“The Flames of the End”? - Guitarist Anders Björler wishes to pen the final chapter in the glorious history of Swedish legends At The Gates


By Anthony Morgan

Committed to tape during May-July 1995, Slaughter of the Soul was to be the fourth and final full length studio record released by Swedish legends At The Gates. Recorded with the then unknown producer Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, the album hit stores during November 1995. Its title track boasted lyrics influenced by the comedical novel The Dice Man by author Luke Rhinehart, taking inspiration from the cynicism and dark humour of the 1971 book. Voted the number one album of 1995 by Sweden's Close-Up magazine, Slaughter of the Soul also garnered a nomination in the “Best Hard Rock” category at the Swedish Grammy Awards. The video for lead cut “Blinded By Fear” received heavy rotation courtesy of MTV's Headbanger's Ball, enough to force the show to ignore viewers requests and refrain from playing the track on a weekly basis. In support of Slaughter of the Soul, a lengthy touring schedule was conducted. This began in earnest with a European trek alongside fellow Swedes Unleashed from November-December, followed by a nine date UK tour during January-February 1996 (supported by Swedish Black Metal act Dissection on six of those dates). Dissection and Floridian Death Metal legends Morbid Angel joined At The Gates on a US tour during March, the Gothenburg quintet quickly resuming the tour circuit via a European jaunt with Birmingham, UK Grindcore legends Napalm Death the following month. May witnessed no live dates, although a US tour with Napalm Death occurred during June-July.

Twins Anders (guitar) and Jonas Björler (bass) left the formation during July 1996, causing At The Gates to bring down the curtain on their six year career. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson immediately phoned guitarist Patrik Jensen (with stints as part of Séance, Orchriste, Witchery, and Satanic Slaughter) to form a new outfit. Jonas Björler filled in on bass soon after, whereas Anders Björler took over guitar duties from John Zwetsloot (Dissection, Cardinal Sin) after a few months. Dubbed The Haunted, the group have notched up well over a decade thus far as a respected outfit within the Metal scene. Erlandsson left in 1999, most notably occupying a seven year stay as part of British Black Metal mainstays Cradle of Filth (also drumming on behalf of Brujeria, Needleye, Samsas Traum, Netherbird and Nemhain in various other drumming capacities). Vocalist Tomas Lindberg resurfaced in a wide array of differing groups, building up a weighty CV that spoke of tenures within Skitsystem, The Great Deceiver, The Crown, Lock Up, Nightrage, and Disfear.

Meanwhile, the enchanting tale of At The Gates slowly grew to legendary proportions. Accredited with giving birth to the Gothenburg sound, it soon became fashionable amongst the underground Metal contingent to cite At The Gates as a prominent influence. Slaughter of the Soul's 2006 dualdisc reissue comprised six bonus tracks, the music video for “Blinded By Fear”, and a documentary which explored how the full length was made.

During October 2007, it was announced that At The Gates would reunite for several festival shows during the summer of 2008. Two July dates, in the form of appearances at Finland's Ruisrock festival and Germany's Wacken Open Air festival, were pencilled in. A lone UK date, at Derby's Bloodstock Open Air festival, was also revealed. A possible reunion had been on the table for several years, although the cards were stacked against this due to each member having their own respective musical commitments. Seeking closure, guitarist Anders Björler warmly agreed to an email interview with Lucem Fero. A down to earth individual, Björler seems game for a gentle laugh. Wishing to amend history, all involved want to let At The Gates esteemed career conclude on a positive note. An uneasy rift had fell upon the group for several years, one which took some time to heal. Nowadays though, the group members boast a healthier relationship, along with a more relaxed approach towards music and life.

 

  • Hi Anders. First of all, how are you?
  • I'm just fine. Oh wait, how long is this interview? Holy fuck - now I don't feel so great. My evening is ruined, hehe!
  • Could you give us an introduction to the At The Gates reunion, and how that eventually materialised?
  • If the reunion was ever to materialise, I felt that we would need to plan ahead. I got in touch with the other guys during May this year, and asked if they'd be interested in a possible reunion. They were, and we just took it from there.
  • Personally, what were your own reasons for wanting to pursue a reunion?
