At The Gates‘ has handed over the songwriting reigns exclusively to bassist Jonas Björler. He’s stepped up the quality from the band’s dull 2014 comeback At War With Reality, but To Drink From The Night Itself ultimately comes off as a no-risk album with a few shining moments.
At The Gates initially said no to making new music when they reformed in 2010. Though as time wore on, band members became more on the fence about doing a new album. In a 2012 interview with Metal Injection, then-guitarist Anders Björler stated he personally was still not interested in doing a follow-up to the band’s genre-defining 1995 album Slaughter Of The Soul despite his bandmates wavering opinions. Björler said too much time had passed and “I’m not at the place that I was back then, and it’s not gonna sound like a continuation of Slaughter Of The Soul, and that’s basically what I don’t wanna do.”
Not two years after that interview, At the Gates released At War With Reality. The album was 15 tracks including bonus tracks. Of those 15, Björler wrote eight and co-wrote the other seven with his brother and bassist Jonas Björler. At War With Reality‘s starts off strong but ultimately bleeds indistinguishably into itself, and with a runtime of 44 (or 52) minutes, it’s a struggle to get through.
In March 2017, Anders quit the band. He cited a lack of passion for the music and said the decision was “a personal decision, and it has 100% to do with the music side of things.” Anders was replaced by God Macabre guitarist Jonas Stålhammar, but only after Jonas Björler wrote the entirety of To Drink From The Night Itself. At The Gates hailed their new material as thematically connected to their 1992 debut The Red In The Sky Is Ours and promised a more aggressive approach to the music this time around. The results are promising for future At The Gates releases but ultimately fail to leave a lasting impression.
To Drink From The Night Itself opens with an acoustic piece titled “Der Widerstand” that wouldn’t have been out of place on an old In Flames record, then immediately dives into the title track. “To Drink From The Night Itself” is classic At The Gates, with palm muted pedal bass riffs and a changing upper register, a deluge of half-time speediness in the chorus, and clean-ish arpeggios picked overtop bridge sections. At The Gates switches it up on the next song “Daggers Of Black Haze” by reprising the acoustics midway through in a very well-done tonal switch, and they even successfully evokes classic mid-paced death metal on “In Nameless Sleep” and “The Chasm.”
Then there’s the closer “In Mirror Black,” the slowest song on To Drink From The Night Itself. The song unveils choral work and an orchestra underlining the echoing screams of Tomas Lindberg toward the end, as well as slow-motion guitar work about as destructive as boulders crashing to Earth. “In Mirror Black” is the most interesting song on To Drink From The Night Itself, but it makes you wonder where this version of At The Gates has been the whole time. “Der Widerstand” and “Daggers Of Black Haze” briefly offered fleeting visions of this sound but never come close to the grandiosity of “In Mirror Black.”
It’s frustrating. “In Mirror Black” hints at what To Drink From The Night Itself could’ve been all along and wasn’t. Even the demonic pianos on “Daggers Of Black Haze” and the contorting harmonies of “In Nameless Sleep” stand out as equally gripping moments before falling back into At The Gates doing their best impression of themselves.
Going along with the so-so nature of To Drink From The Night Itself is the album’s mix. It’s a quieter listen that completely buries the bass and puts enough distortion on the vocals to where they’re competing with the guitars for sonic space. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson’s snare and kick are very present at all times, as are the toms when they show up, but you’re going to have to do a little searching to find the cymbals, hi-hats, and basically anything that produces any treble.
In the end, we’re left with a safe bet of an album. If At The Gates can expand upon the unique aspects of To Drink From The Night Itself for future releases, they might have a modern classic on their hands. For now, fans have a decent background death metal record from a band figuring out the next steps after the loss of their main songwriter.
Buy To Drink From The Night Itself here.