difficult for some to digest, at first (if you're a fan of the later work), but it is highly recommended that you give it repeated listens so that the darkness may consume you, completely. As the song reaches its conclusion, it simply fades out. Ending in the same way that it began, this almost gives the feeling that the song is endless, and that we only arrived to catch a small piece of that. Somewhere in the deeps of infinity, beyond time, these black sounds permeate other worlds and realities, ever-sprawling thoughout the great nothingness.

"The Architects" begins with a simpler approach, being more straight-forward and fast-paced. It is a rather brief song, making its placement on the album a wise move, giving the listener some sort of break after such a lengthy sonic journey.

This is followed by "Stardrowned", which takes a similar path. There's some odd feeling, in the opening moments, with strange timing and so on. Though the tempo is fairly steady and fast, the feeling is still a bit darker than on the previous song. Some of the melodies, here, would have been well served to have been drawn out a bit. The thrashier sections aren't as significant, in my view.

"Blood of the Sunsets" has a strange piece with vocals and drums, very briefly, without any guitars. One may get the sense that this song is the weakest link on here, as it takes a minute to really show any sign of being worthy. There are some really good riffs on this track, but they're thrown alongside others that I don't feel work so well within the context of the album. The brief vocal effect is rather useless, as well, hiding the natural sound that Tomas has achieved. But the tremolo melodies save this, maintaining the dark thread that runs throughout the entire album. This is the lasting impression, as the song fades away.

The next song was an early favorite of mine, for some reason. "The Burning Darkness" is the shortest song on here, kind of reminding me of "The Scar", in the sense that it seems more like a part of the whole, rather than something that could stand on its own. The tortured feeling from the vocals chills your bones, and the riffs work to support this. It, definitely, could have been expanded, but it may be that it worked better this way.

"Ever-Opening Flower" features guest vocals from Matti Kärki, of Dismember. There's a strange contrast between the two vocalists. It is strange enough, as the sound that At the Gates would later adopt owes much more to Dismember than to their own back-catalog. As for this song, there are still those bleak and miserable melodies that reach into your chest to stop your heart from beating. However, those are sparsely mixed in with the thrashier riffs, taking away some of the effect.

The album ends with "Through the Red", which is more of a straight-forward, fast-paced song. Actually, this is the shortest one on the album, as the track consists of this song and a 'hidden' Discharge cover. All in all, this is a rather useless way to close out the record.

With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness is a few steps below the debut L.P. while still being far above the material that followed it. There is a brilliance on display, here, that was lost in later years. I will credit this to Alf Svensson, as this album marks his last one with the band. At any rate, if you don't already possess this album, see to it that you rectify the situation.