Swedish melodic death metal outfit At The Gates are still one of the most important metal bands of the last 30 years. Their genre-defining album, Slaughter of the Soul, is still, to this day, a staple in most metal media/fan album lists and a huge influence on waves of new extreme metal bands.
Recently, the band released their seventh album, The Nightmare Of Being, an album which sees the band exploring a more experimental sound while retaining that familiar “Gothenburg” sound. Just ahead of the release of the album, V13 spoke with frontman Tomas Lindberg Redant about the progressive nature of the new record, the last 30 years, and much more.
So, first of all, I really appreciate your time, thank you. How’s life treating you at the moment?
Tomas Lindberg Redant: “Oh, good. Yeah, we’re moving this weekend. So, it’s a lot going on. But, after the weekend, it’s summer holidays for us teachers.”
That’s perfectly timed as well, what with the new At The Gates record out. Before we talk about the new record, I wanted to go right back to the beginning. Thirty year anniversary last year, was it? How does it feel talking about that? It’s a massive achievement…
“Thank you. It’s a bit weird, because I can still kind of connect to that guy, you know? The young guy and his, like, pretentious ambition. But of course, you know, when you think “shit, I’ve been in this band for 30 years. How old am I?,’ you know? I’m proud of what the band has achieved? How many more records can you do?”
Going back to those days, you mentioned pretentious ambition. What was your ambition going back then? What did you want to achieve?
“With At The Gates It was like, I think it was kind of a reaction from the previous band. I came from Grotesque, which was more, you know, satanic death metal, basically. And I think we felt already then when we were like, 16/17, we felt that we had painted ourselves in a corner. You know, it’s like, also a very ambitious idea for that age. So we said the next time we were going to form, there’s going to be no boundaries. I mean, almost like wrote a statement about that to ourselves that we were going to be avant-garde abstract, do whatever we want kind of thing. In the early days, we tried all of that but, as I said, with a youthful, almost like obnoxious ambition to it. It was charming when you look back on it. You know, we learned so much along the way and that would be a shame if we hadn’t, I guess?”
When Slaughter of the Soul came out that was when things really blew up for you guys and it’s still a record now that people talk about and young bands are influenced by. How does the importance of that record feel especially given that it’s now 20 years since it came out?
“It’s weird in that sense, you notice. That is what the early years kind of lead forward to, that record, when we kind of step by step compressed the songwriting more and more as we learned about, you know, song arrangement, and also being more proficient on our instruments. But when we did Slaughter of the Soul, you know, it was a huge piece of work for us to do. But, after we’d done it, it’s kind of like, Oh, yeah, we know we couldn’t compress this anymore. We knew the next record, you know, would sound the same if we didn’t do something else.
Then, of course, being 22, we didn’t know where to go, hence the break up a little bit. Then coming back like a more mature version of the band, we could look on the whole spectrum of what we had done before. We could look at all the different elements that, you know, At The Gates consists of. We made the comeback based on all these aspects instead of just Slaughter of the Soul and that’s what we tried to do, I guess, and then still look forward at the same time.”
When you reformed, how important was it to do things differently?
“Not have to do things differently but to make it more, I think, Slaughter of the Soul in one way that was like that. That was like, as I said, like the crowning achievement of that era of the band and we worked really hard on it. Therefore, we knew that there was like the legacy kind of thing going on. It was important for us to prove ourselves not only to the listeners but to ourselves that we still thought this is important, you know, for us. That’s what we wanted to prove with At War With Reality and then on in a way. Proving to people like, you know, we’re not just here to rehash what we did before, we want to really make a big statement that is important for us, and that we care so much about the music, you know, to develop and not just look back.”
There was a big gap between Slaughter of the Soul and you reforming. Do you have any regrets about that?
“I don’t think we would be here if, if we didn’t have that break, because during that break we could make, like, all the what we call personal mistakes, and, you know, figure out our lives a little bit, mature from that and come out at the other end with a different perspective as to why At The Gates was important for us. I think that was, that was good for the band, actually. We came back at an age where we were a little bit more mature and we could listen to each other in a different way not just be obnoxious to each other. Yeah. So I think that was good for us.
Working on the last three records has just been, you know, it’s been a lot of work, but there has been a good feeling in the band. It’s been open, and we listen to each other, it’s been very rewarding to come back and kind of, not just like, enjoy the quote/unquote, success or whatever but also enjoy being creative with each other on a mature level.”
Do you think that the fun has come from being older and more mature?
“I guess, it’s fun in a different way? You know, it’s, as I say, it’s rewarding, more, maybe to be creative nowadays because we know what we’re doing for one and then also, you know, we are more aware of what At The Gates is and what At The Gates means to us, and to people. It’s kind of like developing the band is interesting but, to do that and still keep the main core of the sound or the emotional core of the band, that’s the challenge. And, we love challenges. That’s what drives this band.”
Just finishing off that whole chapter. When the reunion was announced, were you surprised at the interest?
“Yeah, we had no idea what was going on there. We thought we’d play like 500 person clubs or whatever, maybe play a festival or two. But it was like what is this? You know, we had no idea and that whole summer was, it was kind of moving, you know, I had no idea and it was, it was amazing to see people’s reactions. It became even overwhelming, almost, but in a nice way, you know?”
Forward the clock, you’ve now got the new record coming out. You’ve described it as a darker record, and it is a very dark album. Given your work as a social studies teacher, do you get inspired by the things you teach? Or the discussions you have with your students? Does that inspires you as a lyricist?
“Everything goes into like that, you know, that you take in or give out like, goes into who you are, I suppose and therefore inspires you. I think if I would just draw from the students, I would be more optimistic, I guess, because I think they will take care of the world better than we have. I actually have some hope and I look at them, they’re, you know, they’re bright, they’re interested, the control is already embedded in their system. It’s a good generation that’s coming up. I read a lot, that’s the main source of inspiration, probably like, you know, reading and stumbling upon new ideas, you know, trying to learn new things.”
You’ve spoken about reading a lot of horror material. Is that something new which you’ve taken up during the lockdown or have you always been a big reader?
“Always, always read a lot since my 20s. I change all the time what I read and get into these different periods where I’m only reading the Russian classics and now I’m going that direction, whatever. At the time, it was actually because I was doing research for my other band and looking for a little bit more horror, the HP Lovecraft universe. I read a lot of that when I was younger, and it was interesting going back to it, and then I kind of stumbled upon more current writers in the same genre, and that was really interesting.
Then my guitar player actually gave me a book by Thomas Lee, he got me The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, which was a more philosophical piece of work almost like a academic, and it kind of drew me into this idea of what is pessimism and, you know, how can I relate to that? That was super interesting and I just got lost down the rabbit hole, I guess, you know?”
Does what you’re reading at that particular time inspire lyrics and the themes of an record?
“Yeah, definitely. I like some stuff I read just for the emotional impact. Like I said, At The Gates focuses on different emotions, from song to song, from album to album and you need input for that, like emotional input, novels and stuff like that. But then, also, I use reading as research a little bit as well to know more about the subject before I start writing about it. I need to be grounded in the subject.”
Musically then you’ve talked about the early days and wanting to be able avante-garde, this is a massive sounding record and it’s also a very diverse record. Do you think the fact that you’ve had time in the lockdown to explore these ideas has affected the way the record sounds?
“I think so. I mean, we had this idea early on that we really wanted to do a multi-layered, very detailed, complex album, very dark, as you said. Of course, we were already on that path a little bit but then, all of a sudden, we had nothing else to do. The creative process became our little safety bubble which we retreated to. Instead of having to think about how shows and touring, we just had time to think and time to revisit the ideas more and more. We had time to try out different arrangements, orchestrations, and stuff like that. I think the album is a different album because of that.”
Do you think there’s going to be anything on there that fans will be surprised by? There is some quite diverse material on there.
“I guess that, at first listen, I think fans will wondering what happened but, after like two or three spins you start to realize, I hope this is my vision, that at least this still sounds like At The Gates.”
Looking at tracks like “Garden of Cyrus” and “Cosmic Pessimism,” they are very different to what you’d expect from an At The Gates album…
“Sure, there’s different orchestrations, and different song arrangements that we haven’t tried before but, as I said, I think we’re more secure in who we are, and therefore we can reach out. I also think the listener is, like us, a little bit curious, and they want to be challenged by a new record. They just don’t want it to be more of the same. I think, by now people have understood that, with each record that has come out, they wonder what have we done now?”
I guess, going back to the reunion, it would have been easy for you to have just rehashed Slaughter of the Soul each time.
“Yeah. There’s no point in doing that and the same people that would probably into that then, when they get it, they would not like it anyway because they’d have heard it all before. It won’t be better for them because they have a connection to that record. You were at a certain point of your life and you heard that record so nothing that comes after you can compete with that.”
Can you talk us through what it was like writing this record and bringing it all together? It’s a very complex record. Was it easy to bring it all together?
“It was actually easy in one way. I mean, the restrictions were not so tough here in Sweden. If you take precaution, follow the advice, you can actually travel pretty freely within the country. So, we started writing, and we had like, two or three weekends where we just did that. Then it was a lot of emails back and forth with demos and we could see the beast started to come to life. We could see the outlines of the whole project appearing. It was definitely a more positive vibe because it became our only escape.”
Listening to the depth of the album, I feel the songs lend themselves to a massive stage show and a massive production. Have you thought about that?
“It would be amazing to be able to do that with a full orchestration at some point. I mean, we did some experimentation with live strings at Roadburn a couple years back, and it really got us like hungry for more. It’s a huge project to do logistically though. It’s also a challenge sound wise because it’s hard to hear things like the violin on stage. If we could do that, I would love to do do something like that again but, with these tracks, going all the way with a full orchestra. That’d be really interesting.”
Definitely. Have you got a vision for the kind of visual side of this record?
“We started already with the videos, and some of the videos will have what more animated stuff to go with it. If the economic means are in place, we will take that with us on tour. The full moving backdrop. The thing is, At The Gates live is a different beast than At The Gates on record. We’re more of a fierce death metal band on stage. I think when you’re watching an At The Gates show you don’t want to be distracted from the actual band playing. You don’t want to the backdrop too much. You want the full live attack.”
Fair enough but, that being said, a song like “Fall Into Time,” it’s a massive, dramatic song and it lends itself to a big production…
“Yeah, we probably could do it in different parts during the show, probably.”
In terms of going forward, where do you see the musical direction going?
“Yeah, for the next record, we already started writing for it and we’re always intrigued by what is possible. We learned a lot on this record but that doesn’t mean we learned it and then we’re just going to continue with it just because we’ve done it on this record. We will take what we learned and it will be interesting to see where it goes from there.”
What’s been the most challenging thing you found about this record?
“The challenge going in was to make it like as big, as epic, dramatic, and cinematic as possible but still keeping it true to what At The Gates is. I think that’s always going to be the case. We want each album to be a challenge. We love that challenge.”