Against Magazine

At The Gates (Interview w/ Martin Larsson)

“At War With Reality” was one of the most widely acclaimed releases of the past year, and it has all the traits to qualify it as an instant At the Gates classic, as well as the potential to be regarded as one of the whole melodic death metal genre’s best records so far. To talk about it, we had a chat with guitarist Martin Larsson about all things related to the process of creating this comeback record that took 19 years in the making.

Photo: Andy Hayball

Hello Martin! Back in 2008, after At the Gates’ first reunion, you guys said that there was no interest in recording a new album. I must ask you, what has changed since then, up to the point when you started thinking about making this new record a reality? 

Hi Luís! That’s what we honestly felt and believed back then. But time went on and the good feeling never wore off so eventually the urge to create new music became too strong to resist.

It’s been 19 years since your last record “Slaughter of the Soul”. All of you went through different paths in life and into the most diverse musical avenues. How do you compare At The Gates’ vision, music and line-up in 1996, the year you first disbanded, with the band that has now recorded “At War With Reality”? How do you look at the evolution of your music?

In a way it’s not so different from back then. When you listen to the album I think it’s hard to tell that it has been 19 years since the last one. Sure, we’ve all done a lot of very different things since 1995, but I think having been down all these other paths now helped us to focus on making an album that is 100% At the Gates.

How was it going back to the studio after all these years and writing again with Anders, Jonas, Adrian and Tomas? Did you all felt some pressure at the account of your last record “Slaughter of the Soul” being acclaimed as a masterpiece and seen as highly influential over the last 19 years?

I think Tompa and the Björlers, as songwriters, felt a little bit of pressure before we even started. But once Anders sent us the sketch for the first song we instantly knew that we were on the right path. From then on we were 100% focused on the songwriting process and didn’t have time to think about any outside pressure.

There are moments that remind us of the ’90s such as “At War With Reality” and “The Book of Sand (The Abomination)”, but it seems that there is a new and different approach with emphasis on groove and with occasional progressive touches in tracks like “Death and the Labyrinth”, “The Circular Ruins” and “The Night Eternal”. Was it in the mind of the band to make “At War With Reality” an album that would bridge the gap between past and the present or did it just flowed out naturally at the account of your most recent influences?

When it comes to metal, Anders, who wrote most of the music, still listens to the same things he did way back when. I do think the album bridges the gap between “Slaughter…” and the earlier stuff in a good way. We did feel already when “Slaughter…” was released that it came out very one-dimensional. For that record it works really well, but we wouldn’t have made another album like that even if we would have put out one around ’96-’97.

If people don’t go and read the credits, most might not know that the special guest doing the Spanish vocals in “El Altar del Dios Desconocido” is none other than Anton Reisenegger, Lock Up’s guitarist. It’s somehow different and unusual. What’s the idea behind this intro and how did Anton came along to do it?

We needed someone who speaks Spanish fluently (preferrably from South America, since the author is Argentinian) to read the intro and Anton who is a good friend was up for trying. I’d say he nailed it.

Photo: Daniel Falk

“At War With Reality” is mostly based around the concept of “Magic Realism” which is something usually applied in such forms of art expression such as literature and films. Can you tell us a bit more about that, how that relates with the songs and how you guys came up with the overall concept for the record?

I know Tompa, who is a voracious reader, had been heavily into magic realism for several years before he wrote the lyrics for “AWWR”. Once it was time to write the new album he realised that this could be worked into an overall concept for the whole album. Magic realism is very surreal, dreamlike and multi-layered and that style works perfectly with the mood of the songs. He studied thoroughly and worked very hard with the lyrics for this album and that shows. He really surpassed himself this time.

There are 14 paintings in the record’s inner book, each one related to each song on the record. The cover of the record is one of those paintings and it relates to the song “At War With Reality”. Who designed these pieces and how was the creative process for their designs?

Costin Chioreanu did all the art for the whole album. We sent him the lyrics for inspiration and he sent sketches back for approval. It was obvious right away that he was the right guy for the job. For some of the pieces we discussed back and forth for a bit, but most of the stuff he suggested was perfect from the beginning.

It’s widely known that some guys in bands like Lamb of God picked up your records in the mid 90s and those influences helped them shape the sounds that started getting metal back to the forefront in the beginning of the ’2000s. So, how have you seen the evolution of the metal scene through all of these years and how do you feel about knowing that your work in At the Gates was an essential key to the resurgence of that scene in other countries?

I don’t think any of us think very much about the influence we’ve had on other bands. But of course it’s flattering and without all these American bands dropping our name in interviews here and there during our absence, we would probably not be on the level we’re on now.

Would you say, even having in account that most of you have other jobs and other bands, that At the Gates will keep recording more studio albums and are now here to stay?

It’s definitely a possibility, we have no plans of quitting at the moment. On the other hand we’ve learned the hard way not to make any more statements about our future as a band.

What are At the Gates plans for the following months? 

Touring, touring, touring. Then it’s festival season. We’re very much looking forward to playing in Spain again in March.

Thank You for the time you took to answer our questions Martin!

Thank you, Luís, for your time and support!

‘At War With Reality’ is out on Century Media Records.

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