BraveWords Hears The New AT THE GATES - “It’s Darker And More Evil” Than Slaughter Of The Soul
September 5, 2014, 7 years ago
I know, it’s no way to describe a metal record, but smooth was the first word that came to mind when the first six tracks from the highly-anticipated reunion studio album from At The Gates burst out of guitarist Anders Björler’s Samsung phone. I plugged into headphones while sitting on the grass beside Björler and singer Tomas Lindberg in the VIP area at the Wacken Open Air 2014. I only say it ‘cause you can make this shit up. Me, like you, have treasured their Slaughter Of The Soul game-changer for 20 years. And to hear new music was thought to be a pipe-dream. In order of what possibly was going to be the first side of the album (the band was undecided, but it ends up being side one): “Death And The Labyrinth”, the title track “At War With Realty”, “The Circular Ruins”, “Heroes And Tombs”, “The Conspiracy Of The Blind” and “Order From Chaos”. It was a bold step to reunite to perform live, but an even ballsier move to actually think you could create new material that would live up to your name, past and reputation.
BraveWords: What were the conversations that you had to make this happen? What was going through your head, cuz the entire metal world is paying attention to a new At The Gates album.
Anders: “Of course its based in the 2008 reunion, the fun we had and the years following up from that. We have so much fun together and enjoy each other’s company, playing music together and we thought what the hell, let’s write some music. It’s not like we’ve been in a cave for 20 years, we’ve been quite active.”
BraveWords: At what stage in the reunion did you look at each other and say we’ve got to do a record.
Anders: “It was pretty late actually.”
Tomas: “I would say - and I’m speaking for Anders now, but he can interrupt any second - but when he dropped out of The Haunted, and did his solo record (2013’s Antikythera). I would say you had to get that out of your system, all that stuff. And when he started writing again and doing metal stuff, he approached me and said this might be At The Gates stuff, what do you think about doing that? That’s kind of what happened. I had all the time for it. We are a great bunch of friends, as Anders said, we had this brilliant time together. The world paying attention is sometimes a good thing. As a band, you travel the world, you do the shows, you meet all these people, you have a great time together. What’s the fifth thing you do as a band, you create stuff, and that was the only thing missing really. I’ve been writing a lot of music with a lot of people, and Anders too, but we haven’t been writing stuff together for 19 years. So we said let’s try this, let’s see where it leads us. Very early when we first started thinking about what people would want, what would people expect and how we should approach this blah, blah blah. But after two or three songs, we looked at each and said, ‘we don’t give a fuck about people’s expectations.’ There was never any expectations on any other At The Gates record, because we were always an underground band. Let’s just do what we always did, write from the heart, create something together that we are proud of, that we feel is us. As soon as we found that, it worked.”
BraveWords: Upon first listen, I immediately thought that you are doing the metal world a dis-service by not releasing new music. But I was expecting At War With Realty to be faster and full-on thrashing madness, whereas there’s a ton of exploding rhythms.
Tomas: “Rhythm and melancholy and a lot of dark melodies. As for it not being aggressive, we just wanted to be honest. Playing all the old stuff live for a long time … if you’ve been to an At The Gates show from 2008 and forward, it’s a combined experience of us playing all the old songs like we do now and I think that’s how this album sounds. The really old songs, how we play them now, that’s pretty similar to what we are hearing here. I’m not a musician, so I can say its very well-played, very focused, very precise, but it also has that melancholy dark light of the early albums.”
BraveWords: What about the fans that are saying this just a money grab?
Tomas: “As soon as they listen to the record that won’t (laughs)”
Anders: “We don’t really care about that anymore. We try to make music we like, not matter how cliche that is”
BraveWords: Seriously, there’s got to be a need to be creative. You just can’t tour on your past without driving your artistic side nuts! It’s a machine that requires to be well-oiled.
Anders: “You can’t be scared by people’s expectations … you just have to do it. We know we can do it.”
BraveWords: So how would you describe this album to fans that are chomping at the bit to hear this!
Anders: “It lands in some kind of familiarity with the old At The Gates, with a fresh costume.”
Tomas: “When Anders says it is a fresh costume, it’s not like it’s nu-metal. There’s no cleaning singing on the album.”
BraveWords: The production is sick. Talk about working with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman (In Flames, Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir) and then with Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios (Opeth, Amon Amarth, Kreator)
Tomas: “We were very meticulous. Me and Anders were actually finished with the whole writing process - music and lyrics - in January. It was just details from then on and we went into he studio in June, so you can imagine what kind of detail went on for that long. But I would say for the money grab thing - I’m still holding onto that question - it would be easy to do another Slaughter Of The Soul, but have a little bit more melody on the choruses. That would be a money grab, right? It’s darker, almost more evil. The heavier parts are heavier, the faster parts are faster. It’s a very …”
BraveWords: Smooth was the word that sprung to mind, but that makes it feel like a Sade record.
Anders: “That’s what we like about Jens mixing. Brutal easy listening somehow.”
BraveWords: Of course you are fans of this genre as well, so were you paying attention to the Carcass record? The Black Sabbath record? I can see it in your faces that you knew this had to be as good as the Carcass record. Right? Artistic failure was not an option…
Anders: “Our aim was higher.”
Tomas: “When we did Slaughter Of The Soul, there was a conscious decision that we’re aiming for the highest ever. We were trying to do our Reign In Blood (Slayer), Darkness Descends (Dark Angel) our Killing Technology (Voivod). The same thing here. We aimed at doing our South Of Heaven this time. But you know, you say aim high as usual, but we have to create a powerful album that we want to listen to, with all of our influences built in. I would say as a fan, I would not be worried at all. I mean, there will always be opinions, about this style, but this album is more diverse, but the diversity comes from the back catalog of At The Gates. It’s more melancholy and song-driven than anything we’ve done before. Slaughter Of The Soul was very even, it was aggressive from point A to point B. Whereas Terminal Spirit Disease (1994) had those really dark moments aside from being really thrashy and hard. And that is kind of more of what we are doing now.”
BraveWords: Slaughter Of The Soul still remains that remarkable achievement. How does it continue to live and breath as it ages? There are so many fans that are still picking this record up today. Can you believe that you created this masterpiece?
Tomas: “When I was 22!”
Anders: “Yes, it was about our age, but also pent-up frustration from a crushed European tour. We had a lot of things to prove at that point in time. So yes, a lot of things fell into place at the right moment in time.
Tomas: “We were very angry at that point. If you compare every At The Gates record we’ve done, there is no record that sounds the same as the one before. They are all different all the time. And the record is different too, but there are some familiar aspects as Anders says. People who have only heard Slaughter Of The Soul will only hear that.”
Anders: “If the fans have the history of the back catalog, they will know that we’ve tried to evolve on each album. So it’s just natural.”
Tomas: “(At War With Reality) is very honest and written from the heart. Lyrically the whole record is one concept. What you heard was probably the A-Side because there are no fillers. We’re still moving them around because we believe in them all.
BraveWords: While listening I just jotted down a quick summary quote: At The Gates … Hell Awaits, pure genius.
Tomas: “Whoa, Hell Awaits is one of my favourite Slayer records.”
(Photos: Individual shots by Daniel Falk; Anders, Tomas and “Metal” Tim by Leif Jensen)