The New Progressive Sound of At The Gates Takes Listeners for a Ride

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At The GatesSwedish melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates have just released their new album “The Nightmare Of Being” this month on Century Media Records.

The new epic track “The Fall Into Time” is one of the centerpieces of the album. It is big, demanding and epic, much like the new direction the band has taken on this album. It’s a heavy, mean and dark album, with a cinematic approach.

I spoke with founding member, vocalist Tomas Lindberg about this new musical territory the band is currently exploring.

Tell me about the new album.
Well, it’s one of the biggest efforts that we’ve ever done, I think. A lot of work came into this record. It’s a very cinematic, dark, progressive album that will probably challenge the listener a little bit.

The third single and video, “The Fall Into Time” just came out and some of the comments on YouTube show that the fans are enjoying its progressive sound. Tell me about the song and why you selected that as the third release of the album.
We wanted to do the first two singles a little bit more  like straightforward At The Gates songs. But of course, they’re more complex now than they would have been if we wrote them in the 90s.

They still have some progressive elements, but as the third single, we thought that’s going to be for the diehard fans that really want to be intrigued by the band. And therefore, we thought they might be ready for something more epic, cinematic and progressive.

The song is the centerpiece of the record, basically, it’s for us as old school guys, we see the vinyl version, and this is a first track on side B, of course.

Why the change in your sound?
It’s always been there – the progressive elements since the early 90s actually, but back then we didn’t really know how to incorporate it.

Now we have a deeper understanding of what the band is about, what is the core elements that we can’t change sort of thing. And therefore with that security, we can actually experiment more without losing the identity of the band.

And I think that’s the maturity we have – to be at the point where we could take more experimental steps while still keeping true to ourselves a little bit.

The orchestrations and the different arrangements really define this album. What was the process like in creating those arrangements and orchestrations?
There’s a lot of work that goes into it, the orchestral parts are written by our bass player, Jonas Björler.

He basically writes it by himself, and then transcribes it for the musicians – it’s very hard work.  I can’t believe he can do it, but it’s fantastic. The rest of the arrangements and everything else, that’s something we come up with together.

We have this idea that At The Gates is a very emotionally driven band musically.  So we talked a lot about that. Which emotions do we want to portray with the certain songs? Where do I want to take it? Then it’s just to color it with different instruments and different arrangements to bring that point home a little bit – to challenge the listeners, but also get those emotions out.

Is it important to the band to keep evolving?
Yeah, I think so. At this stage in our career, we have released albums now since the early 90s. At our age, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time from your personal life. We have normal day jobs as well.

So a project like this, it’s almost overwhelming, and therefore it has to be important for us – we have to train the listener to this as well. The thing with At The Gates is that we would stop immediately with the band if it didn’t feel important for us.

The video for “Fall Into Time” is an animation. Why did you choose to go that route?
I think we always loved doing more animated videos, they can portray the emotional side of the song better than just seeing us with guitars running around,.  If we have the chance, we probably would have all animated videos, but of course, people want to see the band a little bit.

We really enjoy seeing another artist’s vision of what he or she hears in our music. That’s really intriguing,

Costin Chioreanu did the animation for this one. This is his artistic vision when he hears our song and it’s great for us to see it.

I think his work portrays the songs really well.

I suppose it probably helps you with COVID. It’s a great way of making a video without actually being together.
Yeah, we did the three videos together with Patric Ullaeus, the guy who did the Spectre Of Extinction and The Paradox.

There’s another video coming out with him as well, but that’s all shot here in Gothenburg.

It was easy because we’re based in Gothenburg and Costin is based in Romania. It’s of course easier to work like that.

But, the pandemic hasn’t really hindered us so far. In this process, we’ve been lucky with all the restrictions and stuff like that.

I think even with the pandemic, it was one of the reasons the album is so big and has a lot of details, because we can go back to the songs. We had a lot  more focus this time around because there were no distractions.

With the exception of the hiatus, it’s been 30 years for At The Gates, what have you learned in your decades with the band?
There’s different eras to this band a little bit. I think now, when we are older and more mature, we can see the whole spectrum of At The Gates and we can see why we did something that way in ‘94, for example, I get it because we have always been ruled by emotions, and even much more back in the early days, when we were in our teens, almost when we started.

We can learn a little bit from our history and take out the good bits of it and build up on those and learn from our mistakes. It’s a very good time to be in the band. And as I said before, this maturity kind of gives us a better base to be more progressive and challenging.

How about your voice? It’s been a few decades of growls and screams? Is it harder now?
Actually, since the comeback in 2008, I think it’s actually become easier because I had to really reacquaint myself with my technique, just like back in the 90s.

