AT THE GATES – Guitarist Anders Björler
Interview and live review by Luxi Lahtinen
Interview & live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Transcription by Tony Gabriel
Thanks to Mika "Mega" Kuusinen from Supersounds Music for booking us the interview
The oldest Scandinavian open air festival, Ruisrock festival, was arranged for the 39th time, gathering circa 70 000 people together during three days. The festival covers many styles of music and that´s why it has always been a successful event financially for the organizers of the festival.
This year the festival had booked Nightwish, H.I.M., Hanoi Rocks, The 69 Eyes, Primal Scream, Amorphis, Life of Agony and The Ark as some of the festival´s main acts, but my personal interest was focused on the legendary Swedish thrashers At The Gates that finally put some fire under their set of reunion shows that were put on hold for some years due to Adrian´s (Erlandsson) commitments with his other band Cradle of Filth at that time.
I caught up with Anders at the venue, and managed to talk with him briefly about these reunion shows, what kind of timeframe At The Gates have to pull them through within a certain time before all of their other bands get activated again – and whether there´s even a tiny possibility for them to release one (or some) of these ongoing reunion shows as a DVD so that everyone could get a chance to witness them live, at least this one time.
Be sure to read a live review about them from the end of Anders´ interview as well… ;o)
AT THE GATES REUNION SHOWS
There was years of talk about the At The Gates reunion shows before they actually happened. Did you – at least at some point, start loosing faith whether you could ever get these reunion shows up and running, the more time passed by?
Well, the biggest reason we didn’t play was that Adrian was very busy with Cradle of Filth. He couldn’t get any time off. He wasn’t even allowed to play in another band, and that was the major problem. I think we started talking about a reunion in 2002 or 2003, so it’s been in talks for a few years. Last year I called everyone up and asked if maybe they would like to do a summer thing next year, and everybody was pretty positive. That was a big thing, about planning ahead a year in advance, so that all the guys could get ready to do it.
Was the main idea behind these reunion shows basically the fact that while you were still around back in the day, there were so many people out there that never got to see any of your shows, so you kind of wanted to warm up this idea that "let´s give them at least this one opportunity to come to your shows, and enjoy them while you are doing them"?
Of course it’s for the fans, but it’s also for ourselves, making a final group of shows. When I left the band, it was so sudden, so we couldn’t do a last show, so this seems like a worthy ending, somehow.
Jeff Walker from Carcass also said in one interview that he would have teamed up with At The Gates for a few shows, but obviously these shows won´t happen as Carcass seem to be busy with their own reunion shows at the moment?
There were some talks, but mostly about the U.S. tour. But mostly, we wanted to do our own thing, separately from Carcass. We respect Carcass, but touring-wise we wanted to keep it low-scale, so that we were in control of the tour. We do festivals together anyway.
Originally you were obviously about to play only a few shows, but then again, as long as there´s demand for these At The Gates reunion shows, you will do them as much as it can be possible – correct?
Well, everything was planned previously, even the Swedish dates, but we couldn’t announce those until now. About the U.S. tour, we thought about doing both an east coast and west coast thing, but that never really happened, so we thought of doing a two-week stretch instead. The original idea was just New York and LA. We did some dates in Japan in May as well. It was amazing, it felt very good to play together again. We’ve never been there before. Tokyo was a magnificent show. However, we do not have any plans to go back to Japan, this is the end. As for places like South America and other places we can’t play, we will try to get a DVD together and release that next year, hopefully.
REMINISCING ABOUT THE AT THE GATES ALBUMS
Talking about the true cornerstone album of the whole At The Gates´ career, your last album titled SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL was released in 1995, and your sound was basically culminated in that particular album in question: It was aggressive, powerful, melodic and to-the-point – and like many say, it was your own REIGN IN BLOOD. How well do you think you achieved by coming close to the same vibe and atmosphere on SLAUGHTER as there was present in Slayer´s R.I.B. album, now when you come to think of it these days?
We had REIGN IN BLOOD as a sort of template for the type of album we wanted to make. It’s not very Slayer-like, but we liked the idea Slayer had on that album. It was something like 28 minutes long, and to-the-point. It felt like a good album, and we were inspired by that. Maybe it’s not as thrashy or fast, but we had the ideas sketched out to make a very dynamic album, and I think it worked out well. I think that why SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL became our biggest album was also that we changed labels to Earache Records. Our previous label, Peaceville Records, had very limited distribution.
Also, it´s being said that you started this whole ´Gothenburg sound´ phenomenon that many bands – both from Sweden and everywhere else, copied – and tried to do the same and ride on the same wings of success where you once were with albums like SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL, THE RED IN THE SKY IS OURS, WITH FEAR I KISS THE BURNING DARKNESS and so on. What do you have to say about this, many stating that At The Gates were the true inventors of this well-known ´Gothenburg sound´?
