Every once in a while the metal scene collectively heaps too much praise on a band or record and someone needs to step up and announce that the Emperor has no clothing. We normally don’t spend a lot of time attacking beloved records, but sometimes genuinely overrated records get far too much love from the metal sheeples and that calls for a professional contrarian to set things right! If ever there were professional contrarians, they would be us at AMG.
Here at AMG, we enjoy slaughtering metal’s sacred cows, and we get a perverse joy out of infuriating people. And as you might have guessed by the title of this article, you’re about to read something heretic to metal’s undisputed truths. Something so offensive, we’re better off posting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed instead. Here’s an Indefensible Position that I’m gonna defense the shit out of: I don’t think At The Gates‘ Slaughter Of The Soul is that great. I know, I know…but hear me out.
First off, almost all of these songs sound exactly the same. The riffs, melodies, and chord progressions are all remarkably similar, as though they’re all variations on one or two ideas. The drumming is even more redundant, with the stock ATG “thrash beat over 3/4 waltz riff” thing coming up in damn near every song at least once. Tomas Lindberg’s vocal delivery is so non-stop “AAAAAH LOOK AT ME I’M SO ANGRY!” that it gets annoying pretty quickly. (In his defense, he did get better in his later bands.) Obviously, these are all elements of the band’s trademark sound, and I can’t fault them for using them gratuitously…but it gets real old, real fast.
While the riffs themselves are decent, there’s plenty of other elements that are distractingly buttheaded. The gun cocking at the beginning of “Suicide Nation”? Oooh, they’re going to shoot at something! How macho. The two seconds of classical guitar in “Unto Others”? Gimmicky beyond belief. And the keyboards on the last two tracks are so dated, they sound like…everything else from the mid-’90s that had cheap keyboards on it. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you these songs suck — they’re OK. I just don’t see how they’re even remotely in the same league as Piece of Mind or Reign in Blood.
Admittedly, my dislike of Slaughter is partially fueled by all the shitty bands that followed in its wake. My lasting memory of the early 2000’s is being tortured with slight variations on the “Blinded By Fear” riff, Gitmo-style, for about five years straight. Granted, it’s not ATG‘s fault that they were shamelessly ripped off by talentless fuckheads. But the world endured a lot of bullshit for at least half a decade as a direct result of Slaughter Of The Soul, and I can’t just let that slide.
As you can imagine, I’ve had various friends try to “fix” my opinion of this album over the years. One of them pointed out to me (correctly) that I missed out on the Gothenburg scene entirely, because I spent the ’90s holed up in a small town, listening to nothing but thrash metal. And supposedly, had I heard this album when it was first released, before all the imitators came along, I would have appreciated it more. Frankly, I don’t buy this argument. First of all, just ’cause your band is the first to do something, doesn’t necessarily make it good (see: Korn). And if I’d heard this record in 1995, I’d probably hate it even more because it didn’t sound like Testament [And for the sake of comparison, I didn’t miss the Gothenburg scene and did hear this when it first came out and STILL think it’s one of the most overrated albums ever. – Steel Druhm].
My real issue is this: Slaughter is a creative dead-end, a logical conclusion. There’s nowhere else to take it to, no room for it to evolve. It’s metal music with all the interesting parts hacked off. Its enduring popularity suggests that mainstream headbangers only want music that’s good to lift weights or beat people up to, with subtlety and depth kept to a bare minimum. And unlike other oft-copied groups like In Flames or Carcass, bands that borrowed the ATG playbook found themselves at the exact same sound, or a pale imitation thereof. I can only wonder if ATG found themselves at a similar crossroads, and if that’s what led to their breakup.
Oddly, I’m not an At The Gates hater in general. I find their other albums to be decent, and I even enjoyed some of their other bands, such as The Crown and The Haunted. These guys have deep roots in the Scandinavian metal scene, and I feel bad that their legacy amounts to the musical equivalent of lobe stretchers. Apparently they don’t seem to mind much, since they’ve recently announced plans for a follow-up. I can hardly fucking wait.