  • I just want closure. The split was bad in some respects, and we didn't talk to each other for years. I just want to go back, and make things right.
  • You said that it feels like getting closure, so have you ever held any regrets over how At The Gates ended?
  • I have no real regrets concerning the decision, although I have regrets in terms of the way it happened. I was fed up with the touring, and didn't want to record another album. Somehow, Slaughter Of The Soul felt like a good ending to our career.
  • In your statement announcing the reunion, you said “it felt like the timing was right for once”. Were there times in the past when the possibility of reunion shows were discussed by the members? For how many years has the idea been discussed?
  • I think we started discussing the possibility of reunion shows during 2002, but nothing ever happened then. Adrian was drumming for Cradle of Filth at the time, whereas me and Jonas had commitments with The Haunted. Tomas had The Great Deceiver, Lock Up, Disfear, Skitsystem etc... so it was very hard to arrange anything back then. As I said earlier, planning ahead is important. We let the guys in our other respective groups know what we're planning to do.
  • How did everything fall into place for the reunion to be possible?
  • Firstly, the reunion fits perfectly in line with the schedule we have for The Haunted. We will probably record our new album during April 2008, and that'll leave the summer relatively free. Me and Jonas didn't want the At The Gates reunion to affect The Haunted, so 2008 was an ideal time schedule the live shows. Adrian is no longer a member of Cradle of Filth, so he's not committed to extensive touring. All in all, 2008 turned out to be a great year.
  • Given the group's great legacy, do you feel you all have a lot to live up to with the live shows?
  • After eleven years of silence, it's always difficult when you return. When we split up, At The Gates became an entity and continued growing on its own. I'm not worried about the live shows, and think we're pretty relaxed in terms of what we do. We can't control people's expectations (and everybody has different expectations too); we just play in our style, and hope people will appreciate it.
  • Do you hold any fears that the shows may not live up to fan's expectations, given the fact they hold At The Gates in such high esteem? They're going to have to be pretty special, aren't they?
  • Well, if you expect pyro technique and a laser light show, then you're on the wrong track. At The Gates was never about that; we're a Death Metal band, and the focus is the music. We'll pick up where we left off - people who saw us performing live in the old days will know what I mean.
  • You said that all the members “have all changed as persons and musicians since” the recording of Slaughter Of The Soul. Personally, how do you feel you have changed both as a person and a musician over the last decade?
  • My attitude towards music is more relaxed. I've listened to a lot of other music, and broadened my senses both musically and personally. As a person, I'm not as stubborn and protective about my ideas as I used to be.
  • You said that the breakup was “abrupt and left a bad vibe” between the group “that took years to get over”. Immediately following the split, how volatile were relations between the band members?
  • It wasn't just the split; it was also during the touring in support of Slaughter of the Soul... Too much alcohol was the biggest factor. We were just kids back then, and were roughly in our early twenties. I guess we couldn't cope with touring that well. Following the split, I think the other guys were shocked about our decision to leave. Today though, I guess they understand why.
  • Ultimately, how did relations between the band members eventually heal?
  • Just time, I guess.
  • In comparison to the early to mid nineties, how would you describe the vibe within At The Gates nowadays?
  • Back in those days, we were close. For years, we rehearsed every day - we almost lived in the rehearsal room. Today, we have our other main groups and families that are our main priority. Actually, we haven't really met that much nowadays; so far this year, we have had one sit down. It's difficult to get everybody together as a result of our touring agenda, and the fact that Adrian lives in the UK. When we met though, it was within a very relaxed (but determined) atmosphere.
  • At The Gates is scheduled to start rehearsing early next year. How do you feel those initial rehearsals will go? It's been over a decade, so will be there be a lot of fire and passion delivered in those songs?
  • It'll be fun - there's no doubt about that.
  • Are there specific songs you're especially looking to forward to playing live? Were there any songs that were your particular favourites to play live with At The Gates? If so, why were those songs particular favourites?
  • We all have different favourites, so we'll have a difficult time composing the setlist. We'll play songs from all the releases, and that's the only thing I know. Some of my favourite tracks are the following; “The Swarm”, “Windows”, and “Primal Breath”. Every song has something unique, though it's hard to analyze further.
