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Generations Collide: At The Gates & Light This City

to drink from the night itself

Last Friday, two generations of melodic death metal released new songs which proved the genre’s enduring appeal. At The Gates, one of the genre’s pioneers in the 1990s, dropped “A Stare Bound In Stone,” the second single from To Drink From The Night Itself, following the record’s title track. The same day, California’s Light This City unveiled “A Grotesque Reflection,” their first piece of new material since 2008’s Stormchaser. These two acts could be considered anachronistic, but the passing of time has been more kind to both of them.

Of the two, Light This City benefit the most from being “unstuck from their past.” Like fellow Americans The Black Dahlia Murder, the band spent the 2000s lumped in with that decade’s ascendant metalcore scene. While they shared reverence for the harmonized riffs popularized ten earlier by the Swedes, Light This City never diluted their sound with crowd pleasing breakdowns or “Headbangers Ball” friendly choruses. Though The Black Dahlia Murder were able to outlast the skepticism and establish themselves as respectable craftsman, Light This City never were able to catch a hold of the metal audience in quite the same way. This is a shame, considering that by Stormchaser they had developed into a razor sharp riff machine capable of dizzying speed and sly nuance.

Following that record, lead guitarist Ben Murray and singer Laura Nichols broke off to form Heartsounds, a pop punk outfit which couldn’t have been farther from Light This City’s thrashy aggression. In the ensuing years, the trend hoppers and one-hit wonders which may have warded potential listeners from the band’s Gothenburg-by-way-of-the-Bay sound have melted away into obscurity, making it easier to hear Light This City for the promising metal band they always were.

Their years away from the genre haven’t left a mark on “A Grotesque Reflection.” Their touch for weaving inventive riffs through high speed traffic hasn’t aged a day. The band write riffs that sound like they’re cross stitching while sitting on the top of a moving car. Light This City don’t change the genre’s melodic template, but they make each chord change fresh by syncopating their phrases and darting in and out of the song’s steady rhythm. Nichols’ rasp is in terrific form too, if anything the time spent harmonizing in Heartsounds sounds like was a extended rest for her vocal chords. Having returned with the full force of the band behind her, Nichols uses the images of Greek mythology to detail how the living carry the potential for sudden death with them at all times. Even on the verge of their mortality, Light This City have never sounded more alive.

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The stakes are much lower for At The Gates. At this point, 23 years removed from their world-beating album Slaughter Of The Soul, the band are playing with house money. It’s no surprise why their reputation has only grown when compared to their Swedish melodeath contemporaries. Their long absence allowed them to avoid flatlining, and, by returning with a record true to their sound, they saved themselves the embarrassment of turning into a mockery. In their 2014 return, At War With Reality, they successfully waited out their shoddy imitators across the pond and were able to return as rightful kings.

The band continue to hold their claim to the throne on “A Stare Bound In Stone.” Following the tone set by At War With Reality, the song is a dour and direct. After writing more riffs than they knew what to do with for their first two albums, the band wisely streamlined and vaulted themselves into the realm of metal royalty. Their knack for nuance has never quite left them, though. In between the mean-mugging riffs that make up the bulk of the song, they sneak in bouts of counterpoint and atmospheric arpeggios. Like the rest of the metal pantheon, At The Gates are able to rewrite riff-centric music that nevertheless holds up as a self-contained song, complete with recognizable verses and choruses that spiral out for tasty digressions when necessary.

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What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, when the metal scene was enraptured with the radioactive pizza of the rethrash movement and metalcore was developing a taste for crab rangoon, few would have had the stomach for what Light This City and At The Gates serve here. Don’t spoil your appetite with these hor d’oeuvres, though, as the main dishes promise to be too good to pass up.

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