On Monday, Swedish death metal legends—that’s right, fucking legends—At the Gates announced that they signed to Century Media and planed to record and release their first new studio album since 1995’s landmark Slaughter of the Soul later this year. No biggie, right? Well, Decibel thought it was worth looking into a little further, so frontman and longtime dB-supporter Tomas Lindberg was kind enough to give us the band's first interview about At War With Reality, featuring the first new ATG tunes in nearly two decades.
When At the Gates first reformed in 2007, there were no plans at all for a new studio album. What changed and when did you start thinking about doing this album?
I think a lot happened, mentally, when we decided to continue touring. When we started to do the global thing in 2011. That whole idea of being an active band, touring and hanging out, just grew on us, I guess. To be able to be in a band that has no internal problems whatsoever, to be able to tour around the world together with some of your best friends, it´s just incredible, mind-blowing even. Then the idea just grew on us. I play in a band that involves some of my favorite musicians and songwriters and we are all still very hungry, creatively. I think that you can hear that in all our other projects, they are very alive and pushing boundaries still—from Anders [Björler’s] solo album, to Agrimonia, to the new reinvigorated the Haunted line up, to Disfear and Lock up, to Paradise Lost and Vallenfyre. We feel that we have great and relevant new music in us. And we know how important this next album will be. When Anders came around saying that he had been jamming some new ideas around, it was not hard to make the decision to go ”all in”, so to say. I know it´s kind of a gamble or what you want to call it. But this is a very creative album that we are writing right now, it´s not a comfortable “Slaughter of the Soul Pt. 2” or anything like that, it´s an album that I feel is pushing our own boundaries, and challenges our collective creative intellect. And that is the main reason for us to do this, it´s for our own sake. We could easily go out and continue touring the old stuff successfully for quite a while, I think, but this is us putting ourselves on the line here, and we do that solely because we feel that we need to do this, this material is too strong to say no to.
About how many new songs do you have complete?
It’s about 14 songs or so right now. At least 11 or 12 of them have been deemed album worthy by the whole band. All in all, I have 111 different files on my computer with different ideas, arrangements and parts of songs. As I said it’s a very creative, fulfilling process, me and Anders talk—on the phone, in person or via email—at least five, six time each day about song structures, lyrical arrangements specific song order and so on. I feel the same vibe that I have talked about before, the vibe that existed when we were writing Slaughter of the Soul. We live and breathe this new album, 24/7.
Considering all the musical projects between the members of the band, has the writing process be difficult to navigate?
Not at all, first we let Anders’ initial ideas set in with us all before we started to get more involved as a band. Personally, I think I got seriously involved when I came up with the lyrical concept of the record, and started to work more head-on towards that. That would be around August last year, if I remember right. We have talked about the record a lot before actually starting the more direct, hands-on work as well. Just to make sure that we are all on the same page. What does everyone want a new At the Gates record to be? And with the logistics it´s just down to planning, the internet has helped a bit though—it surely has. But this is a real album, by a real band, so the actual rehearsing process has to be full on 100% live and that will take some planning for sure. But we prioritize.
Most people might be expecting the new material to be in the vein of Slaughter of the Soul, but are there any plans to showcase the more angular and progressive influences of the first ATG EP, Gardens of Grief, and first two studio albums as well?
As I said we have gone beyond the idea of making “Slaughter of the Soul Pt. 2,” which was actually never the idea to start with. This is an album that is so full on conceptually and creatively, so involved and ambitious that I am almost compelled to call it pretentious. And that brings me back to the feeling that was with us when we were creating With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. I’m not saying that this album sounds like that album, but it has that burning urge, the sense of importance that album is trying to portray. As I have always stated, we are an honest band, a band that is very focused on being true to ourselves and never follow any trends or try to portray a given perception of what people want us to be. What we decided on was really to let the music take us where it had to go, to go “all in” so to say. To answer your question, the record will be filled with a lot of the Slayer worship and riffage that is Slaughter of the Soul, but people will also recognize the more dark, melodic side that was With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, and maybe some of the more pretentious arrangements that was part of our early career.
The bar for “death metal comebacks” is now Surgical Steel. Is At the Gates prepared to meet that? Not to mention the legacy of Slaughter of the Soul?
We set our own bar—and it’s higher than Slaughter of the Soul and Surgical Steel combined. I know that a lot of people have expectations of what a new At the Gates album would be like, good or bad. But it’s our own expectations that will have to be met at the end of the day, and they are higher than anyone’s out there, I can reassure you that. The pressure is on, but the pressure comes from ourselves more than anyone else. At the Gates have never been a band that compares itself to other bands and therefore we are prepared to present a new album with material and integrity all on its own, strong enough to meet the expectations of our fans and metal fans in general, that´s what I would say. Personally, it has been a challenge, but I think it´s important to face these kind of challenges head-on. And you have to remember that none of the previous At the Gates records was greeted with any big praise when they were released, and that fact comes from that we wrote them for ourselves, just as we have written At War With Reality for ourselves. Speaking of Carcass though, Jeff [Walker] has been picking my brain about this for a long time, and we ARE on a similar journey, the two bands. And seeing them not die doing this maybe helped ease the angst a little, haha! And it’s a good album, Surgical Steel, it really is—and seeing the band live in 2013 with new songs in the set list was invigorating, but remember they had to follow up Swansong, and not Heartwork...