Gates to the Morning’s debut album, Return to Earth sits on an interesting line between progressive metal and atmospheric blackgaze. The clean-harsh vocal contrasts remind one of the earliest Opeth efforts, the abstract dynamics and intricate musicianship shows tinges of Tool or Dream Theater, and the dreamlike tone is right in line with Agalloch and Alcest. The tropes are certainly familiar, and combinations of these influences have yielded numerous variations, but Return to Earth utilizes them in a truly unique fashion.
For starters, the musicianship on this album is absolutely immaculate. The guitars alternate between choppy tremolo rhythms and fluid prog leads while the keyboards and bass provide wistful textures on near equal footing. The vocals seem a little distant at times but work well with the mixed approach, and the drums provide sufficient energy despite feeling a little clinical overall. The production is incredibly clean with enough vibrancy to avoid sounding artificial and the mix allows for near perfect balance among the instruments no matter how dense things may get.
The album’s songwriting method is also quite interesting. The tracks often feel more like fragments than proper songs, following nonlinear structures in themselves and often flowing into one another with shifting dynamics at every corner. This can make for a tricky listen as individual highlights are tough to point out, but the precise musicianship is enough to indicate the intent behind what would’ve been rather slapdash compositions in lesser hands. Songs feel like movements in a greater suite, which was most likely the intent given the concept album frame.
Speaking of concepts, one can detect an emotional core that develops over the course of the album. Tracks toward the beginning like “Terra Incognita” have a dark, somber edge to them that gradually lightens up as tracks like “Freezing the Sundials” start coming in. The more vocally driven “Chapel Perilous” throws a stirring curveball that effectively plays into the aggression of “Crestfallen” and “Chasing Shadows.” By the album’s end, tracks like “Steadfast” and “Rekindled” feature optimistic, life-affirming instrumentation that comes to a gorgeous conclusion on the title track.
Overall, Gates to the Morning’s debut album is a lot to swallow but there’s no denying its masterful prog metal construction. The instrumentation showcases intricate skill without losing sight of the bigger picture while the emotional narrative gives the listener a sense of direction without getting too overwrought. It might’ve benefitted from more concise songs or a tighter overall runtime, but its dedication to atmosphere ensures a very pleasant listen. With how much work was put into this album, one can only hope that future installments hold to the same passion.
“Return to Earth”