This week’s pick is a watershed moment in extreme metal. The album is hailed as a cornerstone of its sound and it casts a massive influence on the direction of heavy metal for generations to come.
At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul
Released November 5, 1995 via Earache Records
My Favorite Tracks – Slaughter Of The Soul, Blinded By Fear, Under A Serpent Sun
By 1995, At The Gates were part of an emerging Swedish death metal scene also including In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Their music would carry the term “Gothenburg Sound” in reference to their home city, but would widely come to be termed melodic death metal.
For At The Gates, fortunes had been rising after the release of their third album, 1994’s Terminal Spirit Disease. The stage was set for a release that would capture international attention and make the band top players in the death metal game. As it turns out, even that bar was too low to describe what happened.
The distinctions between melodic death metal and, uh, “normal” death metal lie in guitar and vocal delivery. Death metal was built on buzzsaw guitars and deep, guttural vocals; while melodic death employed riffs bearing influence from the traditional heavy metal of the 1980’s and a higher register of vocals, rendering the output more comprehensible.
Our album today comprises 11 tracks from the original version, with a very lean runtime of 33 minutes. I’ll handle that before tackling the legacy of the record, which could pretty well fill a book.
The album kicks off with Blinded By Fear, an intense thrasher reflecting on the concept of death being the only release from fear. The template for the record is set here, with fast riffs and vocals leading into a brief yet intense solo section. There isn’t a lot of deviation from this formula for the record’s course.
The title track arrives next. Slaughter Of The Soul has become the signature anthem for At The Gates, encapsulating perfectly the sound on display. The song both rolls smoothly and stomps over everything in its path. Cold comes next and features a guest guitar solo from Andy LaRocque of King Diamond and Death fame.
The assault continues with Under A Serpent Sun, tacking the tried and true metal theme of the end of the world. The album’s first half (roughly) is wrapped up with the instrumental Into The Dead World.
It is a nice, quiet break from the otherwise relentless proceedings.
Things pick straight back up with Suicide Nation. This song deftly straddles the line between thrash and death. World Of Lies emphasizes the low end a bit more, while Unto Others goes back to the higher register and also picks up the pace a fair bit. The album rounds out with Nausea and Need, two songs that lay on the throttle and bring the album home. Everything wraps up with another instrumental, The Flames Of The End, which would come to be a more fitting title than it would initially communicate.
Slaughter Of The Soul captured the attention of the metal underground and thrust At The Gates into the limelight. The band toured extensively behind the record, especially in the United States. The saturation of the market would lay the seeds for metal’s next big movements in the early 2000’s.
While the album would go on to be hailed as a genre-defining classic, much of At The Gates’ celebration of that legacy would not come until much later. In 1996, only a year after Slaughter… was released, ATG called it quits. The members would float through various projects until 2008, when they would reunite for a tour. It would be 19 years between albums as no new recorded music saw the light of day until 2014.
One could be forgiven for thinking that At The Gates did release albums in that time between – hundreds, in fact – the influence of Slaughter Of The Soul is stamped all over American heavy metal of the early millennium. Strains of melodic death metal would pop up all over the US and also abroad, and it wasn’t hard to hear the influence of At The Gates in the music. Both death metal and melodic metalcore would be top-selling fare during the 2000’s and lead the pack in terms of exposure and discussion.
Perhaps the true beauty of Slaughter Of The Soul is that its groundbreaking sound wasn’t really new or innovative, or even groundbreaking. At The Gates had already laid that foundation with three prior albums, along with their peers In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Slaughter… is a beautifully executed record that is a high mark for melodic death metal but also doesn’t really do anything other than distill what already was into a finer form. There isn’t much in the way of innovation – rather, it’s just the sound turned up to 11.
Today Slaughter Of The Soul remains as a staple of the heavy metal diet, in fact At The Gates have been playing the entire record live in recent shows. The album’s legacy is secure and has honestly only grown as the music it inspired became the law of the land in heavy metal.