At the Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease

Die to Be Set Free
The Making of At the Gates’ Terminal Spirit Disease

We’ve talked about the New Wave of Swedish Death Metal ad nauseam for the better part of our 19-year history. Admittedly, part of that’s my fault, but denying the impact the city of Gothenburg (and its attendant suburbs) has had on the vulgar island we call home is folly. The truculent triad of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and gold medallers At the Gates substantiates the claim that Stockholm wasn’t the only epicenter of death metal. That all three have gone on to wider audiences and deeper meaning isn’t surprising. They had the talent, drive and work ethic to make where they are today. In fact, all three have won Swedish Grammys. All three have toured the globe multiple times. But only one, At the Gates, has three fucking Hall of Fames to their credit, with 1994’s controversial Terminal Spirit Disease roaring in 29 years after its inauspicious release on Peaceville Records.

To understand Terminal Spirit Disease is to go back in time. Between 1992 and 1993, At the Gates were in a transitional phase. The 20-year-olds had released two full-lengths The Red in the Sky Is Ours and With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. The eldest (by five years) and most off-center contributor of the group, Alf Svensson, was on his way out. The innovative guitarist/songwriter had enough of pretty much everything. Sensing the need to pivot, the remaining members of At the Gates—vocalist Tomas Lindberg, bassist Jonas Björler, guitarist Anders Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson—simply followed their guts. Less Watchtower, more Slayer. Actually, more thrash, doom and hard rock. The Björler brothers were now the songwriting primaries, and they were eager to dust off old-school passions in search of a new sound. They hired House of Usher guitarist Martin Larsson to fill Svensson’s void while they honed in on what would become the machinery that eventually constructed their genre-defining, genre-creating hallmark full-length Slaughter of the Soul.

Terminal Spirit Disease is that enginery. Concise, ridiculously air guitar-worthy, yet rife with red-hot aggression, At the Gates were able to harness and distill their most cherished twentysomething ideals into “The Swarm,” “Forever Blind,” “The Fevered Circle,” “The Beautiful Wound” and the title track. Back then, the world wasn’t quite ready for At the Gates Mark II. It shared little with its predecessors, apart from Lindberg’s exasperated howl. In many ways, Terminal Spirit Disease conflicted with the peers of its time. Not only because it featured a bewilderingly modern cover piece, but because it went straight for the throat, and did so with all of the heft and brevity of Reign in Blood.

Almost a decade has passed since we bestowed The Red in the Sky Is Ours with Hall of Fame honors and another 18 unbelievable years have (kingdom fucking) gone since we locked evergreen slaymaster Slaughter of the Soul behind our Hall’s gnarly gates. Not to be outdone by youthful vigor or overshadowed by a late-life triumph, At the Gates’ unsung third album, Terminal Spirit Disease, hereby storms into Decibel’s house despondent, teeth bared and violently incandescent.

Need more classic At the Gates? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on Terminal Spirit Disease, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.