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30 Years Ago Today: At the Gates Release Their Debut Album The Red in the Sky is Ours

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Few extreme bands carry the legacy that Swedish melodic death metal pioneers At the Gates do. Formed in 1990, the group rewrote the genre in 1995 with their genre-defining Slaughter of the Soul. But in 1992—thirty years to the date of this story’s publication—At the Gates were just another promising young band releasing their debut album, The Red in the Sky is Ours

In 1992, Dismember were following up their classic Like an Everflowing Stream with the Pieces EP and Entombed had just released Clandestine. Dark Tranquility hadn’t yet released their debut album, let alone The Gallery, and In Flames were still a few years from releasing The Lunar Strain.  By comparison, At the Gates had only first EP Gardens of Grief prior to 1992. It showed a fledgling band with real potential that only began to be recognized on The Red in the Sky is Ours. The Gothenburg-based quintet walked their own path from the start. 

In short: there was no band quite like At the Gates when they released The Red in the Sky is Ours. Unlike Dismember or Entombed, At the Gates approached their music with melody and outside influences. On The Red in the Sky, the notes of early black metal, hardcore punk (frontman Tomas Lindberg would later join Swedish D-beat crew Disfear), progressive rock, folk and jazz is welcomed and embraced. 

Whereas Gardens of Grief is hailed for its experimental nature, The Red in the Sky shines because of its more structured—but not neutered—stylings. The songs are tighter and the presence of violin on “Through Gardens of Grief,” “The Seasons to Come” and “Within” serves as a unique and interesting counterpoint to the frantic, heavy and sometimes winding structures of the songs. 

The production from Hans Hall—who then and now had no other notable credits to his name—also serves to point At the Gates in their new direction. The Swedes’ debut LP is certainly the heaviest they’d ever put to tape but everything about it has an underlying sense of grief that others didn’t. Lindberg’s screamed vocals, the melodies from guitarists Anders Björler and Alf Svensson, and the aforementioned violin have a rainy day vibe about them. They don’t dip into black metal’s abject despair, but “Windows” feels more blue than red. Members of At the Gates have since gone on record criticizing the production, but it adds a tangible layer of emotion to a subgenre that was still more focused on its massive killing capacity.

Alas, nothing gold can stay, and Svensson left the band in 1993. He was replaced by guitarist Martin Larsson, who still plays with At the Gates today, and At the Gates would begin to transform on second album Terminal Spirit Disease. By the time Slaughter of the Soul hit in 1995, they had rewritten melodic death metal in their image and inspired countless clones and, later, the second wave of metalcore. 

Much has rightfully been said of those later albums but The Red in the Sky is Ours remains a landmark release to be celebrated in its own right. What At the Gates laid out on their debut record challenged not only the young quintet but the foundations of death metal as a whole. And for that, we celebrate The Red in the Sky is Ours on its 30th birthday.

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