When it was first released, At the Gates' Earache debut Slaughter of the Soul was regarded as a generally excellent example of Gothenburg-style melodic death metal, and certainly the band's best and most focused album to date. But the commonly held view was that it wasn't anything all that special, either. After all, it lacked the intricate twin-guitar leads of In Flames, the complex song structures of Dark Tranquillity, the progressive artistry of Edge of Sanity, or even the rock & roll underpinnings of latter-day Entombed. Slaughter of the Soul was more obviously rooted in American thrash (especially Slayer) than its peers, and didn't seem to be consciously trying to break new ground. It was simply a stripped-down, no-frills melodic death album that hit all the basic points of the style. In hindsight, though, that's precisely what made the album resonate so strongly. It gets those basics gloriously right: rhythmically kinetic riffs, tight song construction, and enough tempo and dynamic contrasts to keep the listener engaged. More than on any of the band's previous albums (and in contrast to the more sweeping visions of their Gothenburg cohorts), the songs on Slaughter of the Soul are concise, sharply honed assaults; only one makes it all the way to the four-minute mark. The tempo shifts are executed with stop-on-a-dime precision and never feel randomly placed; the band always seems fully in control of its furious outbursts. So even if Slaughter of the Soul wasn't revolutionary, it turned out to be the leanest, meanest, and most focused example of the melo-death style. Key to its influence was the way its straightforward aggression and back-to-basics approach kept the music simple enough to be duplicated: a whole generation of metalheads across the Atlantic used this record as a textbook for learning to play this style. It's also important to note that in place of the usual guttural death grunts, vocalist Tomas Lindberg here adopts a strangled shriek that actually keeps the lyrics somewhat intelligible. Not only does it put a more human face on the music, it also bears a significant resemblance to the kinds of vocals that were coming into vogue among screamo bands in the American punk underground. This point of connection helped set the stage for At the Gates' massive influence on the metalcore movement, which became the predominant style in American metal during the first decade of the 2000s. This legion of imitators was what finally stamped Slaughter of the Soul as not merely excellent, but as an all-time classic and one of the most influential metal albums of the ‘90s.
Review by Steve Huey