Monday, September 7, 2009

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul (1995)

Typically, the early albums from any given band best represent their vision and tend to be the best ones; those fueled by a passion to create. Often, the debut album from a band will be the most thought-out, since the band usually has a few years to perfect their music before getting signed and releasing a full-length. In many cases, bands will progress and improve, over time. At the Gates is a curious anomaly, as they seem to have regressed as they went along. Stylistically, Slaughter of the Soul is a very simplistic, stripped-down album. When compared to the absolute brilliance of their debut, The Red in the Sky is Ours, it seems quite childish. The members of At the Gates were never able to recreate the genius that was so prominently displayed on that album. There were hints of it, but nothing that ever came close. As time passed, they descended deeper into the murky swamp of mediocrity. However, when this album was released in November 1995, it was met with great praise. Truth be told, I was a fan of this album when I first heard it.

My first exposure to this band came when I heard their cover of Slayer's "Captor of Sin", late one night, on a college radio program. My friend picked up a copy of Slaughter of the Soul, not too long after, and I recorded it onto a cassette and listened to it quite a bit, prior to tracking down the CD. After several months, I'd grown tired of it and spent more time listening to Dissections' Storm of the Light's Bane, which I'd also gotten around this time. Some time later, I decided to pay attention to At the Gates again, but I was bored. I ran across a copy of Terminal Spirit Disease and my interest was rekindled. As average as that album is, it still showed a lot more promise than the one that followed it. As I continued digging back into the discography of At the Gates, I grew to respect them a lot more, while becoming even more disappointed with their swansong. I couldn't figure out how or why a band could possibly be capable of such brilliance, only to throw it away in order to seek out mass appeal.

There's no need for an in-depth analysis of each track. This album features several brief Thrash songs and a semi-atmospheric outro that wasn't even intended for use on an album. The production is overdone, sounding too slick and polished. There's also something grating about the sound, in a sense. There's some decent riffs, here and there, but nothing that hasn't been done before. Worse yet, this is all far below what these musicians were capable of doing. This is an extremely dumbed-down version of At the Gates. Somehow, they managed to take the riffing style of Dismember (which they had adopted earlier in their career, only utilized to a lesser extent) and to simplify it even more in an attempt to make the music accessible to every metalhead under the sun (or "Under A Serpent Sun"). Hey, a lame album deserves a lame joke.

The vocals are very much streamlined, possessing very little of the feeling that was present on their earlier albums. There are brief moments where you are reminded of the old days, though the band was so intent on creating another Reign In Blood (yet one more album that saw a great band trading artistic integrity for the almighty dollar) that they never expand upon the few decent ideas that appear, here. The longest song is just under four minutes, which is a departure from the ways of old. Oddly, the lengthiest song on here is the aforementioned "Under A Serpent Sun", which shows some faint signs of their previous style, though the production ruins it. These guys really lost their soul when Alf Svensson left the band. Personally, the only worthwhile song on here is "Need". This one still manages to maintaint he miserable atmosphere from the past, though it's far too short. However, it has some realy dismal guitar melodies and an eerie whispered section, at the end.

"Now let the final darkness fall"

Slaughter of the Soul is an album for those that want instant gratification, without having to put much (or any) thought into what they are listening to. It's simple music for simple-minded people. It's constructed in such a way as to appeal to all Metal fans. However, its effects are temporary. It's an album that you either love or hate, though many love it at first and then grow to hate it. It's definitely overhyped and inferior to the rest of the band's discography. If you truly want the At the Gates experience, seek out The Red in the Sky is Ours. It is the pinnacle of their careers, regardless of what other bands they've been involved in (yes, putting it just a notch above Grotesque). As for Slaughter of the Soul, it's decent if all you ask of your music is to give you something to mindlessly bang your head to, but you'll get bored with it over time. If you must purchase it, do yourself a favour and look for it in the $1 bin.