June 6, 2014 Interview – Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates
It is not often a band writes an album and changes the world. With 1995’s Slaughter of the Soul At The Gates capped off a short run of immense success with one for the ages. Along with Dark Tranquility and In Flames, At The Gates put their hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden on the map in a big way. The band responsible for the album that launched melodic death metal, while also spawning a legion of imitators, would not last. At The Gates abruptly disbanded about a year later, stunning their fan base to its core. Each member stayed active in the metal scene, lending their talents to such immense acts as Cradle of Filth and the Haunted, among others. It was high-energy front-man Tomas Lindberg, however, who was perhaps the most restless of each of the five members of At The Gates. The voice of a death metal generation went on to lend his lungs to such versatile acts as Lock-Up, Nightrage, The Great Deceiver, and Disfear, keeping himself near and dear to his loyal fan base. All the while, no one ever forgot the massively influential first band, At The Gates. Fast forward to the mid 2000’s and the cyclical world of heavy metal proved its pattern once again. It began with some reunion shows, which only served to whet the rabid hunger of the fans who still dreamed of the old days, while treating a new generation of metalheads to the very roots of classic, old-school melodic death metal. As is so often the case, a reunion germinates into the need to create together again, and now the patient metal masses are getting something they could only dream about. We recently sat down with legendary At The Gates vocalist Tomas Lindberg, who graciously elaborated on one of the most exciting developments in the world of extreme music; the impending release of a new At The Gates album. After 19 years, At War With Reality will be hitting fans between the eyes some time later this year. Read on to hear what the man behind the microphone had to say about the new album, what it’s like being the architect of such influential sounds, his life away from metal, horror movies, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – At The Gates began over two decades ago and are known as the pioneers of what is now called Gothenburg death metal. Looking back could you ever have imagined that At The Gates would change the way we look at melodic death metal?
Tomas Lindberg – No. (laughs) Never, and I think it is like this, you have to always remember that with stuff like performing at Maryland Deathfest, so many people are totally into the music, and people wanting to take pictures with you, I am so glad I did not quit my day job. I am glad I still have my feet on the ground. I still go back home to the wife and kids and you know, do the dishes. If you start thinking like that, like you are a big deal, it does not take long before you turn into an asshole. In this extreme music in general, a lot of the people are fans of the music first, and musicians second. We are into it, and that is what keeps us on the ground.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you have that humble level-headed approach. The band’s breakthrough occurred in 1994 with Terminal Spiritual Disease, but had its biggest commercial success a year later with Slaughter Of The Soul. Considered by many to be one of the greatest metal albums of all time, what do you think made Slaughter of the Soul so magical, and caused it to remain relevant all these years later?
Tomas Lindberg – Each At The Gates album is different from the others. It is like going through different phases for us, and we learned from every one of them. Right before we wrote Slaughter Of The Soul, we had been jumping from label to label, we had some tour struggles, and we had been in the scene in a while. Though we were still in our 20’s, we were seeing some bands really doing it, really succeeding, so we said lets buckle down, and aim very high and try to make this our Master of Puppets (1986). That was the only time I really went into something in that kind of way; with so much focus. Actually now with writing the new album, we are again focused, but we have lost that pressure aspect of ‘what are people going to think’. We are more focused on pleasing ourselves and making the record that we want to make.
CrypticRock.com – That seems to be the best way to approach writing and it will be exciting to hear the new material. Now as mentioned At The Gates really did change the melodic death metal scene. A lot has changed over the years within the metal scene in general. Overall it appears to have become more socially acceptable. What is your opinion of the modern metal scene?
Tomas Lindberg – It has changed. You would have to experience the old days and the new days to see that change. The young kids, the ones who get a cell phone when they are eight years old, they only know the internet and all this accessibility. The old school guys have learned both sides and learned to cope with it. There is something to be said for accessibility, because I don not think people frown upon it as much…you can see a brutal album alongside a more accessible one on Pitchfork, for example and I think that is good. But for us, we still think the old way, but we relate it to what is going on nowadays. It is great to be able to access new music so fast. But you know, the old guys, when I hear new music, it is great to access it and say “oh look I got it instantly”, but I do not dismiss the new music so quickly, as a lot of the younger kids might. I still dive into an album and listen to it for a week.
CrypticRock.com – Yes that is essential when you listen to music. One needs to really take the time and pay attention to what the musician is trying to convey to truly appreciate it. Over the years you have kept busy in various other projects, including The Crown and Nightrage. Back in 2007 it was announced that At The Gates would reunite and tour again. This sent shock-waves of excitement through the metal community. You played together again in 2010 and have been performing live on occasion ever since. Take us back to 2007 for a moment. What initially stimulated At The Gates to become active again?
Tomas Lindberg – Anders Bjorler was the catalyst. He disbanded us in the first place. We tried to continue without him for a week back in the day but it did not work. Anders felt we ended on a weird note; we wanted to have more closure to the thing. It was only supposed to be some reunion shows in 2008 , that was it, but we started playing a lot. We played Athens, Greece and everyone was saying, we are going to miss the band and we were all emotionally touched by the support. Then the idea three years later was why do we have to stop? There were all these places we have not been to before. We promised South America we would come. We promised Australia we would come, and we had never made it to these places. Then we did and we said this is great. That is why re-forming the band is all from the heart and there was no calculation involved. We hear so many people telling us “you guys said you were never gonna play again”. We have learned the lesson to never say never, because you can change your mind in the future.
