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In the fall of 1995 At the Gates released their fourth album Slaughter of the Soul — a genre-defining melodic death masterpiece. The record, which merged NWOBHM harmonies with a vicious Floridian death-metal assault, didn't just epitomize what would become known as the "Gothenburg sound" — it was also responsible for helping to inspire countless metalcore and deathcore bands that would rise to prominence over the next two decades.
The band — singer Tomas Lindberg Redant, guitarists Anders Björler and Martin Larsson, bassist Jonas Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson — broke up shortly after its release. But At the Gates' legacy, and the stature of Slaughter of the Soul, kept growing. The crew went their separate ways, and its members spent time performing in the Haunted, Disfear, the Crown, Cradle of Filth and more. At the Gates reunited in the mid-Aughts for some one-off shows, before dropping their 2014 comeback record At War With Reality, which was followed by 2018's To Drink From the Night Itself.
2021 brings with it another chapter to the At the Gates story with the recent announcement of their seventh full-length, The Nightmare of Being — a genre-pushing album that finds the band adding some seriously progressive elements to their mix of grinding, pit-starting riffs and Lindberg's seething vocals exploring the dark existential corners of the human experience.
To celebrate At the Gates' forthcoming album, we reached out to some of our favorite contemporary musicians to get their take on the band's influence. Below, Johannes Eckerström — vocalist for Swedish theatrical metal outfit Avatar — talks about what it was like growing up in Gothenburg in the shadow of the melodic-death greats, how At the Gates' "legendary masterpiece" Slaughter of the Soul informed Avatar's creative vision and more.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD MELODIC DEATH METAL?
JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM My first clear memory of hearing melodic death metal was probably when my brother showed me Clayman by In Flames. The first time I heard it, I thought it was way too extreme with the vocals and all that. The second time I heard them I had already ventured into way more extreme realms and suddenly they almost sounded too soft. The third time it finally clicked and I loved it. These three instances feel like eons apart, but as it all happened when I was 14 years old it was probably a matter of few months. I did play before hearing melodic death metal, but it did lay the foundation for the music we initially wanted to do with Avatar.
TELL US THE STORY ABOUT HOW YOU FIRST DISCOVERED AT THE GATES.
I have very vague memories of seeing the music video of "Blinded By Fear" on TV as a kid, but I don't count it as it's just a fragment. At the Gates had split up around the time I got into metal, and other Gothenburg bands were in the forefront of my mind. The most important one was the Haunted. They truly laid the foundation for Avatar as it was their songs, and their style of playing we tried to learn while figuring how to even tune the guitars. Some older, wiser friends did inform me that some members of the Haunted indeed used to have a band before and there were talks about this legendary masterpiece Slaughter of the Soul. In that period, the first thing I actually heard was when I arrived to our rehearse room and our guitar player at the time, Simon [Andersson], was jamming the "Blinded By Fear" riff with [drummer] John [Alfredsson]. I was devastated to hear that he didn't write it, but soon after I finally bought the CD and never looked back.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE AT THE GATES RECORD?
I want to emphasize how great I find both To Drink From The Night Itself and At War With Reality, but I have to say Slaughter of the Soul here. It just ended up being so influential on us and even more so on some close friends, so the memories tied to it are just so many and so great.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE AT THE GATES SONG?
At this time, when the questioned is asked I must say "Cold" because I suddenly remember the reggae version me and a friend did back in the day.
YOU MENTIONED THAT MELODIC DEATH METAL LAID THE FOUNDATIONS FOR WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO IN AVATAR. CAN YOU TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT HOW AT THE GATES INFLUENCED YOUR OWN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?
They were a generation ahead of us successfully showing how to blend melody and brutality. They have depth also when they're catchy — and they're catchy also when they're progressive. There is also a certain quality to the lyrics that we need to shine a light on. It's extremely beautiful — The Red in the Sky Is Ours is probably the best album name of all time — with a sensitivity and sincerity that struck me very hard the first time I encountered them. I feel they set a tone for me, embracing and striving to be different.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW AT THE GATES PERFORM LIVE?
Sweden Rock Festival 2008. The longing, the release, the mosh pit. It was one of the happiest and most violent moments I've had as an audience member. Carcass played the same festival the day after. It was a good year for reunions.
DO YOU REGULARLY GO BACK AND LISTEN TO AT THE GATES? OR DO THEY REPRESENT A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME IN YOUR HISTORY?
I am keener on what they are doing right now. My impression is that they just do music now because they really want to, and it shows.
AT THE GATES HELPED PUT GOTHENBURG ON THE INTERNATIONAL METAL MAP. WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU GROWING UP IN THE SHADOW OF SUCH A MYTHOLOGIZED SCENE?
Growing up in a city with a pedigree and track record is a blessing and a curse. Those who came before you paved a way for you to wander, which is great, but then everyone on that way just wants to talk about those guys. You need to work twice as hard to prove you're something else. But all in all, I'm grateful. At the Gates' influence can be felt all over the planet, not just in their tiny little home town.