Latest release: At War With Reality (Century Media)

Swedish melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates continue to be highly respected metal band and are currently in the country, unleashing their unique brand of death metal, which is a rare treat. Shortly before their tour here, Loud Online spoke to one of the band’s guitarists, Martin Larsson about the tour and the legacy of the tightly rehearsed band that is At The Gates.

For your current tour, what can fans to expect from the set list?
We’re playing about a third of the set with material from our new album At War With Reality and about two thirds of old stuff. So it is going to be a good mixture of old and new material.

How has the new album material been going over live?
Surprisingly well, actually. In some places people seem to know the new stuff best.

Slaughter of the Soul was released back in 1995 whilst the next album, At War With Reality, was released in 2014. Almost twenty years between albums is a substantial amount of time. Did the song writing methods change?
It is a long time between albums but song writing wise, Anders [Björler – lead guitar] is the main songwriter and has got the same metal influences as way back and maybe that shows. It is hard to say because even with nineteen years apart between releases, it is a logical follow up album.

Would you tinker with the classic album Slaughter of the Soul given the benefit of hindsight?
I don’t believe in altering things or thinking in that way because what happened turned out well. It is a little one dimensional but it had to be that way since it came out of a pretty rough time for us as a band. It was almost like a primal scream of an album. Now that we’ve had a chance to do the next album, we tried to do it better and make it more varied.

The funny thing is that the second reunion of the band created the impetus for a new album. Prior to that, the band swore that it was never going to happen. What made the new decision occur?
I think it just happened naturally since we just kept on playing year after year. In 2008 we said we were not going to create any new music and we honestly believed that at the time. But it was such a good thing that we had going and we didn’t want to quit. Eventually it is the case that if you’re a band, you write music, record it and put it out; that is what you do.

The live Wacken album from 2010 was well received. Are there plans to record any shows for this current tour?
There is no talk about it. I don’t think so but you never know because if we keep on going then it will eventually happen.

When you record live, do you feel self-conscious playing live knowing it is being recorded?
Not so much nowadays because we play so much and whilst you are so into what you are doing then there is no time to think about anything outside of that.

Guitar wise, what are you using and what tunings do you favour?
Anders and I are both paying Ibanez guitars. I am playing a standard RG series whilst he has a custom and we’re happy with it. We tune down to B so it is one string lower than regular tuning.

Did you ever consider playing baritone guitars?
We were actually using a baritone guitar for the album and all of the songs on the album were recorded using a baritone guitar. But is a little too heavy and it pretty demanding to play so it doesn’t really work in a live situation.

Tuning down gives more slack in the string though.
We’ve done it for so long that it is just natural now.

At The Gates is seen as a pioneer for melodic death metal. What are your thoughts on that tag and on the accolade of being massively influential?
We don’t think about it because it is just weird to think about it along those lines. It is very flattering but that is it.

A lot of the bands that followed in your wake had more guitar solos, would you agree?
Yes, we’ve never ever been a solo band. I really like Anders style but I am a little bit more meat and potatoes in my style when it comes to soling. It is really melody based and I like that with Anders.

Given the resurgence of vinyl, you did a split release with Decapitated. How did that come about?
That is mostly a label thing but we’re always happy to do things with other good bands. We also put out a split release with Voi-Void and they are one of my favourite bands. I’m really happy with that. I listen to the vinyl for approval [of masters] but there are so many bands to listen to today.

What would you say is the most notable change in the metal scene over the last twenty years in light of the impact of Slaughter of the Soul?
For me, it bounced back. When we quit At the Gates in the mid-nineties I think that the metal scene was in a really sorry state. It was so tidy, produced, boring and lifeless. So I almost completely got out of it and was just listening to old stuff. Around the millennium, new things started happening again as new generations came through. They really knew their stuff but it took me a while to back track and to find all of these great bands that I missed.

You mentioned the production overkill of the mid-nineties. Have you found using an external producer is of use to you or do you prefer to do your own thing?
We’re one of the bands who always know what we want. It is always good with an outside view. For this latest album the pre-production took such a long time. We wrote it and then did demos and arrangements for more than a year before we went into the studio. Now, with home recording, you can do those sorts of demos at home so you know very well what you want it to sound like when you enter the studio. So it is just more down to the actual recording.

Given Anders is the writer of a lot of the material, how you get input into the songs? Is there an opportunity to veto things as a band?
Yeah, it is a very democratic process. It is easy to do it today with the Internet and home recordings. He did home recordings then in just a second you can send it via Dropbox or whatever to listen to it. The whole band being between London and parts of Sweden can listen to it and comment on it or provide ideas so it is so much easier and you don’t have to be in a rehearsal room. I do miss that situation but for us, now that we are so spread out, it is very easy.

How has the equipment being used changed given the technological impacts?
For studio situations we have the regular tube amps but live Anders and I use PODs because you never know the gear you are going to get until you arrive. Mostly you do if you have tech riders but sometimes it is hard to get what you are asking for so it is a whole different safety to use the PODs to know that you’ll have the same sound wherever you go.

Which album is the most proud moment?
That it is hard to say. At the moment it is the last one because this is now. I am really happy with all of them. I am not playing on the two first ones [The Red in the Sky is Ours and With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness] but I was a fan before I joined. I am still playing along to the early stuff.