‘There’s a Lot of Stuff to be Angry About’: At The Gates
The Swedish melodic death metal veterans’ frontman Tomas Lindberg on how they channeled aggression on their new album
At The Gates were, at one point, considered one of the most prolific bands in Swedish melodic death metal. They offered a raw, aggressive take on the genre in comparison to the polished delivery of their peers In Flames or Dark Tranquillity and with four albums in three and a half years between 1992 and 1995, they were well on their way to greatness. It all came to an abrupt end in 1996 however, with the band’s decision to call it quits at the height of critical acclaim.
Which is why it’s no surprise that the Gothenburg band’s comeback album At War With Reality (2014) became one of the most lauded metal records that year. Over the phone from Germany, where he’s spending his day doing just interviews, frontman Tomas Lindberg says he wouldn’t change a single decision. “It’s always been that we appreciate where we are now. We wouldn’t try to change the past. You never know what would have happened. We’re in a super brilliant position now and we have the resources and knowledge now and grateful that we have fans who support us,” he says.
Now promoting their sixth album, To Drink From the Night Itself (out via Century Media Records on May 18th), Lindberg spoke to Rolling Stone India about the pressures of a comeback and inviting heavy metal act King Diamond’s guitarist Andy LaRocque for a second time. Excerpts:
There were follow-up expectations when At War With Reality released and then it became so well-appreciated. Did the same expectations hang around when you began working on this album?
It was a different pressure this time. We said to ourselves that we don’t want the outside pressure that held us down with At War With Reality. We really went for it on that record, we needed to do that record. We needed to sound like that. When we listen back to it, we still felt like it was a little bit safe, you know? A bit controlled and polished in the sound department. We’re super proud of it, but having done that record, we then felt we could do anything [next]. The pressure is off; we can just focus on creating what we want to create again.
The whole Anders quitting thing happened (guitarist and co-founder Bjorler left in 2017) and that put a lot of pressure on me and Jonas (Bjorler, bassist and brother of Anders). There was nothing holding us back, though.
But you like pressure, from what I understand. It almost seems to be the underlying message of his whole album in terms of concepts. Would you agree?
At the Gates has always been about the fact that music and art should feel important and have a sense of urgency. The kind of positive pressure this time probably leaked into the atmosphere of the record. We can almost hopefully hear the urgency in the sound, the desperation of the album. That’s what we like anyway.
Watch the video for “Daggers Of Black Haze” below.
You took influence from a German anti-fascist novel called The Aesthetics of Resistance. I still don’t think your album political as such. Did you have to selectively be influenced, in a sense?
Yeah. It’s a brick of a novel. Basically, it was the emotional impact of the novel that I wanted to address in my words and let it influence the music. It’s like that melancholic desperation. It fits so perfectly – the ideas of art and resistance – it really struck a chord with me and I really felt that… we’ve been talking so much about how much this means to us and how much At the Gates should mean for anyone who listens to us, so we just felt that, ‘Okay, we’re speaking about the importance of art and art is like an important part of understanding your cultural heritage, your own position in the world and make something out of it. It all blended together into this thing I wanted to express.
What do you think of the current European right-wing wave, something that’s also being seen around the world, including India? You’re in a punk band too (The Great Deceiver), so I imagine as a punk at heart, this matters.
At the Gates is not a political band in that sense. For us, this populism that’s rising in Europe as well as in other parts of the world as you say, that right-wing populism has got space to grow because of our apathy, in a way. That’s why we want to light this beacon of urgency, importance – do something with your life and wake up. Start enjoying art, culture, know a little more about the world around you. We’re not saying what’s right or wrong, we’re just saying we need to wake up from the apathy, because it’s given things like right-wing populism the air to breathe.
You had Andy LaRocque on “In Nameless Sleep” on this album – how did that come about?
We had worked with him once before in the Nineties, but that was like… we were just young kids and he was this guy we looked up to a lot. We were huge King Diamond fans. Someone that we knew happened to know him and we managed to get him into the studio to record that solo. Now, we are good acquaintances and friends. He knows about the band now and he knows our history so we really felt that we could take it to the next step. It sounds amazing back then, but to write together this time and with a part that really fitted his style, he could work with us on it, in a more developed way. This song had the part we could develop into a perfect Andy LaRocque part.
It’s still a very angry album still. Thirty years on, how do you stay angry?
There’s a lot of stuff to be angry about, of course (laughs). We try to channel only aggression, but also, like I said, the urgency, melancholy, anguish – those kind of emotions. The macho kind of aggression has never been an At The Gates trademark, maybe Slaughter of the Soul (1995) was more testosterone kind of aggression, but every other album we’ve done has aggression with depth.
Lastly, any plans to come to India? I heard you had a show in the works.
Every album cycle, I do some interviews with India and I know we have fans there, it will be brilliant to finally have the chance to come over. We’re not super informed about the scene as such, but we know there are super-dedicated fans out there and they’d make a special effort to see their favorite bands play live.
Watch the video for “To Drink From the Night Itself” below.