"At War with Reality" is the 5th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act At The Gates. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2014. At The Gates was originally active in the years 1990-1996 and are often credited as one of the early pioneers of the more melodic part of the Swedish death metal scene. After they disbanded in 1996 several members went on to form thrash metal act The Haunted (where some of the members are still active), but as the years went by and more and more upcoming artists have begun to mention At The Gates as a huge influence on their music, the demand for a reunion has steadily grown stronger. The band reunited and toured in the period 2007-2008, and the reunion was initially only meant to be temporary, but At The Gates reunited again in 2010, and after a couple of years, the inspiration to write new original material came to them. Probably also fueled by guitarist/main composer Anders Björler´s exit from The Haunted in 2012.
So "At War with Reality" is indeed a comeback album by At The Gates after a 19 year recording break since "Slaughter of the Soul (1995)". The lineup who recorded "Slaughter of the Soul (1995)" is intact featuring Jonas Björler on bass, Adrian Erlandsson on drums, Anders Björler on guitars, Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg on vocals, and Martin Larsson on guitars. It´s no surprise with a cast like that, that the music is delivered with high level skill and professionalism.
Stylistically "At War with Reality" doesn´t exactly take up where "Slaughter of the Soul (1995)" let go. Where the latter primarily focused on being aggressive, "At War with Reality" is a much more diverse release, drawing influences from all parts of the band´s discography. The riffs are both heavy, thrashy, more dark and death metal oriented, but always featuring a melodic sensibility, melodic harmony themes, or solos. There are also several clean guitar parts on the album, which provide the music with variation. The drumming is also varied featuring everything from heavy beats to mid-paced grooves, to faster paced parts. The vocals by Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg are rather distinct sounding and he is probably one of the most original growling vocalists on the scene. He growling vocals are a cross between regular death metal growling and a higher pitched tortured shouting (there are also a few spoken word sections). A bit hard to describe actually, but they are pretty surely an aquired taste.
The regular edition of the album features 13 tracks and a full playing time of 44:16, while the limited edition features two bonus tracks. It is highly recommended getting the version featuring the bonus tracks as they are both well worth the price of admission. Some versions also features a third additional bonus track in the Sacrifice cover "Re-Animation". "At War with Reality" is a concept album based on the literary genre called "Magic Realism" and the album comes with a 20-page booklet to further build on the overall experience and atmosphere of the release.
The material on the album are through and through high standard compositions. In addition to that "At War with Reality" features a great flow thanks to a well chosen tracklist, where fast paced melodic death metal tracks, are mostly followed by more heavy mid-paced compositions, or more atmospheric melodic oriented material. The tracks are generally not that long (most staying within the 2 - 4 minutes parameter), but "At War with Reality" is a prime example of getting the most out of relatively short tracks, without resorting to simple hook laden vers/chorus song structures. Not that there aren´t catchy hooks and clear vers/chorus structures in most tracks, but the tracks on the album feature many intriguing details, additional sections, and other clever compositional tricks, which elevate the music to an exceptionally high compositional level.
To top it all off "At War with Reality" features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production which suits the material perfectly, so all in all this is a high quality release in all departments and a welcome comeback by At The Gates. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.