Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, where we prove to the rest of the Internet that we are smarter and more right than any other editorial outlet on planet earth. We know these dudes who run a metal site called MetalSucks that people seem to like, so we challenged them to an editorial cage match. The rules were simple: two blogs enter, one blog leaves. This week we're facing off over At The Gates, who we think should stay out of the recording studio and leave their recorded legacy untouched. MetalSucks, on the other hand, thinks they should record new material. Clearly they're wrong, but you can read their limp argument if you want.
Over the past six years, English grindcore and technical death metal pioneers Carcass reunited for a tour and gradually put themselves in a headspace where vocalist and bassist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer were excited enough about the public reaction to their resurrection that they decided to lay the groundwork for a comeback album. As a longtime Carcass fan, I was cautiously optimistic. When the band released Surgical Steel on September 13, 2013 they proved to the skeptics that not only did they still have the ambition and talent to write top-notch death metal, they had the chemistry and rock steady nerves of a team of gifted surgeons – like the doctors on that show “House,” with Walker playing the role of the curmudgeonly and ingenious lead character.
But what does that have to do with At The Gates? Abso-fuckin’-lutely nothing. Yeah, the Gothenburg melodic death metal pioneers have been getting together on and off since 2007 and playing competent shows for starry-eyed fans as well. But in the meantime, over a hundred new bands have taken the formula that At the Gates helped perfect, and used it in their own dynamic music. Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and Shadows fall are just a few bands inspired by At the Gates, The Haunted, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and other Swedish metal groups to incorporate heavy doses of guitar melody within a framework of trampling rhythms and growling vocals.
There’s no question that At the Gates are definitely pioneers of the Gothenburg scene, but they haven’t written any new music together since 1995’s excellent Slaughter of the Soul, nor have they expressed a desire to, whether playing a full tour in 2008 or sporadic shows together in 2010 and 2012. The closest they’ve come is vague comments like they “wouldn’t rule anything out,” but that applied both to touring and writing new music. Also, At The Gates don’t have to do a new album, so why should they. Based on nostalgia value alone, they can always draw crowds without writing new songs. And, keep in mind that Sweden supports the arts and has an excellent endowment program for professional musicians who wouldn’t otherwise make enough money to tour and record without having to work at a Surströmming, Varmrökt & Ligonberry Hut.
England has no such program for its musicians, who, at best, can live on the dole (perpetual unemployment) and survive in squats (abandoned tenements). In that respect, Carcass had a whole lot more to gain financially by inject themselves back into the pulse of the metal scene than At the Gates do. But let’s say the members of At the Gates are genuinely considering recording a new album. Should they undertake the endeavor? Again, I’m inclined to say no. They have such a good track record in their youth, why taint a good thing? Many bands from past decades have reformed and recorded new albums, and with the exception of Carcass and Broken Hope, few have succeeded. Can anyone remember the last good Venom album? Who lost their shit to that Forbidden reunion? Only time will tell whether it will be worth counting the days until that new Godflesh disc. That’s one I’m actually looking forward to, but it’s a different case entirely. Justin Broadrickis Godflesh and if he’s genuinely inspired to crank up the distortion, pull out the old drum machines and crank, well then, you can bet his heart is entirely in it. At the Gates is a collective, and for it to succeed, everyone in the band would have to be equally inspired to endure everything being in a touring band entails.
I question whether At the Gates would really want to be out on the road for months at a time, let along work in the studio together with the pressures of having to prove themselves again and live up to the excellence of music they recorded mostly two decades ago. Knowing full well that albums don’t sell enough copies today for most bands to recoup their recording budgets, the incentive have to be strictly artistic and judging by how old these guys are, they might not wanna devote months of hard work to income they might not seen when they’ve got families to support. Speaking of age, the best metal comes from dudes in their 20s and 30s struggling to be relevant, not from guys in their 40s who are trying to relive the past. If At the Gates decide to enter the studio and record another album, I won’t be hoping they fail, but I’ll be doubtful of their success and even more skeptical about how many of today’s kids will give them the time of day even if the album slays when there are louder, faster and trendier groups like Carnifex, Faceless and Whitechapel to support. If At the Gates are up to the challenge, they’ve certainly earned the right to step back into the ring, but there’s no question it’ll be a hard, grisly battle. When the smoke clears, the proof will be in the blodpudding.