CrypticRock.com – It does seem like this reunion is coming from the right place. Life is crazy like that sometimes and you learn never to say never. Now having spent a decade away from each other as a band, how did it feel initially to get back out there playing At The Gates tunes together again?
Tomas Lindberg – Most of us were really active musically. When we got back together it was like no time had passed and our friendships actually grew during our time apart. Anders and I started hanging out having a beer again, without the pressure of having a band together. So we actually are all really close. We are brothers really…we get to do what we want, totally what we want without any pressure from anyone telling us what to do. We all have day jobs that we work, so At the Gates is all extra.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds as if you have a good relationship in the band and that is always most important. What are you doing for your day job outside of At The Gates?
Tomas Lindberg – I am a teacher. I teach social studies in English to middle schoolers. I can teach high school but right now I’m teaching middle school kids…in what we call the projects, outside of town.
CrypticRock.com – That is really interesting. Do the students have any idea who you are outside of the classroom?
Tomas Lindberg – They know. They are not into heavy metal music but they are aware of what I do. They see the Facebook likes and the Youtube hits. My students are actually about 80% Muslim immigrants and they are not into the music but they think it is cool.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite an intriguing career and vastly different from being a member of a death metal band (laughs). Having been active again for some time, it was announced At The Gates will release their first album in nineteen years in the fall of 2014, entitled At War With Reality. That is a long gap between albums. What was the writing process like for this new material and what can fans expect?
Tomas Lindberg – I would say you could listen to all our albums, and not one sounds the same, as it’s like different bands recorded them. This will be another album like that. We have been playing live a lot and when we play the old songs they get a new life, and they represent how we sound today. That gets internalized in us. All that stuff is inside us and we are moving forward. It will not be some nu-metal record, of course; it will be a melodic death metal album. It will also not be intentionally based upon anything we have done before.
CrypticRock.com – That gives fans something to look forward to. You will be entering the studio soon to start recording the album. What is the feeling of the band going into this record, and is there any anxiety being that so much time has passed since you recorded together?
Tomas Lindberg – No anxiety; everything is coming from the heart. We took our time writing and made sure not to feel pressure. We want to be happy with it and we are not worried too much what other people are going to think. It came naturally when Anders presented the first ideas. We took our time to do it right. We bought ourselves time and wrote a bit before we announced our plans for the new record.
CrypticRock.com – That is good that you took the time to enjoy the entire process. In the end it will make for a much better memory and experience for yourself and the listeners. What are some of your musical influences?
Tomas Lindberg – I would say I come from a very lucky generation. When we were ten, NWOBHM was the shit. It was huge and it was everywhere. We were buying records; we were the perfect age for that. Then in our early teens Slayer, Dark Angel, Voivod just hit us. The records were out there and it was perfect. Then when we turned around 15-16 death metal was there and it had become big. Each era had a very important band for me, Thin Lizzy in the first era, Dark Angel, and then Morbid Angel. So we were ready to make our first record at the right time. For instance, when we started as Grotesque in 1988, I was only about 16 years old.
CrypticRock.com – That is a phenomenal mix of emerging styles from which to draw influence. Our last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers all forms of rock music and horror films. If you are a fan of horror films what are some of your favorites?
Tomas Lindberg – Yeah well, Anders is the horror movie geek; he collects a lot of old Italian video cassettes. For me I am into the old ones like Suspiria (1977), or the more arty stuff like Repulsion (1965). One movie that has all those really old school, horror/splatter feelings that really boils it down for me is The House By The Cemetery (1981). It is so classic and it has all those elements that a horror movie needs. The Exorcist (1973) is another one I love.
Catch At The Gates on tour:
7-10-14 Neskaupstadur (Iceland) – Eistnaflug Festival
At War With Reality 2014:
11-20-14 Tampere (Finland) – Klubi
11-21-14 Jyväskylä (Finland) – Lutako
11-22-14 Helsinki (Finland) – Nosturi
11-27-14 Göteborg (Sweden) – Trägårn *
11-28-14 Stockholm (Sweden) – Arenan *
11-29-14 Malmö (Sweden) – KB *
12-4-14 London (UK) – Forum x
12-5-14 Manchester (UK) – Academy 2 x
12-6-14 Glasgow (UK) – Garage x
12-7-14 Birmingham (UK) – Academy x
12-8-14 Cardiff (UK) – Souls x
12-10-14 Essen (D) – Turock x
12-11-14 Hamburg (D) – Markthalle x
12-12-14 Eindhoven (NL) – Metal Meeting Festival
12-13-14 Leipzig (D) – Conne Island x
12-14-14 Wien (AT) – Arena x
12-16-14 Aarau (CH) – Kiff (* TRIPTYKON co-headline)
12-17-14 Munich (D) – Backstage Werk x
12-18-14 Antwerpen (B) – Trix x
12-19-14 Cologne (D) – Essigfabrik x
12-20-14 Berlin (D) – Postbahnhof x
* w/ Grave, Morbus Chron
x w/ Triptykon, Morbus Chron