  • Since Alf Svensson was in the band for half its lifespan, are there any plans to include Alf in the reunion shows? Has Alf been approached? Would you like Alf to be involved?
  • We all want Alf to be part of the reunion shows. Right now though, I can't talk more about it.
  • For certain shows, is it possible that Alf could come onstage as a guest? To play a few songs with the group, taken from the first two records and the 1991 EP?
  • We'll see. It would be a cool thing.
  • In your statement announcing the reunion, you said that it “could” be people's last chance to witness At The Gates live. Given the fact that you used the word “could”, does this mean that the possibility of any live shows after 2008's summer hasn't been ruled out?
  • It's just the initial statement, alongside the Blabbermouth interview, that left that “uncertainty” vibe. It's definitely going to be the “last ever thing” with At The Gates.
  • Will any of the shows be recorded for a future live CD / DVD release? Are there any plans in the works to do this?
  • We hope to do something of this nature.
  • When asked about any possible plans to conduct a US tour with Carcass, you said “there are no concrete plans to tour with Carcass” while Tomas said “I have no comments for this one”. Has there been any discussion whatsoever between the At The Gates camp and the Carcass camp to negotiate some live shows?
  • Nothing concrete has been discussed. We met Jeff (Walker, bass) in the UK at a The Haunted show, and the discussion was more of a drunken conversation.
  • When possible dates materialise, can you confirm if there is any possibility that The Haunted and / or Disfear may be supporting acts for any of the dates?
  • It'll be highly unlikely, though our other groups will also perform at festivals in between the At The Gates concerts.
  • You said that Alf “definitely brought the dark and epic segments to our overall sound”. What do you feel each member of At The Gates brought to the band's overall sound?
  • Well, what you hear is what you get. Martin didn't write that much music, though he's a great guitarist. Me and Jonas are twins, so we basically have the same style in terms of playing our instruments and writing songs. Tomas brought his voice and lyrics of course, whereas Adrian hit the drums hard.
  • Can you tell me how At The Gates originally got together all those years ago?
  • During the summer of 1990, Tomas, Kristian (Wåhlin) and Alf had just disbanded Grotesque in order to begin a new project. They wanted to get away from the Black Metal genre, and play material with a more Death Metal vibe. They started rehearsing, and Tomas asked me if I could play bass temporarily. Hans Nilsson was hired to play drums. After a few rehearsals though, there was a divide. Alf, Tomas and myself left, taking the name At The Gates. Kristian and Hans, on the other hand, went on to form Liers In Wait. I switched to guitar, and Jonas began his musical career by playing the drums (later bass). That's the early story.
  • When you started At The Gates, did you ever feel that the group would leave a lasting legacy within the Metal realm?
  • No, although we were fortunate enough to continue on with the deal that Grotesque had agreed with Dolores Records. This enabled us to release Gardens Of Grief, so it was a good stepping stone.
  • Gardens of Grief was At The Gates' first official release. How did that recording come into fruition, and how do you feel it differed when compared to later recordings from the group?
  • It was extremely experimental. We had just played together for roughly four months, and then we recorded the tracks at Sunlight Studio. I think we developed everything through that period in time; our songwriting, our musicianship and also our ability to work together socially. The songs featured on the later albums are more structured, though the production suffered a lot. This was due to the low studio budget, and the fact that we didn't really know what we were doing. Having said that, I still think Gardens Of Grief is an ok debut EP.
  • Prior to signing with Peaceville, you toured Sweden with acts like Bolt Thrower and Dismember. Is there anything particularly memorable you can remember from those tours?
  • You couldn't really describe it as touring; for example, we only did one show with Bolt Thrower. Mainly, we did one off shows wherever we could play. It wasn't until 1995 that we began to conduct extensive tours (following the release of Slaughter Of The Soul). My memories from the early shows can be explained with one word: chaos!
  • How did the group end up being signed by Peaceville? What appealed to the band about Peaceville, and what about the band appealed to Peaceville?
  • I guess we forced them to sign us, hehe! I think Tomas was in touch with Hammy of Peaceville, and we sent them a demo which contained several songs. Given the fact we got signed by them, I guess they liked us. We all liked Peaceville, and the groups they signed (Autopsy etc.). A couple of years after we recorded The Red In The Sky Is Ours, I spoke to Hammy. At that time, it was still the most expensive recording ever to be released via Peaceville Records. He still thinks it sounds weird.
