REVIEW: AT THE GATES – “The Nightmare Of Being”
Thomas Ligotti writes in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, “The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurts anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.”
At The Gates have no fear. They are willing to take chances and dig deep both musically and lyrically into a subject. In their 2018 release To Drink From The Night Itself, At The Gates explores the facets of art as a tool of oppression as well as resistance. Now they are taking inspiration from Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror and the subject of philosophical pessimism. The result is a stunning record that is thought-provoking and deeply fascinating.
The lineup for At The Gates remains the same as their last album with Tomas Lindberg (vocals), Adrian Erlandsson (drums), Jonas Björler (bass), Martin Larsson (guitar), and Jonas Stålhammar (guitar). The Nightmare Of Being was mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren, and is set to release on July 2 via Century Media Records. The visual concept for the album was created by artist Eva Nahon
The opening track “Spectre of Extinction” is introduced with sombre acoustic guitars giving way to anthemic power. Eventually, the song evolves into the traditional At The Gates blast of melodic death. The guitar solo is a fantastic blend of shredding histrionics and emotive melody.
Within the void, four dissonant piano notes transform into a full-on death metal assault on “The Paradox”. Tension-inducing rapid-fire riffs travel to a melodic bridge. The haunting piano notes subliminally radiate out adding to a sense of paradox within the music itself. The drumming from Adrian is superb on this tune. You can’t help but love the commanding drive of the drums.
The somber doom of the title track “The Nightmare of Being” captures the dark certainty of our betrayal. We know we are alive and that knowledge as Thomas Ligotti describes: “This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.” There is a section just after the achingly wonderful guitar solo that captures the bleakness with chiming notes in a vacuum. The gravely spoken word is the icing on the cake.
The song “Garden of Cyrus” is an absolute gem. This is where At The Gates truly embraces their progressive desires with lusting arms. Adrian begins with tapping cymbals developing more cadence with rolling toms. The chord progression is magical. A mix of the dismal and the grand. Jonas’s deeply resonant bass is exquisitely matched with the reverb-rich guitar melody. When the saxophone enters the scene, the song expands with cosmic beauty. The solemnly spoken word gives you the feeling of witnessing the death of a star. The furious ending of the song is spectacular.
The cinematic opening of the song “The Fall of Time” bursts into flaming guitars. Pick scraps hint at being dragged into the abyss. The exotic eastern flavor of the riffs converts into a classical motif. The bridge into the guitar solo is where At The Gates transfigure this song with a wealth of progressive overtones. In particular, dig into the devilish syncopation of bass and drums that gives the sensation of rushing toward your end.
My favorite tune on The Nightmare Of Being is “Cosmic Pessimism”. The leading progression is absolutely addictive. Here Jonas and Martin are masterful. An image of a beatnik coffee house filled with speed freaks fills the mind. The layers of sound culminate in a cascading crash of chords as the motoring drums drive on into oblivion. This song, like the whole album, is outstanding.
The Nightmare of Being by At The Gates is their most daring and musically challenging record to date. While their trademark brutal melody remains, they are stretching their progressive wings with elements of jazz, post-rock, and classical. The subject matter of philosophical pessimism adds another fascinating layer. The musical compositions allow you to enter a state of heavy metal meditation as you ponder the shedding of self and expose the naked animal within.