There are cool metal albums, and then there are awesome metal albums, and then there is At The Gates‘ Slaughter of the Soul. As infectious as it is demonic, the record set the standard for every melodic death metal band to emerge since its release in 1995. It also inspired the sounds of so many of contemporary metal’s biggest acts — without Slaughter of the Soul, there is no Killswitch Engage, no Black Dahlia Murder, no Darkest Hour. It is a truly revolutionary record, one without which metal would be weaker, less interesting, and not nearly as fun.
Since tomorrow marks 25 years of At The Gates showing us all how it’s done, we decided to rank the 11 tracks which make up the album. This was no easy feat, as part of Slaughter of the Soul‘s charm is that it has zero fat on it — every track on this album rules in its own way. But for the sake of the exercise, we have done our best to rank the songs from least killer to most. Here’s what we’ve reaped as we have sown…
11. “Into The Dead Sky”
Obviously this song ranks last — it’s an interlude, and it’s mostly acoustic. Not that “Into The Dead Sky” is entirely without merit, as the track’s playing both flaunts the guitar interplay between Anders Björler and Martin Larsson, and gives the album some interesting texture. But when it comes to Slaughter of the Soul, we’re just not here for the quiet moments, and that puts this track at the bottom of the heap.
Given its title, it’s ironic that “Need” is as fast and frantic as it is. The track still has a lot of delicious melody in the spiked edges of its riffs, but more than the other songs on the album, this one feels agitated, itchy, desperate to move faster and faster. This lack of nuance makes it a little less interesting than some of its neighbors on the Slaughter tracklist, and lowers it on this list. There’s no shame in being just awesome.
9. “The Flames Of The End”
In the mid-’90s, a track like “The Flames Of The End” must have felt poignant and inevitable. With its mechanized drumbeat, melodramatic synths, and crunching guitar accents, the closing song of Slaughter of the Soul shows At The Gates attempting to get in on the growing trend of industrial metal. The band succeed, writing a track that’s more absorbing than most cybergoths could ever hope to be. That said, it feels a little out of place on this nonstop shred-athon.
8. “Under A Serpent Sun”
Damn, but that meat-grinder intro riff is rad. On the one hand, “Under A Serpent Sun” is immediately recognizable when you hear it, and acts as an important bridge between the two halves of Slaughter of the Soul. On the other, the song doesn’t really have a hook the way its brethren do; when this one comes on, the listener headbangs, but maybe doesn’t look at their friends and grin. A cool, thrashy, moshy deep cut, but most of it rests on that riff.
7. “Unto Others”
“Unto Others” is plagued the opposite issue of “Under A Serpent Sun” — its opening riff is just a death metal lick, not especially melodic or memorable. But the middle of the track is where this song opens up beautifully — the dripping chorus riff is honey for the ear, frontman Tomas Lindberg’s screams of, “My Judas-windows stay shut/Shut forever more” stay stuck in the listener’s head for days; and the solo into the acoustic-lined bridge is just tasty as all hell. Too trad for most, but perfect for the initiated.
Any song that opens with a scream like this deserves heavy rotation. While the title of “Nausea” suggests that it’s about getting sick to your stomach, the track itself is a steel-plated warbeast. Clocking in at two-and-a-half minutes, it illustrates how At The Gates were continuing the traditions of bands like Entombed and Dismember before them even as they were changing the game with new levels of listenability. Get sick.
DUUUUHN DUHNDUHNDUHN. Fuck, and that little cymbal hit? Amazing! “Cold” is a track that could have been filler if it wasn’t so dynamic and enjoyable; as it is, the song is one of At The Gates’ finest moments. Hearing the static racket of the verse kick into the chorus’ gallop gets more fun every time you hear it, and the central line of, “I feel my soul grow cold/Only the dead are smiling” is an iconic metal lyric if there ever was one. A rager that’s no less rad for being complicated.
4. “World of Lies”
“World of Lies” answers the age-old question: Is there a death metal song that would be appropriate for making it rain on a stripper? The solution is found in the song’s opening riff, the kind of big, swingin’ pendulum that groove metal bands only dream about. That coupled with the track’s frantic verses and howled lyrics about the world drenched in the blood of the innocents make this a vicious death metal song that somehow brings the swagger. Only twerking is real.
3. “Blinded By Fear”
Has any song ever sounded so absolutely devilish, so unbeatably catchy, as “Blinded By Fear?” Can any other track so deftly merge a crashing industrial opening and an ominous quote with a riff that sounds like a 150 mph lava flow? What other metal song can boast this sense of momentum, of catchiness, of complete dedication to a sonic aesthetic, as this? Most of all, when they were writing this one, did At The Gates know they’d be changing everything?
2. “Slaughter Of The Soul”
The title track to Slaughter of the Soul is fascinating in its mixture of pace, punch, and melodic power. Though mid-paced, the song has as much forward momentum as opener “Blinded By Fear,” maintaining the sprinting energy with which the album kicks in. That said, the dynamics present throughout — the way the verse riffs cradle Tomas Lindberg’s vocal rhythms, how the chorus moves into that yearning guitar part, the fucking brilliant extra notes on that final chorus breakdown — all display how At The Gates manage to be haunting AND multi-faceted. As such, “Slaughter” does the album justice, and has become the band’s live opener since their revival. Say it with me, now: GO!
1. “Suicide Nation”
God damn, listen to that riff. With a shotgun cock and one of the most churlish, sneering guitar parts ever known to death metal. At The Gates sealed their masterpiece with this unbeatable anthem. Lindberg’s totally unhinged opening shriek propels the Motörhead-via-Obituary lick forward, thrusting the listener into a stampede of sonic pleasure that somehow also feels deeply moving. As Tompa chants “Suicide!” before launching into the line, “Jaws locked around your…spine!” one can’t help but feel like the chaotic, black-skyed world he’s talking about is the one we live in. To be the best track on this album is to be king among champions, and “Suicide Nation” earns its place on that bloody, brain-flecked throne.
Words by Chris Krovatin