  • The Red In The Sky Is Ours, At The Gates first full length, came in 1992. How was the writing process shaped on this effort, do you feel the group was just finding its feet on that specific album?
  • The Red In The Sky Is Ours was more structured than Gardens Of Grief, yet was still an experimental record in some respects. When we recorded it, we had just been together for just a year. The production is weird, and very weak - Kerrang! magazine described it the best: “The guitars sound like wet cucumbers”. In terms of songwriting, we began getting to know each other musically. This was despite the fact I felt some of Alf's ideas were over the top, and that it was very strange music. What you hear on the album is Alf Light. I can't really remember our specific thoughts, or strategies, at that time. Sometimes though, I think we tried too hard to impress people with too many riffs and weird songwriting.
  • With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness then came in 1993. How do you feel it compared to its predecessor, and do you feel it went any further than the full length debut in forging the group's own individual identity?
  • Every album came out different. In some respects, it was almost schizophrenic in the same way that a group which seeks its style is. With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness is our darkest album, I think. In terms of the production, it's also heavier than the previous albums. I don't think we questioned what we did, or analyzed anything. We just kept on playing, and what came out is what you hear.
  • In support of With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness, you toured the UK with Cradle of Filth and Anathema. In 2008, you'll be returning courtesy of Bloodstock Open Air. How do you feel At The Gates return to the UK will compare with past visits from the band to these shores?
  • It feels cool to not only perform within the United Kingdom, but to perform anywhere.
  • Terminal Spirit Disease was hailed as At The Gates' breakthrough album. What can you remember about sessions for the album, and did you think that the album further the group's critical reputation?
  • I don't remember much about Terminal Spirit Disease, except the fact that we had a new guitar player. It was the first recording in the new Fredman studio, and it turned out really good. In comparison to our previous material, the songs were simpler and more to the point. We also tried to elaborate on ideas which were a little different, such as the violin / cello in “And the World Returned”.
  • Guitarist Alf Svensson left in 1993. What were the reasons surrounding his departure, and how did Martin Larsson eventually join the band?
  • I think Alf was tired of the whole thing, though he didn't really. specify why. He just had enough, and wanted to concentrate his efforts on his tattoo studio. Later on, Alf quit the tattoo thing in order to pursue a career in 3D modelling for a computer game company. We knew Martin from the old days. We met him at concerts, and had also played with his group House of Usher once or twice. It felt like a good substitute.
  • Following Alf's departure, the band went into a more straightforward direction. How did that straightforward approach develop, and in what ways do you feel that introduced At The Gates to a new audience?
  • The main reason for the straightforwardness was Alf's departure from the band. For sure, that development was a new step for At The Gates. Alf was a main songwriter; of course, his input would no longer be present.
  • What were the reasons surrounding the group's departure from Peaceville Records, and subsequent signing with Earache?
  • The contract ended. As we knew Dan Tobin previously (earlier Peaceville), he introduced us to Digby (who was interested in the band). At the time, we liked Earache - it was the biggest independent Death Metal label. We recorded a demo in early 1995, and Digby liked what he heard.
  • Slaughter Of The Soul came in 1995, and is in the minds of many a cornerstone of the genre. How did that record develop into a fully realised record, and how did things just fall into place?
  • We came home from a miserable tour, one where we almost were stranded by our bus company. Somehow, I think that made us stronger. We wanted to release the nineties equivalent of Reign In Blood; easy, hard-hitting, to-the-point songs and a running time between thirty and thirty-five minutes was the goal we set out.
  • Slaughter Of The Soul and Terminal Spirit Disease were produced by the legendary Fredrik Nordström. What did he bring to the group's overall sound on the finished disc, and what qualities did he bring to the songs in terms of production?
  • It was a symbiosis between us, I guess. He came from a Rock N' Roll tradition, whereas we came from the underground Death Metal scene. Given the fact he only had sixteen channels, we actually forced him to buy an entirely new mixing console for the recording of Slaughter Of The Soul. He has great ears, despite the fact that I don't really like his sound ideal when it comes to drums. On the other hand, he's very good at guitar sound. When we recorded Terminal Spirit Disease, he was still somewhat fresh to studio work. All in all, it took a couple of years to perfect it. Slaughter Of The Soul is one of the albums that made him successful.
