At the Gates, Converge, Vellenfyre, Pallbearer | House of Blues | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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At the Gates

At the Gates

Courtesy the artist

At the Gates, Converge, Vellenfyre, Pallbearer 

When: Mon., April 6, 7:30 p.m. 2015
Price: $30
In some ways, it must suck to make a hugely popular and influential album—even if you bottle that lightning again, it can’t strike with the same force. Swedish five-piece At the Gates laid down a foundational document of melodic death metal with 1995’s Slaughter of the Soul, and they know perfectly well that it’s impossible to found something twice: In 2007, when the band had just reunited after 11 years apart, front man Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg declared, “No new record will be recorded. The legacy of Slaughter of the Soul will remain intact.” Of course, saying something like that is a good way to make a liar of yourself, and last fall At the Gates released At War With Reality (Century Media), their first studio album in 19 years. Following the template of its predecessor, it’s impeccably engineered head-banging music, indebted to thrash and NWOBHM as well as death metal. A hammering pulse—often a steady double kick drum locked into the gnashing, melodic riffs—dominates the songs, even dictating the metabolism of the austere, achingly grandiose twin-guitar leads. Despite the occasional swaggering groove or cluster of syncopated stings, listening to this stuff can feel like watching the curvaceous chrome-plated parts of a showroom motorcycle’s engine as they do their intricate, mercilessly precise high-speed dance. But it also has a melancholy, stricken emotional tone, which combines with those maniacal rhythms and the ragged desperation in Lindberg’s unmistakable vocals—he sings not in the usual growl but in a choked scream that’s almost a sob—to convey a very particular kind of urgency and restlessness. It’s like that sudden laserlike conviction that can grip you in a dream: something horrific is on its way, moving fast, and you’ve got to run this instant if you hope to escape. At War With Reality sounds warmer and fuller than Slaughter of the Soul, with less of the hard, bristly treble that gives the earlier album its cruel gleam—it’s a pearl, not a diamond, more heartwood than thorns—and it feels a hair less frantic and taut, as you’d expect from guys in their early to mid-40s. Or maybe you wouldn’t—but if you don’t think the passage of 19 years makes a difference in such physically demanding music, well, get back to me in 19 years and let’s see what you say. —Philip Montoro
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