artifact 003: the dawn of flames

Gates of Ishtar came out swinging in the first third-tier poll, taking nearly half the votes in a battle that left some pretty sick albums (and Night in Gales’s debut) fighting for the scraps:

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These guys burned quick n’ hot in the formative years of melodeath, releasing three albums in quick succession before splitting up in 1998-ish. (Vocalist Mikael Sandorf would eventually grab a guitar and form The Duskfall–whose first two albums will likely get covered here at some point–and also join Bam Margera-approved death n’ roll dorks Helltrain.) The Dawn of Flames is the second album in their trilogy, and in a lot of ways, encapsulates the late ’90s melodic death metal sound in a way that more acclaimed entries might not.

It’s been difficult for critics to place and process this once-maligned genre’s place in metal history, but someone (their name escapes me, because it’s been at least 10 years) in the pages of Metal Maniacs once described the Gothenburg sound as a super-belated European answer to Bay Area thrash, and that’s always struck me as hella accurate. And while things would evolve as the years went on and bands like Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity would cement the sound as its own-ass thing, Gates of Ishtar took the same NWOBHM / borderline power metal influence that propelled early thrash and pulled it through a death metal filter.

Take “Perpetual Dawn,” the opener: It’s got that clean, Metallica-esque intro to set the stage before the throwdown, but it’s sprinkled with an odd combo of fairyland whimsy and that Tales from the Thousand Lakes WE ARE FROM THE NORTH AND WE ARE VERY SAD melancholy. And when the riffs launch in, it’s all gallop-forward urgency, filled with more angst than bloodthirst.

And that’s really the story of this record. There are some sweet, sweet ’97 melodeath riffs on here, especially on “Dreamfields,” the title track, and the closing bitchslap, “The Embrace of Winter.” Despite general bummer vibes simmering beneath the surface, there’s no lumbering, mid-paced bullshit here, just gnar-ass melodeath windmill material and it RULES.

Melodeathness: 10

Again, while records like TJR and The Gallery are (rightly) lauded as touchstones, Gates of Ishtar absolutely mastered this flickering moment in Swedish death history. While other bands went on to longer careers and higher esteem, The Dawn of Flames is an absolute melodeath clinic. This is time capsule material. Put it in a museum.

Or on Dustin’s hoodie in Stranger Things: Generations.

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Artistic Badness: inconclusive

Actually, dudes are doing a lot of things right here! That logo still holds up really well, and that Arik Roper-style art on the 2017 CM remaster is…

…OH MY GOD.

Oh man.

That’s…

…that’s really bad.

Whew.

Okay!

Deathstyle: 7

Gates of Ishtar were fuckin trendsetters, hugely instrumental in steering the kids away from Johnny Hedlund hesherism and into Swedish sadboy territory:

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The middle-part jesus hair. The plainblack, spartan uniforms. Song subtitles like “The Arrival of Eternity – End My Pain.”

The lack of any discernible personality.

The angst was real, y’all.

Vitality: 9

Despite their relatively brief burn, Gates of Ishtar left an indelible stamp. The Dawn of Flames is a sick little melodeath specimen, and a wholly worthwhile addition to the collections of those that have hit the heavy-hitters’ well too many times. “Eternal Sin,” indeed.

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