I don’t think so much about it. I think what’s unique is the old guitar player Alf. His style is unique, and I’ve never heard anything like it. Me and Jonas are more mainstream and when Alf left we moved onto a different songwriting style, a more mainstream, rock song sort of style, with verses and choruses. Alf was very influential on the early Gothenburg sound and me and Jonas were influential on the mid-90’s style, with In Flames. It was a symbiosis thing, we were very influenced by bands like Dissection and Eucharist, bands that played simultaneously. It was a big group of people, like 100 people or so, and a very creative atmosphere. It was sort of like a silent competition, you tried to do the best and you got the best. It was a very creative environment.
At The Gates have not only been one of the biggest influences for a whole new generation of Swedish metal acts, but you also have had a great impact on many young metal musicians all over the wolrd that have formed their own bands over the years. I just like to ask from you do you find it somewhat overwhelming and flattering that At The Gates achieved such a cult status amongst the youngsters, especially since At The Gates called its quits in 1996?
I’m flattered, of course! I think we got some help from big American bands like Killswitch Engage, who namedrop us, which lets people know who we are, because we are a very limited, underground death metal band.
Many people easily forget that you also recorded 3 other quality albums, TERMINAL SPIRIT DISEASE being one of them. This album had some truly outstanding songs in it, like "The Swarm" , "Terminal Spirit Disease" and "Forever Blind". Can you still remember why there were only 6 studio songs, and 3 live songs on that release? Did it have something to do with your label Peaceville that they were pushing you so heavily back to the record studio back then so that it would not have taken 2 years to get another At The Gates album out – and since you only had those 6 songs ready, you just decided to compromise a little bit and let your label to add those 3 live songs to it so that they could have at least had a chance to sell it as a full-lenght album, instead as a mini-album?
Well, we wanted to do a mini-album, an EP, but the label wanted a full-length, so we put on the live songs at the end to lengthen it. Unfortunately we can’t play anything off TERMINAL SPIRIT DISEASE tonight, due to set times, but we’ll be playing songs off from all the other full-length albums instead.
How about THE RED and WITH FEAR albums? Do you still still go back to them, and listen to them from time to time? What do you think of those two albums in question anyway?
To be honest, I haven’t listened to them since we made them, but I have to check them out now since we’re playing songs off of them. I like them in some way, because it’s evidence of our youthful past. It’s very filled with energy and ambition. There’s like a hundred riffs in each song. It’s pretty funny to listen to. It’s maybe not the best albums production-wise, but some of the riffs and some of the songs are very good and still work today.
DVD PLANS FOR AT THE GATES REUNION SHOWS
Do you have your own camera crew with you now when you are doing these reunion shows? I mean, since you are performing your shows for big crowds in the festivals, you would definitely get some great footage for a possible At The Gates DVD release?
We do some selected shows and some festivals that film themselves. We try to record as much as possible. For our DVD, we’re probably going to just use one concert. We’re probably going to use one of the bigger ones, like Sweden Rock or Wacken maybe. They have a professional film crew, especially at Wacken, who has 7 or 10 film crews. We’re going to collect the material for the DVD and work on it in the fall, so it’s probably going to be six months or so before it’s going to be released, possibly even longer.
You have also a pretty extensive US tour coming up, starting from July 9th already, with Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour. Obviously it also was pretty easy to get this tour arranged for the States as some many requests for these reunion shows came from that part of the world, does this correct?
We know both bands from way past. It’s more like inviting friends than anything else.
I noticed that the last 3 dates of this US tour that will happen in California where you´ll also play with the legendary Repulsion. I assume they are good friends of yours?
We don’t know them, but we grew up listening to them. We’ve talked to Scott the past couple of years, but I haven’t known him before that. They seem like fans of At The Gates as well, so it works out pretty well. It’s more like an invitation and special guest thing, we want to treat them like one of our influences and invite them on tour.
LIMITED TOURING TIMEFRAME
Have you had any talk about covering countries like Brazil or Australia with your reunion shows as well?
I don’t think the timeframe will allow it but we’ll try as much as possible, until the end of September. That’s when the new Haunted CD comes out. It’s all done, mixed and everything. After that’s released, I go on tour with The Haunted, and Tomas goes on tour with Disfear, so everybody’s going to be busy.
Have you received lots of mail from some people in record companies, showing their interest toward an idea about at least one more At The Gates album?
Not really an At The Gates album, but we’ve received some interest for live recordings. We’ll see what happens, we’re not in a big hurry to release anything, really. But no new studio album. It seems pointless after 12 years. I think people might think they want it, but when they actually hear it I don’t think they’ll want it anymore. That’s our feeling about it, at least. SLAUGHTER was a very good album to end with, as it would be very hard to top.
What about your set list for Ruisrock? Is it the basically the same compared to the previous reunion shows you have done so far? Is the main emphasis still on the SLAUGHTER album since it´s the one that At The Gates became most known for in the world´s metal community?
