They said they would never reunite. They did. They also said that there wouldn’t be another album in respect of their past. Guess what? There was another album. They are living legends of the extreme metal scene, so they can say one thing and do another. And they are back with another opus. Almost 20 years after "Slaughter Of The Soul", At The Gates returned with "At War With Reality" and according to what co-founder, guitarist and main songwriter Anders Björler told us, they are here to stay. See what he had to say in a quite extensive interview he gave us, where he also talked about his solo project, the Haunted, Peter Dolving and At The Gates' return to Greece this January.
Hello, Anders. This is Alkis from noisefull.com. How are you doing?
Hi, I’m fine. How are you?
I’m doing fine too. It’s a pleasure talking to you. First of all, congratulations on your latest works. Both “Antikythera” and “At War With Reality” are so different, yet awesome albums, two of the best I’ve listened to for quite some time.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
We’ll get back to “Antikythera” later. “At War With Reality” opens up a new chapter for you, I believe it will be treated like the old masterpieces and win its place in the history of melodic death metal. How did you choose the title?
I think it was Martin that came up with it. It was some year or two ago, but we all thought it was a great title and it stuck with us.
And how did you come up with the artwork? It was the same guy that did the “Antikythera” artwork, right?
Costin is a great friend of ours and he did some t-shirt designs for At The Gates. In the artbook limited edition it’s one illustration per song, so it’s gonna be a really extensive work from Costin. The artwork on “At War With Reality” is a really simplistic starting point for the listener and when you open the booklet there is an illustration for each song that tells a story.
It kind of reminds me the cover from “With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness” but in a black and white version.
You and Jonas did the whole songwriting?
Yes, I did like the 70% of the album. Basically it was a really creative collaboration between me and Tomas. A lot of e-mails back and forth.
Do you have any idea about the concept of the lyrics?
Tomas got influenced by the genre of magic realism. It was founded in South America in the 50’s. There were some authors that wrote in a very metaphoric, poetic way to avoid censorship. So they wrote about things that were forbidden, but in a way that it would make it ok. Tomas adapted that style of writing, so it’s very abstract and poetic and it has a lot of layers to the explanation and meaning of things. It’s more like a literature technique.
The intro is taken from a movie?
It’s an excerpt from a novel actually.
I assume that you’ll continue after “At War With Reality”.
Yeah, I think so. We have a lot of fun, we kind of revisit the old days with the creativity, being together, the friendship. Of course we want to continue.
Since the mood is there, I think it’s the best for you. How hard was it for you to decide on doing another album 19 years after “Slaughter Of The Soul”?
It wasn’t that hard when we started doing it. In 2008 we did the reunion tours, we were pretty happy with that at the time. We didn’t want to do anything else. But there were some more reunion years like 2011 and we just grew on the idea of doing an album. We kind of missed the creative part. Back in the 1990’s, when we were all kids, writing music together. And as an artist it’s a big part of you, creating and writing music. There was something missing. And we wanted to at least explore the possibility of doing an album. I started last year in May and brought some songs and the guys thought it was great.
Is there any of the material from the old days?
This is just a clean slate, it’s fresh start.
Because some of the songs really sound like the old times.
Yeah, in a way, 19 years have passed but in the same time we are the same people. We haven’t changed that much. We haven’t done any weird drugs, I hope. (laughs) The only thing I’ve been thinking about when I was writing was Tomas' vocals and Adrian’s drums, but apart from that I’m the same guy I was then, the same kind of musical influences, the same melancholy.
In order to get into the mood of creating the atmosphere of the past did you have to go through your discography once more?
I enjoy all the albums and I like the experimentation and melancholic melodies. Technically we are more like “Terminal Spirit Disease” or “Slaughter Of The Soul”. But I guess “At War With Reality” is like a perfect combination of our discography. It’s a good comeback record. The underlying skeleton is like playing style of “Slaughter Of The Soul” mixed in with arrangement ideas from the older albums.
Sure, but it’s also a step further.
Of course, you have to make it fresh, you can’t look too much in the past. We didn’t really listen to the old albums. It’s just something you have in the back of your mind, you know how it is, you know what to do, who you have to do it with to make it interesting today.
Looking back, I remember that either you or Tomas stated that “It is better to leave while being on top, rather than releasing a mediocre album later”. Even if you are unable to do so, do you not think of the possibility that it might ruin the myth of the band?
