Dissecting Slaughter of the Soul: At The Gates at the Fonda
It’s not every day that you see an artist play two different sets within the same evening, especially when one of those sets is their magnum opus album being played from start to finish. At The Gates’ kick-off show of their Slaughter of the Soul 20 Year Anniversary tour at the Fonda Theater was not your average metal concert, and didn’t feel like any sort of conventional concert for that matter. Seeing the album performed in full truly felt like visiting an artistic piece being showcased in a museum, being viewed in awe from those with a deep appreciation for the work. The album is one of the most ambitious metal albums in history with At The Gates’ incorporation of classical music-esque guitar solos and more melodic elements than what was seen in death metal at the time, creating an atmospheric and immense sound that filled the Fonda for that evening. With a speedy and crass thrash set from Municipal Waste before At The Gates, the night provided an insight to the diverse range of sounds that heavy metal has offered throughout its history.
Municipal Waste was an odd choice for an opener in my opinion. In contrast to the theatrical and grandiose nature of At The Gates’ sound, Municipal Waste is a party-centered tribute to the more extreme elements of 1980’s thrash metal and they do not shy away from the ridiculousness of that era in any way. Frontman Tony Foresta commands the energy of the room with enthusiastic, almost frat boy yells evoking the spirit of Sam Kinison’s cocaine-fueled standup comedy that was incredibly popular in the era they are homaging. The band does border on being a parody of 80’s thrash with their bombastic character, which is why I’ve personally never been the biggest fan of them. However even with these preconceptions I’ve had towards them, it’s undeniable that they are masterful in creating a chaotic environment that is pure adrenaline and booze-filled hijinks.
As soon as the members of At The Gates walked onto the stage, the room roared in excitement to hear the opening track of Slaughter of the Soul. This applause was minimized a bit when they were greeted to the opening track “Spectre of Extinction” from their newest album The Nightmare of Being. The new material did sound incredible when performed live, but the anticipation of a band’s greatest album being played in full is certainly going to overpower that.
At The Gates performed some tracks of their previous material before Slaughter of the Soul during this part of the set, and were met with similar feedback. Although the whirlpool of slamming bodies that Municipal Waste had inspired weren’t as present during this segment of At The Gates’ performance, the violent chaos didn’t need to be there as At The Gates represents a completely different side of heavy metal focused more on creating an immersive atmosphere with their technical sound that envisions a gothic fantasy novel.
The previously barren circle pit in the middle of the room was stormed by long hair and denim jackets as the feedback and noise from Slaughter of the Soul’s opening track, “Blinded by Fear” filled the room with deafening sound. The crowd was slamming in all directions within the circle pit before the opening guitar riff even hit, sounding like the vision of a hoard of galloping horses exiting into the night sky. The title track of the album that At The Gates played next, “Slaughter of the Soul”, brought even more chaotic motion into the pit with its technical guitar riff and blasting drum beats in all different directions from Adrian Elerandsson. It felt as if a breath of light, or beautiful darkness, was finally brought into the room. Although the other material from the beginning of the set was certainly welcomed and appreciated, the audience was more than ready to break into a riot while the Fonda was filled with the walls of noise from the groundbreaking album being played in full without any interruptions.
Vocalist Thomas Lindberg’s voice is certainly more hoarse than the shrill high-pitched screams that were heard in the studio recording, but he still brought the dramatic darkness of the album and its energy to the forefront of the stage. Regardless of the material being played, the passion from each member could be seen vividly. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson provided absolutely brutal blast-beats between the technical guitar solos of Martin Larsson. At The Gates parted ways with their original lead guitarist earlier this year, but their enormous sound was never lost from having one less member during this tour.
As the opening ambient-sounding guitars to “Into the Dead Sky” being played by Martin Larsson hit, the audience was cheering and the circle pit was filled with metalheads marching around slowly in preparation for some ass-kicking during the almost nu-metal intro of the album’s next track (and arguably the heaviest), “Sucide Nation”. “Into the Dead Sky” is an absolutely beautiful track, marking the mid-section of the album and resembling an interlude between the theatrical evil sounds between the two halves of the album. Although Slaughter of the Soul was the last album released before At The Gates’ original break-up, the structure of the album before and after “Into the Dead Sky” feels like it was written with the intention of a live performance with its transcendent break in moments of noisey chaos.
The closing track of the night was the last track of Slaughter of the Soul, “In the Flames of The End”, a synth heavy track with a very opera-sound. At The Gates played the heavier parts of the song with incredible enthusiasm that made it feel like it was another interlude, rather than a finale to the evening. But with a set that was approaching 1 hour and 40 minutes, each member bowed to the crowd as the crowd cheered with the applause one would hear as a theatrical play was reaching its close. This wasn’t a typical heavy metal concert, but more of the performance of an artistic piece being showcased on tour for its special anniversary.
Although At The Gates are not the average heavy metal band that is focused on mosh pits or the brutality of their sound, Slaughter of the Soul is an absolutely gorgeous album that showcases the diversity of heavy metal music in its sound and scope. This was not a concert for every metalhead, but it was a uniquely remarkable evening for fans of this album that wanted to appreciate it to the fullest degree. If Slaughter of the Soul is anywhere near your top metal albums of all time, then this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that could not be missed.
Words by: Danny Ryan
Photos by: Greg Flack