By Jeremy Vane-Tempest
If you don’t know who At The Gates are…I dunno, man. You’re really missing out. Go and listen to their stuff on YouTube. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
Oh, you’re back. Awesome, yes? Now we’re all caught up, At The Gates’ mild-mannered social studies teacher by day, epic death metal frontman by night, Tomas Lindberg, is a really chill dude. Despite the fact that he’s played (and, in fact, is still playing) to crowds bigger and more rabidly loyal than a Billy Graham rally, he’s fantastically modest about all his accomplishments. He’s particularly chill about the band’s first album since 1995, 2014’s At War With Reality. Having been released a year ago, the new material is going over a treat.
“It’s gone down surprisingly well live”, he admitted. “I think that the songs fit very well into our set list. Our albums have always reflected where we are, or were, rather, at that stage in our lives. I actually think At War With Reality has more in common with records like With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, than with Slaughter of the Soul. The older albums were more of a reflection of us as a collective group, while Slaughter was more insular, we were figuring ourselves out more than anything. The song structures on At War are more akin to our older material, too. They’re pretty simple, you know; melodies, riffs, and then a chance for a wall of death for the particularly crazy fans”, he laughs again, “but they’re quite catchy. Sometimes the new songs function best as bridges between the Slaughter songs and the older songs. They still have the modern, thrashy sound of Slaughter while being more melancholic than Slaughter.
“It really feels like we’ve made a statement about how we sound right now”, he continued. “Even the older songs are starting to adopt that sonic identity when we play them, but I think that that’s a natural progression when you’ve both been a band for as long as we have and have had as long a break as we had.”
With age comes perspective. The green mullet-mohawk combo we had in Year 9 was, in retrospect, a genuinely terrible idea. With that in mind, we had to ask whether At The Gates’ breakup was a necessary evil to allow the band to discover their identities both as musicians and people.
“It definitely makes more sense now”, Tomas confirmed. “Looking back, it really helps explain the dragged out reunion we all went through. We had all those anxieties about breaking the promise about not writing a new record, but we eventually reached a point where we decided that we had it in us and we had to trust that. At War makes us feel relevant again. This new album has been building up in us for years. Whereas now we’re using the heart and brain, perhaps we were just using the heart, if you understand. The entity that is At The Gates is far more grounded than before, and that helps us work in the studio. We aren’t straining ourselves with musicianship, so the emotional aspects of the music have a chance to shine. It’s more focussed and planned, but it allows for more feeling.”
Any idiot can slap some riffs together and call it a song. Tomas is of the opinion that it takes a bit more skill and refinement to actually make something that other people are going to want to listen to.
“Song structure is a massive thing for us”, he explained. “You can have as many good riffs as you want, but if you can’t arrange them into a good song then you’ll fall flat. I think that’s something else that we discovered along the way; how to make a song work and what makes a song tick; how do we build it up and then how do we break it down. That’s a confidence that comes with experience, though, and, as we discussed before, that’s where the break and slow reunion was a necessary evil for us to discover who we are as people and musicians.”
Finally, it took At The Gates a quarter of a century to finally make their way down to Australia. Something must have gone right, because they’re coming back less than three years after the fact. It may be over year after AWWR was released, but as far as Tomas is concerned, that’s actually a good thing for the metal heads from the sunburnt country.
“When we did the album, we started planning where we could tour with it”, Tomas explained. “We really enjoyed Australia last time – I’d never been down there before, not even as a tourist, and I fell I love with the place. It’s taken us almost a year later to actually get out there, but with a year of touring under our belt, it’s a more refined show than we would have been able to present before now. We’ve played over one hundred shows off At War by now, so you’re going to be getting a show that’s not in the ‘trial and error’ stage anymore. We know exactly what works and what doesn’t. You’re in for a treat.”
Wednesday, 28th October – Amplifier Bar, Perth
Thursday, 29th October – The Unibar, Adelaide
Friday, 30th October – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday, 31st October – Manning Bar, Sydney
Sunday, 1st November – The Brightside, Brisbane