We weren’t so worried. Maybe in 2007, at the time of the reunion, but now, more than 6 years have passed and it is easier now. People will surely understand that it’s a long long time ago. It’s almost like a new beginning, a new band, a new chapter. If they don’t like the new album, but they still like the old ones, that’s fine.
A legend remains a legend.
I’m the wrong person to ask, but I hope.
You’re in it, that’s right but believe me, At The Gates is an iconic band.
We’re happy with the outcome and that’s the most important thing.
Is it true that you gained more fans after you split up than before? Did “Slaughter Of The Soul” made you a band that everyone would try to copy later?
Maybe not copy, but influenced by. There were a lot of bands more influenced by In Flames and Soilwork too. Like Killswitch Engage. We are part of a genre, the Gothenburg sound. The fact that American bands named us as influence helped us a lot. We wouldn’t be here if we wouldn’t have influenced bands back in the days. We are very humbled that we got so big. I still think it’s very strange, because after all we are kind of an underground independent death metal band.
How is the chemistry between you guys? You changed a lot, you have families, side jobs. How are you coping with each other now?
We’re very good friends, we’re more relaxed, more grown up, wiser. Back in the days there was a lot of inexperience and touring and a lot of alcohol and fights. We were all kids, I was 23 when we quit and started when I was 17. We were very small young kids, of course, we revisited that friendship, right now we know where we stand. We only make decisions that everybody is happy with. All the decisions are talked through very carefully. I think it’s needed to keep a balance.
So you all agreed in doing a new album.
No, it was my decision and the others agreed. (laughs) Maybe we didn’t know after the first track, but when we had 3-4 tracks done, we felt it was looking very good.
Would you still make the same decision if someone didn’t feel like doing it?
It would come into discussion, of course. Because I don’t think we would have done it, if not everybody was on the train.
How different is your role now in the band in comparison to 20-25 years ago?
It’s somewhat similar. You have a character, a personality and it doesn’t really change that much, we have the same kind of roles in the band. Only the management things have changed. Like the administration things. Tomas was mostly in contact with the labels back then, today it’s me and Jonas.
Do you believe that since you decided to reform the band, fans will always have a say in what you want to do? If for example you wanted to do an experimental album it would be a lot easier back then, than now.
I think we wanted to do something that would be accepted to most of the At The Gates’ fans. We are more open to experimentation, so this is a very important record for us. A bridge from “Slaughter Of The Soul” to the future.
Like a reminder to the old fans.
We love what we accomplished in the past, we wouldn’t take it too far this time.
So you took the fans into consideration for that.
Not only the fans, but also ourselves. We had to rediscover ourselves, see what we sound like in 2014. It’s like a stepping stone for the future and I would welcome some more experimentation. It won’t be jazz. (laughs) Maybe more complex arrangement and stuff like that.
We have to wait and see. Since we never had the chance to talk about it, for me “Antikythera” was a masterpiece out of nowhere. Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity told me in an interview that he listened to it and it was awesome, some months prior to its release. How did you decide to do this album?
It was when I left the Haunted. I did the “Unseen” album and it was kind of a compromise between what I wanted to do and metal. I think it passed a lot of people by, people maybe thought it wasn’t aggressive enough for The Haunted. So when I quit the Haunted I just started writing music I wanted to do, with no frames and no limits. Just music. When you add instruments and when you mix it, then it becomes a genre. It depends on everybody’s input somehow.
How did you decide not to put any vocals on the songs?
I might do it in the future. I don’t call it a solo project, just an instrumental project, but I’m pretty open for, like, vocals. We’ll see what happens. The next album will be even softer I think, just to diversify more with what I do with metal.
Why did you call it “Antikythera”?
I saw a documentary on TV and it was fascinating to make a theme album on that.
What was the feedback you got on that?
It’s been good, even though it’s only released in Scandinavia. People have heard it on i-Tunes, Spotify of course.
Are you planning any gigs for that?
It’s hard to fit it into the schedules of everyone. I hope to do it sometime in the future.
Nice to hear. I would love to see it.
Hopefully in Greece would be the best venue for that. (laughs)
You are always welcome, you know. (laughs) Have you ever thought of doing a festival in Gothenburg with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity?
