Looking Back: At the Gates – With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness

In a time where the concept of melodic death metal had yet to be fully conceived, Gothenburg-based At the Gates came out with one of the most impenetrable melodic death metal albums ever made. Following a debut that drew attention for its experimental take on death metal, the band was looking to build a tighter and more aggressive sound. The result of their efforts was the intriguing With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness. No less shrouded in darkness and insanity than their previous material yet so much more fierce in its assault.

A picture of the band from the promotional material of With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness

Often regarded as one of At the Gates’ weaker releases, With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness was deemed an ambitious but directionless album. The songwriting was often described as aimless and disjointed, supposedly resulting from the band trying to cram as many ideas as possible into each song. At the same time, however, the abstruse nature of With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkess is one of its most potent qualities.

Largely written by Alf Svensson, the complex compositions are frantic and schizophrenic, displaying a level of technicality that would not make it unthinkable to count With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness among early technical death metal albums. Svensson’s unusual method of occasionally reverse-engineering riffs from playing demos backwards resulted in songs that challenged the contemporary death metal sound. As was the case with their debut, the drumming once again linked At the Gates to grindcore, to the point of the band being labeled “swedish grind masters” in a promotional vinyl pressing for the album. At the same time At the Gates further contributed to the formation of melodic death metal as the previously warring guitars started to sound more harmonic, forming a melodic core at the center of the dark inferno.

Showing their progressive side on songs like Stardrowned and The Burning Darkness, At the Gates once more pushed the boundaries of death metal. The progressive bass playing during the intro to Stardrowned makes for an especially memorable moment due to its out-of-left-field effect. Centerpiece Primal Breath on the other hand comes closest to what can be considered a full-fledged melodic death metal song on this album. As the longest song At the Gates have released to date, Primal Breath is a seven minute epic of picturesque lyrics and grand, wistful melodies. Slowly winding towards its climax similar melodic sensibilities can only be found in the racing, fiery guitars on Non-Divine or the disturbingly evil outro to Blood of the Sunsets.

At the front of the vicious and razorsharp instrumentation, Tomas Lindberg howls, bellows and roars, making more extensive use of the higher end of his register. As one of the most distinctive voices in 90s death metal, Lindberg’s screams really drive home the insane and blasphemous imagery in his lyrics. As something that is often neglected in metal, the lyrics for With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness are especially worth noting as they constitute one of the most fascinating aspects of the album. After the introspective The Red In The Sky Is Ours that put a heavy focus on themes of insanity, At the Gates now turned towards christianity and anti-religious themes.

Mirroring the often counter-intuitive songwriting, the lyrics are cryptic, utilizing chromatics as well as cosmic and biblical symbolism. On With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness Lindberg’s lyricism once again paints vivid yet abstract images. Whereas songs like Primal Breath and The Break Of Autumn are remarkably pictorial, pieces like Blood of the Sunsets and Raped By The Light Of Christ bring back the surreal visuals of The Red In The Sky Is Ours.

The sun sets in a sea of love
Stab your demoniac smile in my brain
Seduce me with the blood of the sunsets
Lock me out from my body and its pain
The golden wine of the sun deep rich purple, white and red
The crimson vintage of life and love
I’m drunk on the blood of the sunsets
I watch the burning clouds fighting to get hold of the sun

Similarly to the instrumentation, however, it is never quite evident if any meaning found in Lindberg’s lyrics is truly intentional. In this sense, the cover art for With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness perfectly captures the music on the album. The painting made by Åke Hodell titled 220 Volt Buddha is a minimalistic piece. It can be assumed that a stained glass window can be seen from inside a building at nighttime. Bright moonlight floods in through the window, carrying a reflection of the motif on the glass. Below the window appears to be a small table on which a selection of flasks or similar containers can be seen. Tomas Lindberg recalls chancing upon the piece in an artbook and being struck by its sexual and religious symbolism as well as the beautiful colors.

For those receptive to it an ominous but irresistably alluring maze of unfathomable darkness will unfold on With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness, whereas more pragmatic listeners may find an album that lost itself somewhere along the way in a rush of ambition. Nevertheless, and if only for this contrast, With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness remains an enigmatic piece of death metal history.

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