I am backstage at the Garage in Glasgow with Tomas from At the Gates who has kindly taken some time before the show to answer a few questions.
Tomas you were saying in an interview earlier this year that you had some new material that you really felt you needed to express. What triggered that for you, what made you think that now was the time to write this new album?
I don’t think there was an official “now is the time” it was more like, it felt right and we have been playing live a lot on these reunion tours, even more than we did in the 90s and we felt like a proper band. When we thought about what real bands do, there was one thing that we didn’t do, we started to think about that and felt it started to hold us back in a way. I believe I work with the most talented songwriters in the Death Metal world and I felt the need to continue to work with them and I knew it was going to be huge when we did it. Andres came up with a couple of songs and we worked from there.
So you felt that inspiration hadn’t died away and you hadn’t had a chance to express all that you needed to?
Definitely not, we are all artists and we need to do this, it just seemed like a waste not to!
What was the process that you went through when you started writing, did it start with a riff or was it triggered from something else?
It came from Anders because he is the main songwriter. He asked me and Jonas to listen to a few tracks and asked us if it was something we could peruse and we decided to keep working on it. We were fired up but we decided to write in secrecy so we could concentrate on it. We could deal with our own goals and our own pressure without having to deal with outside pressure and when we announced that we were going to release a new album we actually had 15 songs already written. It was a bit of a trick, because if it came out like shit we could just throw it away before anyone knew we were doing it! But that also made it more free for us to create.
So how did it turn into a concept album, was it straight away or did you decide it would become one?
Musically maybe two, three or four songs in, we were doing the arrangement, everything else was working out but I was still struggling with starting to write the lyrics I felt like I needed something new, something else to lift it to another level instead of just going on from where we were but better, it was so hard to have that starting point. Therefore the idea for a concept album almost came about like a dream, it was like we prove our relevance in the scene, showing that we are still ambitious and that we still deserve our space.
How did it come about that the title track, At War with Reality was the one you used as the album teaser?
The first three tracks were the first to be written, I can’t remember which order. A lot of things happened with the At War with Reality track during the writing process, the last few details that we put in took it to a new level totally. I would say that is the one that touches on our immediate past the most, Slaughter of the Soul whereas some of the other tracks go further back into our catalogue, or maybe the future. At War with Reality is probably the one that is the most recognisable as an At the Gates track.
It’s quite an emotive song title, I can see how people could relate to it.
It could be perceived on different levels, it has a lot of depth to it, it is more theoretically grounded than anything we have done before, so it is a very postmodern record in that way, it questions almost everything, how we preserve reality and how we spread our view of reality through language. There is a lot of depth to that story not just we hate the world.
How did you find releasing this album different from your very first release? Which you would have been pushing yourself and giving it at gigs to being with Century Media, having a backlog of amazing records, a huge fan base and having quite a lot of pressure on you to produce.
We were fortunate in that we knew people were going to listen to the record, which ever record we chose to write with whichever label, we knew that there was going to be an audience already. We tried to make that a positive pressure rather than a negative one. It is very rewarding to have a fan base like ours, I always say that we chose to do this because we have a fan base that I trust. At the Gates fans are smarter than normal Metal fans, they want to get more from a record that just gore and guts and brutality, they want something more, an intellectual record and that is why we threw ourselves into this record. We had such a good feeling and Century Media was the choice for us because we had lots of similar offers from other labels but we knew the people at the label and we knew also that they were going to give us total creative freedom, with our cover and our videos, not every metal label would be behind that.
Out of all the formats that the album was released on, the vinyl, cassette, digital and CD which did you guys prefer?
I am really fond of the double 10 inch box set, that is very nice but the artwork comes across the best in the mediabook, the art book. It is between those two, the 10 inch probably sounds the best but the artwork is in a really big format is great.
Did you find the two creative mediums came together quite naturally? The artwork reflecting the music.
We knew Costin and he has created record covers for a lot of friends of ours like Aura Noir so I knew him and Andres knew him very well too, he is also quite a big At the Gates fan which was a bit weird for him but he really wanted to do it. He didn’t want to get paid at first but I said that was stupid, of course you are going to get paid! And he did get paid for it. First he wanted the whole concept and so I emailed that and all the lyrics for the whole album and he actually did a piece for every song, so we have his interpretation of every track in art, his impression on what we have created. To have that it, doubles the impact, I am just amazed, it is very flattering.
What is it about Glasgow that makes you guys come back? A lot of bands say it is the crowds.
I don’t think we have played another town in Scotland other than Glasgow, maybe Edinburgh once. You are like the wild North of the UK. I think people are more passionate in general; good and bad, things matter more here. I have very fond memories in the Cathouse of a very intimate, tight crowd but I am really looking forward to tonight, it is almost sold out so it is going to be crazy.
So you would prefer to play a venue like the Garage as opposed to the ABC where there is a bit more distance, a big stage, barriers?
Definitely the smaller venues. Generally venues rather than festivals too, you actually see the fans, the people that have paid to see you and the other bands of course, it is very rewarding.
So keeping in touch with the underground?
Definitely, we still see ourselves as an underground Death Metal band all the way and anything added on is just a bonus for us. To see the response to the new songs live has been amazing for us. I think it is a great record but to see people react to them next to songs that are considered the classics, they have been very well received so far. To see diehard fans sing along to the new songs live as well, that is a very good feeling.
That is something I think ATG have, you guys tap into that underground demographic. To go and see an At the Gates gig at the Garage, it’s a different thing.
Yea we wanted that, it isn’t like you are going to see Slayer. A small venue, we start with that but if it gets too loud we may have to move, but we would rather play here.
Finally is there anything you would like to say to fans old and new?
We are very proud to have the fan base that we have, as I said the smartest fan base in metal, the most supportive. We go in different directions with At the Gates and our fans seem to follow that and it is very heartfelt and warming to still be here 15 years on. So thank you everybody.