  • Andy LaRocque contributed a solo to the song “Cold” on Slaughter Of The Soul. How did that end up happening, and how would you personally describe that specific solo within the song? What do you feel it contributes to the track?
  • Well, I think it was an idea Fredrik had. In the past, he had asked Andy to do something similar. He just called him up, and I gave him the tape. Two days later, Andy laid it down on tape within half an hour. The audio cassette I gave him played at the wrong speed at his house, so he had to transcribe the whole thing. I think it's a great solo, and I still can't play it properly.
  • At The Gates did two US tours with Morbid Angel and Napalm Death. When you were on those tours, did you sense that the end was near?
  • Not really, though it definitely was the beginning of the end. We were young, inexperienced and the alcohol was always present.
  • Slaughter Of The Soul was an extremely successful album, so there was pressure in delivering a follow up. Do you feel this heavily contributed to the split?
  • Not really. It was a personal decision, and one that had nothing to do with writer's block.
  • Did any pressure from the label contribute to the split?
  • No; there was no pressure from anyone, or anywhere.
  • This is a difficult question to ask, so you have my apologies in advance. In a damning interview following Tomas' split from The Crown (Close-Up Magazine, late 2003), Magnus Olsfelt blamed Tomas' departure from the band on the allegation that “no one could deal with him when he was drunk”. Magnus also stated that this was the reason why At The Gate called it quits. Is there any truth to this allegation, or was Magnus mistaken in making that comment?
  • It's true that Tomas was weird sometimes in his drunken state, but not any weirder than the rest of us.
  • Tomas cited growing musical differences for the original split. In 1996 prior to the split, what musical ideas did you have for the follow up to Slaughter Of The Soul? From your personal viewpoint, which direction did you want to go in following that album?
  • Tomas loved Punk, and Crust Hardcore. Of course though, this had nothing to do with the split. We were still on the same wavelength musically.
  • You said that you wanted the album to be the nineties Reign In Blood, so in what respects do you feel the album possibly achieved this?
  • It's fast, to the point and has good songs.
  • When you initially began The Haunted, did you ever fear that At The Gates would be your only brush with success in the metal world?
  • Not really. The Haunted felt like a relief, and a break from all the things that had happened in the past. Finally, I was back in the rehearsal room having fun. We never dreamt of taking The Haunted to where we are today.
  • What was your favourite At The Gates album, and why?
  • Terminal Spirit Disease, although I don't know why. It's a feeling I get.
  • What do you feel was the weakest At The Gates record, and why?
  • With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness, and that's mostly due to the production.
  • When asked about the possibility of new material, Tomas said “It would be fun to write together, but not under the name of At The Gates”. Providing it didn't conflict with your commitments to The Haunted, would you be receptive to the idea of writing some tracks with the guys under a new moniker?
  • Maybe, although I don't see the point in having two Metal bands.
  • At The Gates is a group deemed ahead of its time, and many bands of today attempt to replicate that sound and style within their own work. It's called the Gothenburg sound nowadays as you well know, and one that is gaining more and more recognition each and every day. What do you feel At The Gates personally contributed to the so callled Gothenburg sound, and what elements of the band can you hear in the music of today's artists?
  • We contributed to melody in Extreme Metal, though we weren't the first to use melodies. I don't really keep up with new and upcoming groups, but the ones I hear don't resemble At The Gates at all.
  • What do you feel sets out At The Gates from the plethora of other artists out there? What makes At The Gates such a special group?
  • The composition of people within the group is always the major factor.
  • How would you like the legacy of At The Gates to be remembered in years to come?
  • Hopefully with respect.
  • Thanks for the interview Anders, and for leaving a lasting legacy in the metal scene with At The Gates. Do you have any message for the fans that supported the group over all these years, and those who intend to see the group in 2008's summer?
  • Thanks; I'll see you next year. If you have any questions in general, just email me at dahaunted@hotmail.com. Thanks! Keep supporting Metal!