At the Gates’ Terminal Spirit Disease Turns 20
Released on July 18, 1994, Terminal Spirit Disease marks an end and a beginning in At The Gates' career. It was the last record of their weird and burly early days. Appropriately, it's the apex of their early sound. It was the last record before they became legends. It was the last record before they became a fetish for crummy metalcore. Also, it has some live tracks.
About those burly earlies: At The Gates, along with certain other bands, played a breed of melodeath that was too fierce for casuals and newbs, but not too saccharine for lifers. It's related to Swedish death metal a la Entombed. Think mid-era Dismember, mid-era Edge of Sanity, Karelian Isthmus, or any Amon Amarth record. Substitute the phrase "melodic death metal" for the word "poems", and John Livingston Lowes was describing the style's appeal:
"I dislike poems that black your eyes, or put up their mouths to be kissed."
Circa Terminal Spirit Disease, At The Gates weren't throwing a haymaker, and they weren't ingratiating themselves. They threaded the needle's eye between eye-blacking death metal and the flashy, technical, Iron Maiden and power metal influenced music that began with Colony, Damage Done, and Natural Born Chaos. It's a shame that music like Terminal Spirit Disease, i.e. good melodic death metal and also melodic death metal with descended testes, has fallen so far out of favor. There aren't many modern practitioners of the style. Arsis, maybe, before they turned really technical and then really glammy and then back again.
The EP does have moments that predict Slaughter of the Soul's choppy, thrashy approach to melodeath. The bulk of the riffing sounds like With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness sped up and with a bit less Alf Svensson weirdness. With lyrics like "No goddamn sun/No goddamn pain/I've searched my heart for love, but all in vain/No goddamn sun, no goddamn pain", the riffs need to be big, melodramatic, and dark. Fortunately, they are. They sound like hands thrown up around invisible oranges, like a person having an existential crisis. They sound like life's regrets.
With apologies to Robert Frost's legacy, here's another quote that describes Terminal Spirit Disease. You can see where I removed the word "poem":
"A good melodeath song begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness."