At the Gates

Gardens of Grief EP
(Dolores - 1991)
Even on this first humble four-track release, they already had some groundbreaking elements. At this stage they were pretty much deathgrind metal with rapidly changing riffs and some progression. The guitars are heavy and low, with many variations and speeds, and played with precision. The vocals are pretty much standard brutal death growls but with some tastes of the rabid/hysterical quality they acquired on later releases. What sets this album apart is the experimentation with the composition and the non-standard riffs. I give them full marks for trying to sound new but still remaining in the guitar-dominated death genre, but the tracks here don't succeed as much as they should. The talent is very much present though, with many interesting arrangements. Pick this up if you are a brutal death fan and desperate for something slightly different. Otherwise, this album has too much of an 'experiment' feel and doesn't have enough grip at all for a recommendation.
The Red in the Sky is Ours
(Deaf - 1992)
More progressive deathgrind (with questionable grind elements), but more solid this time around even though they experiment further here. The vocals have changed as well to a hysterical, higher-pitched growl/scream. My biggest gripe with this release is their use of a violin in some songs. I have nothing against the instrument, even when used in death metal this way, but they are either completely tone-deaf or they purposely asked someone to play this badly. When the violin screeches its way in, the image that comes to mind is one of an old immigrant scratching his strings weakly in a ghetto somewhere. No power; no technique; hardly playing in tune for Pete's sake! Thankfully, they don't use it often however, and it can be put aside somewhat. The blistering, original riffs and the rapid changes make it necessary to listen to this a few times before it sinks in. Again, the talent is immediately evident though. This is a chugging sound, with plenty of changes to hold your attention all the way through. The songs demand a lot of focus to stay with the complex path the music is taking; it is very easy to lose yourself in the side-tracking technical exploration and variation the guitars implement. Some songs and sections may be defined as technical indulgence, but some may want and encourage this. A good significant album and one well worth a listen by brutal death fans, but I would hesitate before recommending this. By all means do check it out, however.
With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness
(Peaceville - 1993)
Quite a few changes since the previous album, with a slightly muddier production and a thankful lack of the violins. Some of the music has a 'melodic black metal' sound to it this time, due to the increased use of higher strumming guitars and melodies and the very obvious higher vocals that are practically a black metal screech. Less aggressiveness, chugging low guitars and complex death riffing (all relative to the previous album); more melody and darkness. While listening to this, my impulse was to shake my stereo violently and yell 'do something already!'. The music seems to drone on and on, roaming chaotically around many notes and changes with neither purpose nor path. Too often they sound like a bad Dissection clone, with buzzing guitars that play simple melody lines and hardly ever build up. The rest of the time the song shifts chaotically, lacking good bridges and hooks, and losing me in the process. They handle their instruments well, its just the bad composition. So even with all the changes and complexity - or perhaps because of it - this time I must call this one boring.
Terminal Spirit Disease
(Peaceville - 1994)
Ahh, back to the chugging down-tuned guitars and stronger vocals. The melody stayed and even increased here however, and the complexity eased up in order to make catchier songs. This is a very good thing in my opinion, as the songs here have an amazing grip and aggressive groove. So this time we have some melodic death metal with a sound slightly similar to Dark Tranquility. The vocals became more rabid rather than hysterical, with foam spitting out of his mouth as he vents spite and rage. The production is warm and clear with dominating guitars and a groove that never gets lost. Six new songs, plus three older tracks performed live that abruptly change the whole feel of the album - which is not good. Track #3 stands out with its beautiful acoustic guitar, cello and violin. A varied album and only 34 minutes long but still very recommended.
Slaughter of the Soul
(Earache - 1995)
The album begins with some noise and feedback then violently explodes into some of the most teeth-grinding, crunching, aggressive, melodic, groove death metal my ears have ever heard. Totally devastating! And this full length, solid release hardly relents either, stealing all my breath and rushing all the blood into my head for 35 minutes with only one relaxing acoustic break and a moody, slow last track. Dynamics are superb with plenty of variation and some experimentation with acoustics and keyboards (last 2 tracks). One eargasmic guitar solo, played by Andy Larocque no less, adorns the third track. All the songs are surprisingly between 2 and 3 1/2 minutes, making them very tight sounding. Vocals are again, frothing at the mouth, and the production is impeccable. A perfect album and a must buy.

The Last Exit 1996-

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