I was just a kid screaming, whereas now I know how I do it and know why. I haven’t gone through vocal therapy or anything like that, but I got more familiar with the tool that is within my body.

That’s the hard part, the instrument mentors inside me here. I learned a lot this past 13 years and now I think it’s just fun to go into the studio to create something and I know that I will be capable of performing live as well.

You said, knowing your voice and how to create that sound. Do you train? How do you keep your voice in check? There are many singers that have been singing for as long as you have that have destroyed their voice.
How can I say it? It’s hard because it’s within you, as I said. Of course people go to classical singing lessons but I just somehow learned how to control it and not burn myself out.

Find that perfect pitch where the voice is comfortable and so on. And also take care of myself better.

Of course, with my age,  you can’t go on an all night binge drinking, if you have a show the next day, that doesn’t work.

You have to drink a lot of water, you have to take care of yourself, and you have to sleep, to keep yourself and your whole body in-check.

At The Gates - The Nightmare Of Being-minNew fans of the bands are often shocked to hear that you’re also a teacher. How does being a teacher and also being part of At The Gates work?
It’s a logistical challenge sometimes, but I have an understanding boss at the school, I have an understanding wife, and I have understanding bandmates, which is good.

But I think when we did the reunion, we pretty early on decided that At The Gates should never be the main source of income.

We always wanted to have our day jobs on the side, because when we believe that if the band becomes the main source of putting food on the table, you know what, if you want more food, what do you want to do, then you start changing your songs to appeal to more people.

You get more, so that therefore is a conscious decision for us to have our feet on the ground to be rooted in reality, to work with normal people as well.

Not just people that will pat your back and say great show every night. It’s a good way to keep ourselves on our toes. Especially the teaching thing. I’ve come to terms with that a lot.

Back in the early days, I had to step into the role of being Thomas from At The Gates, Thomas the teacher, or Thomas the husband at home. But I found a way to make it psychologically and mentally work. so now there is one person, and that’s so much easier – there’s so much less stress.

A kid from my class could come to one of the shows and still recognize me, I wouldn’t have to act differently because I’m in the metal scene or the other way around. That’s much easier, actually. With comfort, it comes with age as well.

Do your students or their parents appreciate your music?
There’s some parents that are metal heads, but I teach in what you would call the socially economically challenged neighborhoods of Gothenburg. So basically, the kids listen mostly to hip hop.  They think it’s cool that I do it, but I don’t think they have a system to  organize, which kind of music this is, it’s just noise for them.

Music and teaching are all about making connections. And sometimes it can change lives for the better. How different is teaching and music for you?
Some of the ideas are the same like, connecting, getting a relationship with the crowd or the classroom. So there’s a lot of that – there are two kind of arenas where I feel comfortable being in the center, if I know what I’m doing.

I’m the worst person to throw a surprise party for example, because I hate being socially in the middle,  then I just want to be on the side. But the classroom and stage, I can perform there because I know what I’m doing.

I think that’s the connection.

Of course, there’s a deeper connection probably with the students in one way because, you talk to each one of them, whereas the crowd you talk to them all at the same time. It’s like crowd control, but in different ways.

It must be satisfying in different ways as well, when we can make those connections and see those life changing connections when they happen.
Yeah, it’s really a rewarding profession, being a teacher, and it’s very rewarding also being a metal frontman, so to speak. I’ve been very lucky so far, with all that, it has given me a lot. I’m very happy to be in both my professions.

Has there been an instance that you know, where At The Gates substantially changed someone’s life?
I’ve been told that from people. It’s hard for us, because we are pretty humble people,  as I said, feet on the ground kind of thing, but when someone tells you something like that, you feel very overwhelmed and you’re happy that you’d made something good that could mean something to somebody.

But of course, I can go back, there’s bands that mean a lot to me, and it got me through dark times when I was a teenager; stuff like that.

I get the idea of it, but it’s hard to understand that someone can think that way about us.

As a social studies teacher, does some of what you teach make it into the lyrics of At The Gates, maybe even subconsciously, for an example, maybe The Nightmare of Being?
Well, of course, that’s more like a philosophical album, the concept, so that would be for the philosophy teacher, probably.

But I think in general, what the students give me and what teaching gives me is just inspiration to be curious, and to be open minded, because as a teacher, you can’t just basically go in and tell them how it is, because then you will never reach them.

You have to make them kind of realize themselves how it is, and therefore, I approached them to awaken their curiosity. And, of course, then they challenged me a little bit as well, and there’s discussions and that’s what it gives to me, and it kind of keeps me on my toes.

No specific subject matter goes into the lyric probably, because they’re 15/16 years old, so I can’t go talk about chopping horror with them, since that will scare them.

Check out AtTheGates.se for more music, merch and upcoming tour dates.

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