At the Gates / Grotesque – ‘Gardens of Grief / In the Embrace of Evil’

Artist: At the Gates / Grotesque

Title: Gardens of Grief / In the Embrace of Evil

Label: Century Media

Year: 2001

Review by Tërrørgåsm

In reviewing the split release of At The Gates’ “Gardens of Grief” demo debut and Grotesque’s “In The Embrace of Evil” compilation, I find it best to begin with the latter; for although the cd begins with the former, AtG was spawned forth from the ashes of Grotesque, with Tomas “Goatspell” Lindberg on vocals and Alf “The Haunting” Svensson to join as guitarist alongside legendary founding member Necrolord. The material here is culled from the few demos the band released before drifting apart, the material being remixed, mastered, and in the case of the final two tracks, newly recorded (all of this at the infamous Sunlight Studio in Stockholm) for this release. The sound that this seminal group concocted was a grim n’ grimy blend of blackened deathrash; not quite specifically any one or the other in any song, but seamlessly blending the most essential elements of each genre to mine the fullest effects throughout.

The chaos is foreshadowed by an ominous intro, “Thirteen Bells of Doom” which is one of those brief and much-lamented atmospheric pieces seen by many as a “waste of time” as it’s not really a song, but I usually enjoy these pieces when they truly establish a mood to the proceedings, and this is definitely the case here…. even the later track “Seven Gates” is nothing more than a spoken word bit with acoustic guitar over samples of a rainstorm, but this also launches perfectly into the next song proper. The songs themselves are all absolute classics, and that is no hyperbole. “Blood Runs From The Altar” is immediately captivating, with an infectiously energetic thrash beat lacerated by buzzsaw riffs and the raspy shrieking growls, “Welcome, to our black mass!!” This segues into the thematic double-whammy attack of “Submit To Death” and “Fall Into Decay”, each one anthemic with irresistible riffs and barbaric hooks, calling to mind both early Entombed and Hypocrisy, as well as vintage Samael and Sepultura. There are a couple rather epic cuts here which stand out and really demand the listener’s attention, the first being “Angels’ Blood”, which begins to show some musical progression toward the end, with melodic guitars coming in to build into a short solo reminiscent of early ’80s Metallica and then fading back into slow, oppressive Hellhammer-style doom. The vocals on here are overlapped in some verses, which creates a sort of disorientation, with the lyrics describing a Satanic revolt on Heaven:

“I saw the signs and received the voice of armageddon A twisted world of blackness, cries and blood…. Centuries of anger and a long wait fills us with lust Nihilism and thirst for blood We will cease the life of holy weak symbols and take over and rule in blood”

The band’s lyrics deserve a special mention, as they are very well-written in their morbid adulations and vitriolic denouncement of all that is holy. “Nocturnal Blasphemies” is another example of this, with its raging straightforward thrashiness blasting at you with those bitter, screaming growls, “The days of god are over and the sun, like any other Sabbath, goes down into the sea Running into the very last twilight my faith in my soul, my mind and my wisdom goes on….

“My life was meant to be
Eternal blasphemy
To blaspheme
against the church and Jehovah”

“Spawn of Azathoth” follows suit, detailing the chaosmagic-induced pregnancy of a mortal woman with a demonic entity who eventually posseses her completely, and the music perfectly evokes the sense of evil, horror movie madness. “Incantation” is the second of the more epic tracks offered here, and it doesn’t lag for a moment, with Lindberg’s tortured howls and growls sounding absolutely bestial, as if spewed forth by a hellish apparition rather than any human throat. “Church of the Pentagram” begins appropriately enough with a terrible, monotonous, almost monastic (though indelibly unholy) chanting, which quickly tears into a bombastic assault. This track is a veritable blastbeat buffet, the furiosity not letting up for a second of its five-and-a-half minutes, going from fast to hyperfast. The guitars are perfectly matched in their insane intensity; the vocals are frenzied screams that will summon demons from the pit, or at least incite listeners to start a pit of their own. The closing track is one of the first the band ever recorded on their inaugural demo, the eponymous “Ripped From The Cross”. The pace is breakneck blackened thrash which slows and shows a moment of melodicism for the chorus, before delving into a speed metal solo reminiscent of the NWOBHM’s glory era, completely blistering and immensely impressive, with the screams “The nails on the cross were covered in the Hebrew’s fucking blood!!” sure to send chills through your flesh every time you hear it. A true materpiece, as goes for this collection in its entirety.

For At The Gates’ portion of the cd, “Gardens of Grief” is a far cry from their later material, with only brief glimpses into the melodic progression they’d later explore. The four tracks here are conceptually linked in an obsession with death itself, detailing the journey of a lost soul into the shadow realms beyond mortal life. Lindberg dedicated the second track, “At The Gates”, to Per Yngve (Dead) Ohlin of Morbid and Mayhem, and it is indeed a worthy tribute to that tormented legend, who was tragically haunted by a feeling of not belonging in this living dimension. The lyrics Lindberg crafted for this release became even more poetically profound in this stage of his career. For example, the following line from City of Screaming Statues:

“Stand up and turn your back on reality Lie down and let your dreams attack the silence of a soul that is true is the silence that you lack Reach out, and touch the Time and the skies will sigh as you die Feel the strength of It pulsating through you as the gates, they close behind you….”

The vocals here retain a touch of that blackened howling that was fully displayed in Grotesque, but with the emphasis more in the full throaty roar of Death-Doom territory, and the music is fittingly dirgey and crushing, with the bass guitar pleasantly present in the mix, coalescing with the drums which display some differing tempos in each song, going from dismal, sombre contemplations into frantic cacophonies without warning, but this is perfectly balanced in a precision attack on the listener’s sanity. “Souls of the Evil Departed” begins hauntingly with croaking electronic groans, ripping suddenly into ferocious classic OSDM blasting, with eerily squealing guitars and the requisite guttural ululations….

“I remember faintly, like whispers from beyond all time the reasons for my death But reasons are part of life and I am forevermore, part of death…. Part of DEATH!!”

The Bottom Line: each of these respective offerings are a must-have for any true fan of black/death metal, and the split album should be procured immediately if it doesn’t already grace your collection. If you do own it, then you owe it to yourself to listen to it regularly, and repeatedly. Submit To Death!!