It was James Bond, wasn’t it, who said something about never saying never? And yet, when At The Gates, progenitors of the ‘Gothenburg’ style of melodic death metal and arguably one of the most influential death metal bands to immerge from the European continent (inspiring as they did a whole slew of NWOAHM bands) announced in 2007 that they would be reuniting for one summer of touring 11 years after originally calling it quits at the height of their powers, their proclamations that there would be no more tours and no new music certainly had a ring of honesty and a more than slightly disappointing air of finality to them. But, much as our rakish 007 learned, you must never say never. In 2011, the Swedish quartet were persuaded to reunite one more time, and earlier this year the band revealed that they would, after all, be releasing a brand new album – At War With Reality – 19 years after their last, the incredible, genre-defining Slaughter Of The Soul.
While from an external perspective these may seem like a series of isolated, disjoined occurrences, in reality, as it transpired, the 2008 reunion was merely the catalyst for a series of events that began to lead the band almost inexorably to where we are now. Vocalist Tomas ‘Tompa’ Lindberg picks up the story…
“I understand that from an outside point of view you see: ‘2008, this is it – one final summer.’ And then in 2011 all of a sudden we come back, but still no album. And then in early 2014: ‘Oh, they’re doing an album!’, and it looks like: Boom, boom, boom,” he tells Metal Hammer one sunny afternoon at the offices of Century Media, the band’s new home. “But the process was a growing thing – when we came back in 2008 we really thought that that was it ourselves; we had tears in our eyes after the last show in Athens. We really believed that that was the end, and we’d had so much fun that it was almost heartbreaking to say goodbye. Then me and Anders [Björler – guitar] worked on the DVD documentary, and the live DVD of the Wacken show, and we did that for almost two years so At The Gates was still kind of active in our own heads – we never really left it.”
It was only until an invitation to play the Gothenburg Metaltown festival in 2011 came around, however, that the band remained on the shelf.
“We got approached by Metaltown, and they said it was pretty stupid that At The Gates had never played the festival as we’re partially to blame for the whole thing,” explains Tomas, with their appearance there proving to be the springboard for a second reunion tour, this time trekking to parts of the world that had been missed in 2008 – South America and Australia particularly. And yet, still no talk of new albums. That, however, wasn’t going to last.
“That tour, back in 2011,” recalls Tomas, “travelling the world together… five best mates having the best of times… getting better and better live all the time… building up this great thing… Well, there was only one thing missing really, wasn’t there? Just one thing more that other bands do that we didn’t do. When Anders quit The Haunted, that should have rung my warning bell; I thought, ‘Oh, he’s done with metal.’ But, as it turns out, some of the first things he started writing after that were metal riffs. And I was the first guy he called and he was like, ‘I’ve got a couple of riffs – they might be along the lines of At The Gates – do you want to hear them?’ And I obviously said yes straight away – I asked him if he’d got any more and he did. Then we got Jonas [Björler – bass] involved and all of a sudden, without really thinking about it, we found ourselves working on four or five songs – me, Anders and Jonas; we were all looking at each other like, ‘Is this us doing a new At The Gates record?’ And, as it turns out, it was!”
At The Gates wouldn’t be the first band to return after years consigned to metal’s history books, only to have found increased adoration – parallels with the UK’s own death/grind innovators Carcass are hard to ignore. But, having originally split in ’96 at the very moment when they seemed poised to explode fully into the global metal consciousness, with increasingly successful US tours behind them and the video for Slaughter Of The Soul’s lead track, Blinded By Fear, on heavy rotation on MTV, does Tomas or the rest of the band harbour any regrets about losing that momentum?
“Well, I guess we wouldn’t be here now if we didn’t split up in ’96, that’s the truth,” muses the frontman. “I mean, we can joke about it a little bit – we could have churned out shittier and shittier albums and still be here, playing smaller venues and having that ‘They were better before…’ kind of vibe. But all the things that happened between ’96 and ’08 were very important. We kept ourselves busy with other musical projects during that time, and, for me personally, I started my family in that time away; I went to university and became a teacher – all that stuff comes into what we do now and it’s very important. So, I mean, to have not broken up At The Gates in ’96 might have sent our lives in some very strange directions and the band may not be here today.
“Sometimes time can work for you,” he concludes. “That’s why it is very comforting to be able to deliver a record now that actually makes us a contemporary band again, even if it means that we lose the momentum of being a ‘classic’ band, being ‘legends’ or whatever – it may even put us in smaller venues again, I don’t know. And I don’t really care, because now we’re making music together again, and that’s what’s important.”