There is an ongoing festival called Gothenburg Sound Festival. We played last year, Dark Tranquillity will play this year. But not all the bands together. It’s a bit hard to organize it, and hard to arrange, because typical questions like “who is going to play last” come up.(laughs)
Apart from being in At The Gates and your project, you also work as a film producer.
Mostly in video editing.
Do you have any plans on making a film? One where “Antikythera” would be the perfect soundtrack for, perhaps?
No, but I kind of made “Antikythera” like a CV for the future in the back of mind. So everything’s connected in that way. But I don’t have the time to produce, or direct a film right now. I would love to do some movie or film, maybe a documentary or short film, but it has to be in the future.
Let’s go to Haunted. What was the reason that you left since you showed us you’re far from done with metal and in great shape.
Everything comes to an end, I’ve been in the Haunted for 14 years and I thought it was time for a change. I wasn’t really tired of metal, I was tired of the negativity in the band, and not getting anywhere. There was a lot of frustration that we didn’t get tours that we wanted. I think they are better off right now, with Marco back. I moved on to other things and I don’t like to have too many projects active. So right now for me At The Gates is enough for metal. I can’t handle the stress level, if there are too many things.
But you leave the door open.
Of course, Jonas is my brother, Adrian is also in At The Gates, Jensen and Aro are great friends. I even met Ola, he is a great guitar player. It’s a good album.
Did you like “Exit Wounds”?
I have heard it twice maybe. I will check them out when they play Gothenurg soon in two weeks time. It will be fun.
It was a return to the old style with modern elements. I really liked it. I also loved “Unseen”, even though you told me the atmosphere in the band was not so good.
I mean everybody in the band liked it. There was a lot of thing happening within the band at the time, that made it really hard. But all the members that recorded thought it was a very good album.
How was the collaboration between you and Peter Dolving?
It’s been good, throughout. A very good relationship. He made some comments due to frustration about me and Jonas at the end. I’m pretty well now. We’re not in touch, though. But I wouldn’t have any problems meeting him.
Do you know why he left the band?
As I said, during the “Unseen” period there were a lot of problems within the band. We weren’t really on the same level. We were five very very different people. Except for me and Jonas. (laughs)
(laughs) Of course, you are twins.
Both musically and on the personal matter we were very different and it made it hard in the end. That’s an inevitable thing to happen and I think it’s better for everybody. Peter’s better off doing his music, he has a new stoner rock band, I think they are Iamfire and he is also doing the art.
Ok, let’s go back to At The Gates. What do you remember from the first time you were here in 2008? I remember I almost broke my leg there.
We had a great time in 2008. The Ocean opened up I think. It was a great gig, we have a lot of good memories from that, because that was supposed to be the last show ever. Our sound guy jumped in the pool on the rooftop of the hotel even though it was forbidden. We were thrown out. (laughs)
What should we expect this time? How many new songs?
At least 5 I guess. But there’s gonna be a variety. I hope you’ll be happy.
I’m sure about that. Have you listened to the covers of “Cold” from Hellsongs and “Blinded By Fear” from Slaughter Of The Bluegrass”?
Have you thought of doing a cover like that but on the opposite side? From another genre into metal?
We have thought about that, but we have no time. We write our own material, but it’s something very interesting. Doing a metal cover from a metal band, it’s kind of pointless. We usually do it as a homeage to the old bands, and it’s usually from demo bands or very small bands that nobody has ever heard. That’s why we did the Slaughter Lord cover. There is a surprise on the limited edition on the new album as well.
Reaching the end of the interview I would like to ask you what kind of music do you listen to recently?
These questions are always hard. I would say a Jazz quartet named James Farm. It’s Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Eric Harland and Matt Penman. I got into jazz from Per in the Haunted, he showed me like the good stuff from the 60’s like Coltrane, Wayne Shorter. It’s very hard in the beginning to get into it, but when you get it it’s really good. I’m more into melancholic parts, like the ones you hear on “Antikythera”. That’s the kind of jazz I like.
So feel free to send a message to your fans in order to end the interview.
We’ll see you all in Greece where we always have a nice time. It’s gonna be awesome, this time also in Thessaloniki. See you there.
Thank you very much for your time Anders. You were very kind to answer all my questions.
You know what Alkis means in Swedish, right?
Only in German.
It’s alcoholic. (laughs)
(laughs) It’s the same.
So see you in Greece, Alkis. Bye Bye.