AT THE GATES
Have these Swedes delivered the metal album of the year?
It’s early August and is in the press area at Germany’s Wacken Open Air festival. Alongside a few other journalists, we’re privy to At The Gates’ new platter, At War With Reality; reportedly the first “outside of the band circle” to hear nearly- completed mixes of several tracks.
Afterwards, frontman Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg admits being anxious about the gathered media’s thoughts. He’s thus evidently sated by suggestions the cuts encapsulate elements of all the Swedes’ previous releases – such as the darkness of 1994’ s Terminal Spirit Disease and 1995 swansong Slaughter Of The Soul’s fury – without being a mere retread.
“We first talked a lot about what we wanted, and maybe even what fans expected,” he comments. “But dropped that after a month of writing, and said we have to write only from the heart. If you are an artist and express yourself artistically, you do that for people to hear it. Of course you anticipate what they will think about it, but we were honest about how we wrote the record, that we wrote it for ourselves.”
Fast- forward a couple of months and via phone the articulate growler seems more relaxed, having since been afforded positive feedback regarding the finalised At War With Reality. It was surreal hearing Lindberg referring to its predecessor, the stone- cold classic Slaughter… as somewhat onedimensional during our conversation in Germany. Already progenitors of Gothenburg melodic death metal, it helped establish the blueprint for everyone from Killswitch Engage to Amon Amarth to follow, even pillage.
However, the frontman believes the new LP is well- rounded. “When we had done Slaughter… and started touring on that, we realised… People were telling us they liked the more melancholic arrangements and feelings [ of previous releases], as it was so aggressive and hateful. We wanted to bring more of that in, and felt it was holding us back to just look at Slaughter.... We wanted to have a bigger picture, and when we started to write it came naturally that a lot of these songs had a little bit of an own identity. I really like that with this record. I think it’ll be a longer lifespan. Maybe it will take a few listens to get into, but then it will last longer.”
During their initial comeback gigs circa 2008, At The Gates remained adamant another album wouldn’t occur. The Flames Of The End DVD emphasised the triumphant reunion jaunt being finite; a victory lap they never enjoyed the first time around. Speaking to prior to the band’s 2012 Australian run, Lindberg was non- committal on the topic.
“The more global touring was definitely something that helped the decision to do the new record,” he says now. “But it was not intentional; ‘ Let’s go out and see how we feel about it’. We wanted to play live together, because we enjoyed it so much, and were able to go to all these places we hadn’t been to before together. So that was done for the sake of us wanting to do that, and now we’re doing the record because all of a sudden this is what we want to do. That’s the only way to be honest to ourselves and the fans: do what we want to do. Even if it’s not what people expect or if it goes against what we have said before; bold statements about no new record or whatever,” he chuckles.
The new collection of brutal, yet melodic gems arrives amidst a vastly different extreme metal climate compared to the mid-‘ 90s. “There’s plenty more sub- genres, plenty more good bands and plenty more bands altogether. It wasn’t [ possible] that anybody could produce a good- sounding record at home and release it worldwide without actually having proper distribution. That has opened a lot of doors, and I think it’s a good thing because people can be creative without economic aspects holding them back.
“This has created a larger metal landscape, and I think the role for At The Gates in all of this is we are a creative band that is honest to ourselves. We have changed, as everybody changes from record to record, but our main influences, the core influence of the band hasn’t changed so much. I think there’s still a place for us; this aggressive, melancholic death metal band with a lot of melody and harmonies.”
Lindberg claims Slaughter’s widespread reverence was largely attributable to timing. “The death metal genre, it was a bit generic at that time and it was something new and fresh.” The quintet already blazed their trail; expecting them to do so again seems churlish. “I think in one way death metal has come and gone through a lot of slow periods or trends, but where we are right now… I see a lot of these trends existing at the same time, and you can be into a few of them at the same time. I think we are a little more death metal and aggressive than some of our more melodic peers,” he laughs. “But we are also more melodic than some of our death metal peers. I think there’s a balance that would be to our advantage.”
Speaking of equilibriums, maintaining one in life is a priority. They’ll be more active touring- wise, but Lindberg won’t be quitting his teaching job anytime soon. “We still want to keep it a little bit like a hobby… We don’t want to burn ourselves out and go playing shows because we have to, because we have to pay our bills or the record company says we have to play certain areas. We want to go because we want to go, and because we are inspired and fired up.”
As for the final word, it’s a return to northern Germany. “Now that we are back, we are back as an active band on a different level. We’re not just this reformed band that goes around playing old stuff. We’re a current band.”