#5: AT THE GATES
At the Gates recorded two albums of disruptive, grind-influenced Swedish death metal before they found the sound that would launch a thousand shitty metal bands. Beginning with their third album Terminal Spirit Disease, and climaxing with their stunning swansong Slaughter of the Soul, At the Gates melodicized brutality (and brutalized melody) with heretofore-unmatched cohesion. While the band developed their harmonically pleasing sound at the same time that Gothenburg compatriots In Flames and Dark Tranquillity were honing similarly tuneful death metal aesthetics, it was At the Gates that arguably stayed truest to the filthy spirit of underground death metal. This, even as Slaughter of the Soul yielded minor MTV hits and was nominated for a Swedish Grammy. Un-dissonant and streamlined as the album is, Slaughter of the Soul’s guitar tone is just beastly, and every aspect of its execution, from Adrian Erlandsson’s rock steady thrash oompah to Tomas Lindberg’s iconic roar, seethes with conviction. And my god, the songs – by career’s end, At the Gates were churning out compact three-minute death metal classics as if by will. As their song structures got less complicated, At the Gates’s mastery of “melodeath” became ever more apparent. The band secured their place in heavy metal Valhalla by disbanding on a high note.
There would be no All That Remains, Bleeding Through or Bullet For My Valentine without At the Gates. Of course, those bands all suck. And therein lies the great tragedy of the band’s innovations. At the Gates’ beckoning finger of melody engendered a wholesale wussification of metal that grows more insidious with each passing year. At the Gates opened the door for countless bands to write pop songs with aggressive overtones, rather than vice-versa. This trend culminated in the great scourge of melodic metalcore, a bastard hybrid of metal and hardcore, shot through with melodramatic, clean-sung choruses that bypass the jugular in favor of the gag reflex.
Of course, we’ve said nothing of the hordes of slavish At the Gates clones. Another scourge to be sure, but I’d rather a diligent student that plays by the rules than one that applies the lessons he learns towards evil, if only because the former is easier to ignore. The triumph of At the Gates’s reunion tour in 2008 was a slap in the face to the band’s imitators and detractors alike. The melodic death metal template isn’t innately awful. The formula is still as fertile as ever, but so many bands that wield it make ungodly terrible music.
THE LIST SO FAR: