Interview with At The Gates – The doors of perception

Few groups have been able to reactivate their careers as successfully as At The Gates. After two albums to recover their old audience and win over the new one, the Swedes have decided to let go and publish the most experimental The Nightmare Of Being.

Unlike so many musicians who have had a hard time in the last year and a half, Tomas Lindberg has passed the pandemic quite calmly thanks to the economic stability that his ‘other’ job has provided him. The At The Gates singer has been alternating his musical career with another as a social studies teacher at a high school for ten years.

In addition, Lindberg has also taken advantage of his time away from the road to create with his colleagues Martin Larsson (guitar), Jonas Stålhammar (guitar), Jonas Björler (bass) Y Adrian Erlandsson (drums), the third album since 2007 when they decided to give a second chance to one of the fundamental bands of European death metal and bastions of the so-called ‘Gothenburg sound’.

As we explain them, The Nightmare Of Being, released by Century Media on July 2, is an album in which, more than ever, At The Gates have let out all kinds of influences that they had been absorbing since their adolescence, from jazz, to krautrock, to progressive. A work that they can be especially proud of and that conveys that the band continues to have good ideas despite its longevity.

Hence, when we connect with Lindberg on the other side of the screen through Zoom, we see him as relaxed having a beer at his house. “I just came from Ikea to buy some furniture for my new apartment”, tells us.

In other words, Swedes also buy at Ikea.
TOMAS LINDBERG (Laughs) Yeah yeah it’s the roll old school Swedish”.

Do you think that The Nightmare Of Being is it the riskiest album you have made?
“I guess, but if you look back at a record like The Red In The Sky Is Ours It was risky too, though for other reasons. Basically it was time to do something different. Over the years we have so internalized what At The Gates is in our DNA that we can now experience it. It’s easier to do it when you have such a solid foundation. At first we didn’t have it, we were pretentious and obnoxious teenagers … although it also worked (laughs) “.

Now you can be obnoxious old folks.
“Yes (laughs). Above all, we now have the ability to do all of this in the context of At The Gates. Perhaps before we simply experimented just for the sake of it, distancing ourselves from who we are ”.

You started working before the pandemic. Would it have been the same album if not for this one?
“We already had the concept, the idea, and some models. The pandemic gave us the time to try things, orchestrations, different arrangements … The recording became our bubble in which to isolate ourselves from everything ”.

The album seemed very cinematic to me. It was him feeling what did you want to achieve?
“A lot of people have used that word to describe it, and it’s really cool. It means it’s a big, broad album… We wanted to make a dark, layered, progressive album… We talked a lot about how to get it. The sequence of the album was very important because it is what helps you create the narrative of the album, so in that respect it is like the script of a movie. Each song is like a scene ”.

Do you write the lyrics beforehand or do you wait until you have all the music to see what it suggests to you?
“It is a process that goes in parallel. We feed back on each other. I talk about the emotions that I want to express, and Jonas creates the songs based on that. But it can also happen the other way around. It is an absolute collaboration. You can’t put in a riffaco if you want to make a melancholic song, for example. You have to work together ”.

In some songs you have used a scroll crooner a bit like Nick Cave or Mike Patton. What led you to it?
“We have always listened to a lot of music. For me in those songs it was a rhythmic question. To tell you the truth, I was inspired by instrumental jazz records. But I listen from that, to punk, to progressive, to krautrock … For example, for a song we wanted to do a repetitive Neu! or Tangerine Dream. On that basis, a death metal voice doesn’t really look good. But I would never use ‘clean’ voices. For me there is the limit (laughs)“.

It’s hard to imagine being kids listening to Tangerine Dream …
“The thing is, the Göteborg scene was very small, it always has been. And all of us who liked weird or alternative music hung out together. So there was a lot of musical exchange. They discovered progressive things to us, and we discovered metal things to them. As teenagers we listened to King Crimson or Joy Division because they were discovered to us, and it seemed interesting to us because it was different from what we did, but it was not something commercial ”.

Broadening your sights is what allows you to evolve.
“Yes, but I don’t think you have to cross all the barriers at once. I think you have to go accompanying people. If Entombed had pulled Left Hand Path Y Wolverine Blues in a row it would have been too radical, but they made a very good transition in between ”.

“Above all we wanted to offer the listener something with many layers,
a world to escape to ” TOMAS LINDBERG

Is this the most expensive album you have recorded? At least it sounds like one …
“I do not know (laughs). I’m not dealing with the money stuff. But the people who recorded the orchestrations are friends or relatives of friends, so it’s not like we have hired the Prague Philharmonic. They were close people who had a certain interest in working with us. I have no idea about the pasta, but we recorded it in four different studios, so it could be the most expensive. At least it sounds expensive (laughs). But above all we wanted to offer the listener something with many layers, a world to which they can escape, especially in times of Coronavirus. There are songs that are more to listen to with headphones at home than to play live, although it is possible that on the tour we dared with some of the most extravagant songs. It will be necessary to see if we can take the saxophonist on tour (laughs)“.

I would love for you to play the whole record at a festival like Roadburn.
“That would be a dream. To be able to bring all the guests… It would be very cool ”.

In ‘Garden Of Cyrus’ is where that sax solo appears. From what I know you are a huge fan of John Coltrane. Where would you recommend starting with it to an At The Gates fan?
“Buff… it’s complicated. It depends on what you are looking for. The first albums are more traditional, and maybe a little easier. But if you really want something shocking I would recommend Crescent onwards. That’s where it’s the craziest. Maybe my favorite album is double Live At Village Vanguard. And of course A Love Supreme it is masterful ”.

Changing the subject, for me At The Gates is one of the bands that has best managed their return. Many groups that come back after being separated find that they have lost their spark. In your case, you have released three albums that are very good, the live performance is still powerful, and you look excited.
“Thanks a lot. I think the key is that it is really important for you to play together again. That is what we wanted to show in A War With Reality, that we really cared. That’s why I wanted to make a concept album based on South American literature, instead of just recording ten songs. “

There was also a certain mystique when the group broke up, and that sparked more anticipation when you came back. For those who saw us in the 90s, you were legends.
“Yeah, it’s strange. We were never aware of all this, we are very humble about it. But possibly if you wanted to do a social study, that could be a reason ”.

What did you learn during the years that you had separated?
“I think the time we were apart allowed us to appreciate and learn from everything we had done. And it also helped that during the separation we were active in other projects. When we decided to go back, we were all in shape. We also looked at two groups that had come back in a way that seemed successful to us: Swans and Celtic Frost. Both of them came back with something new and exciting, but at the same time they were still themselves. They were a real inspiration ”.