Saturday, February 18, 2023

Gates of Ishtar - A Bloodred Path (1996)

Of all the many second string melodic Swedish death and black metal bands, Invasion Records or adjacent that I've been writing about lately, Gates of Ishtar might have had the most subcultural penetration around me in the mid 90s. This was a band of hopefuls that most of my metal friends knew about, even those who weren't heavily versed in the underground; many picked up their CDs at the local shops, and some even venerated them on a similar level to Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. I'm not going to claim that they were as distinct as their peers, in fact I think why they ultimately folded, but it's clear from even listening to this debut that they were solid, professional songwriters who knew the right balance for that particular strain of melodic death metal before it had even fully imprinted on the metal universe.

A Bloodred Path still sounds tight in the modern age, with a roster that included Oskar Karlsson, who had drummed on a number of the Invasion and related acts, several in a similar style (like The Everdawn), and this was probably his most popular band. There was also the vocalist, Mikael Sandorf who would go on to continue this style with The Duskfall, which saw some success as well, but never quite struck me as impressively as this band once did. Essentially this is the band which had it all...intense drumming that seemed effortless, no end to the streams of melody they could tear out from their strings, a good mix of bass that stood itself out in places from the rhythm tracks, and a vocalist who was well versed in that At the Gates style of punchy syncopated snarling. Listening back on this debut today, it does suffer from that effect where the more Swedish melodeath I hear, the more exhausted I get with melodies that seem rather predictable, but 25 years ago this all felt much fresher, like these Swedes had resurrected the NWOBHM bands, sped up their melodies and harmonies, and cloaked them in a savage death metal influence which would keep them current and appealing to all the death metal, black metal and metalcore fans.

And this album is really damn consistent, so much that I wouldn't dare pick out particular songs over others, because they all strike at the same level of quality and emotion. They're not absolute earworms like you'd hear on The Jester Race, but they were close enough that you can understand why fans of some of the bigger Swedish acts in the niche would turn to this as an immediate backup. Fast, intricate, well plotted, there was no question that these guys were going to pull more attention, and thus no surprise when they finally did. While I wasn't as hot on them as the aforementioned friends of the day, A Bloodred Path definitely holds its own, has grown on me in time, and there's no way I can deny the level of talent they had in their midst.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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