It’s going to be the same, pretty much. We’ve had limitations, like we could only play 50 minutes, but this is going to be an hour. The emphasis is going to be on SLAUGHTER, but that’s because that’s mainly what we did in ’95 because it was the latest release we had done. It’s the songs we’ve played the most, and also because Alf isn’t in the band anymore. But, we do some old songs, of course. We actually do more old songs now than we did in ’95. We do a couple that we haven’t played in almost 15 years.
Ok Anders… I think my time is up, so I wanna sincerely thank you for this interview opportunity with you, and wish you all the best for your gig tonight.
No problem – thank you, too.
No doubts, when the Swedish power fivesome At The Gates announced a bunch of reunions shows for 2008, many of us were living in that hope whether they could hit our home towns with their reunion shows. Lucky me – and many other Finns as well, Ruisrock festival – located in the south-west part of Finland, Turku, was on At The Gates´ list of the planned reunion gigs, on July 4th 2008.
As it´s already a commonly known fact – written in the history of heavy metal books forever, At The Gates were one of those first bands (if not the very first?) to be progenitors of the so-called ´Gothenburg sound´ that was said to be consisting of Maiden-ish melodies, added with an intense and aggressive death/thrash approach – and which metal heads around the globe seemed to love head over heels in the early ´90s. It surely offered something new and unique to people back then, even if nowadays when someone dares to mention the words ´Gothenburg sounding´, people somewhat automatically tend to turn heads far away from those two particular words. What once was a blessing, seems to be a curse these days. Oh well…
At The Gates´ whole career was nothing but admirable. It culminated in 1995 around their last album, titled SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL, which was said to be the band´s own tribute to Slayer´s classic REIGN IN BLOOD album, but with more melodies thrown in. They also managed to gain lots of respect during the successful career of 14-years they had, when ending At The Gates in 1996 – at the very top of their career - and specifically by that particular album, which also became sort of trendsetter of an album for many metal bands for years to come.
At The Gates were booked to perform on the main stage for early evening on Friday, July 4th – right before Porcupine Tree and Nightwish that were the last two remaining acts on the main stage at that day. Under quite a hot, sunny sky – hundreds and thousands of people had gathered to the front of the stage beforehand, and when At The Gates finally walked on the stage, a nostalgic, metallic feast was ready to begin…
What could be a more ideal and perfect way to start off the set, but churn "Slaughter of the Soul" out as for starters. When the first 2 minutes from that song had given fair warning to the crowd as to what was to be expected from At The Gates during that night, time seemed to lose its meaning. All these people – including me, did expect to see a reunion gig from these Swedish legends, which was definitely one of its kind, and that was what we´re about to get. A few thousand people couldn´t be wrong as far as the uniqueness of At The Gates was concerned.
"Cold", and "Terminal Spirit Disease" followed soon next – and most of us were blinded by the intensity and tightness that our Swedish heroes were bringing out from themselves, playing at such an intense level like they hadn’t quit the band in the first place. The guys looked really passionate and determined to pull off a great show – and undoubtedly we all knew already that something extraordinary great was in the air. The whole event started becoming more positively tense and hectic - the further their show was moving on.
At The Gates continued offering the sweetest of sweet numbers off all their 4 studio albums. Songs like "Kingdom Gone" and "Windows" off of the band´s debut album, THE RED IN THE SKY IS OURS, were definitely some of the coolest surprises in their set in my opinion, and according to the crowd´s reaction when Tomas (Lindberg) introduced the songs to the massive amount of people during the gig, one could tell that those two evergreen ATG songs had not been forgotten in 16 years. The main emphasis was understandably on their classic SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL album off which we got to hear 7 songs all in all. "Raped by the Light of Christ" – as well as "The Burning Darkness" (off their highly liked follow-up album, WITH FEAR I KISS THE BURNING DARKNESS) were also some of the coolest choices from them to perform at Ruisrock festival. I personally would have loved to hear f.ex. "Beyond Good and Evil" from that album, but then they should have played ALL the songs off of ALL their releases they have ever recorded - this including their 1st official 4-song mini-album (titled GARDENS OF GRIEF) naturally, too. I mean, all of us have our favorite ´instant classic hit songs´ from this legendary Swedish metal band, haven´t we? ;o)
As the crowning moment of this ultimate night-to-remember show, At The Gates came to the stage for the last time and played "Blinded by Fear". which sealed both band´s brilliant performance at Ruisrock festival, plus At The Gates´ truly sensational career, which somewhat sadly, was forced to come to its end. Good bye At The Gates for good - and thanks for all these delightful, past years that you have blessed us by your high calibre metallic extravaganza.
Slaughter of the Soul
Terminal Spirit Disease
Raped by the Light of Christ
Under a Serpent Sun
World of Lies
The Burning Darkness
The Beautiful Wound
encore: Blinded by Fear