At the Gates, Rotten Sound - Nosturi, Helsinki, 22/11/14

This year, At the Gates released their first new album in nineteen years. Hearing it performed live, in my new home of Helsinki, was something I was not going to miss. Opening up a night of excellent music, friends and memories were Vaasa's intensely brilliant Rotten Sound.

The first band I ever wrote about for Metal as Fuck was At the Gates. I’d won a ticket to see them in Melbourne through a competition the magazine was holding. I’d stopped writing anything mildly creative during my last batch of studies, so was rusty when afterwards our editor Scott Adams asked me to put together some words on the experience. What does this have to do with a concert in Helsinki? Not much, but stick with me. 

At the Gates is one of those markers in my life, dividing up the time into blocks. To list a couple: I discovered At the Gates during a bit of a teen-existential crisis in early high-school, a housemate in my first university degree played the Slaughter of the Soul album on repeat every Sunday morning, and the band reunited as I started my second degree. After that Melbourne show I found myself back writing. Writing lead to upgrading from film to digital, then trying to remember everything my long-suffering photography teacher had taught me in university. (I photographed broken furniture for a semester after he called my style “advertorial”).

Now I was seeing the band live, halfway across the world, closer to their hometown than mine, from behind a lens in the photo pit with friends. I’d seen the band in the interval (marking moving to Helsinki), but this marker in time was two years of metal-writing and finally feeling at home in Finland. 

I arrived at the venue early, picking my way over snow that had turned to treacherously slippery ice in the weak Saturday sun. Moving through the now familiar steps of collecting my photo-pass, putting my winter layers in at the cloakroom, and trailing upstairs to the main venue area, I suddenly felt a burst of homesickness. In Melbourne, it was a spiral of stairs downwards to the venue, so I guess everything is upside down in Australia.

Rotten Sound is a Finnish deathgrind band originally from Vaasa. If you haven’t heard of them, you might have heard of their former drummer, Kai Hahto. They are intense, they are in your face and they are addictive to see live. The area in front of the stage was half-filled with enthusiastic fans, giving an illusion to not many people being at the venue yet. However, the small stage-level bar was already packed and the railings of the balcony bar were filled. 

I have another confession, I dance to Rotten Sound. Some might think it strange for a deathgrind/grindcore/crust punk band to open up for one of the major progenitors of the Gothenburg scene, but Rotten Sound manage to incorporate a real understanding of melody into their in-your-face sound. Live, the sound is thick, unforgiving and well-balanced. With just enough distortion, throat-ripping vocals and a good spread of treble, thick mids and supportive bass, it’s once again a pleasure to listen to and watch. However, it’s over too soon with just a short opening set tonight.

Before At the Gates enter the stage, it’s just me and Metal-Rules waiting with our cameras, but as we enter the photo-pit the rest of the photographers materialise from the crowd. There is just enough light on stage to see At the Gates enter, silhouetted against the gently lit At War with Reality backdrops. The concert starts just as the new album does, with the increasing tension of El Altar del Dios Desconocido. Then it’s lights, and Death and the Labyrinth slams in with the melodic force that defines At the Gates as the legends they are. Tomas Lindberg’s vocals are still strong and brutal, the riff play of Anders Bjöler and Martin Larsson still perfectly timed and Jonas Bjöler is almost throwing himself into the pit as he lays down the bass lines. Adrian Erlandsson is almost hidden behind the drum set, but the percussive sound is sharp, sweet and steady.

I almost forget what I’m supposed to be doing as Slaughter the Soul starts. I’m meant to be taking photos, not head-banging.  I’m not the only one, as I spot my friend Lady Enslain having the same brief crisis as we pass in the photo-pit. No matter how many times I hear this song live, I’m always caught up in the moment. The crowd is as well, as the front row surges forward behind me. One more song and I’m heading out, through a crowd so thick I just follow the bobbing heads of the photographers in front of me forging a path to the balcony. 

Now this is where I return to why I dragged you through the personal filler text. As I pass through the crowd, I see more friends in the front of stage area, a few as I pass through the downstairs bar, and am greeted with a hug from another as I reach the balcony bar. I’m over 14500km from my hometown, and I no longer feel like a stranger. At the Gates mark this block in my life with the songs from their new album mingling perfectly in the set with old favourites. I’ve put away my camera when Under the Serpent Sun starts, and I’m immersed completely in the music. 

Every time I’ve seen At the Gates they’ve sounded brilliant. On mark, passionate, giving their all to the crowd. And the crowd is giving everything they have back. That’s a mark of a great live band to me. That with a nineteen year gap between records, they’ve not only managed to put together an album that speaks to their fanbase without being repetitive, but that they can still give their old songs the passion live that they are giving the new record.

When the show is over, I almost don’t want to leave, but I am with friends and I have another wonderful live At the Gates show to mark down in my memory. If you haven’t had the chance to see At the Gates live yet, make the chance for yourself. And, if you haven’t heard their new album yet, go find it right away. Mark another block in your life.

Check out our photo gallery from the night.