Chuck Schuldiner Project

Thursday, June 18, 2015

At the Gates Interview : Track-by-track guide to "At War with Reality" with Tomas Lindberg (Pt.2/3)

For those of you that might’ve missed out on the 1st part of this interview (link:, earlier this month I was granted the opportunity to catch up with At the Gates on their tour promoting their latest record, titled “At War with Reality”. For the 2nd part of this interview, I decided to some time to go through a track-by-track breakdown of the record. As some of you might’ve noticed already, I happen to be a big fan of concept albums, and considering the fact that one of my favorite bands’ latest record happens to be one, I could not help but jump on the occasion to discuss and dive into more detail into the twisted subject matter behind the albums’ lyrics.

1. El Altar Del Dios Desconocido
The spoken word section is a quote from one of these writers I talked about before.
-Ernesto Sabato, right?
Exactly, Ernesto Sabato, this guy (points to the photo on his cap with a large smile). It's from a book called On Heroes and Tombs, which is also kind of similar to one of our song titles on the record. It's really about one of the character in the book trying to find his own way to the concept of "God": "if God exists, what is it?" and stuff like that. It's like this whole questioning and cynical way of looking at the world that really declares the style of the record. We really wanted it to be recited in its native language and to create a really disturbing soundscape around it. So we got the guy who did the intro for "Blinded by Fear" back in the day to do the intro for us, together with our friend Anton (Reisenegger) of Lock Up and Pentagram to do the spoken-word part. He's from Chile, so he's got a somewhat similar way of speaking Spanish as in Argentina.

2. Death and the Labyrinth
- The title comes from a book by Michel Foucault, right?
Exactly! His only book on literary criticism. Most people know him as more of a philosopher dealing with the structures of power and other stuff that are also very interesting, I've studied a lot of that before. This, however, deals with his way of approaching how language is a way of perceiving reality and how we create reality with language. That's kind of what this song is about. He had one example in that book but I kind of made into a general thing. The song is sort of a declaration of the concept. The reference to the book is intentional so that you can go further and find out for yourself. That's the whole thing with the record, that's another thing that these writers had in South America in the 60s' and 50s': a lot of stuff references to other books. In one of Sabato's books, Jorge Luis Borges appears in the book, talking as a character. They make a lot of these references all the time, which makes it more fun.

3. At War with Reality
The title track is sort of in the continuation of the previous one. “Death and the Labyrinth” is the introduction to the concept of the record and “At War with Reality” points down and says "THIS is the concept of the record", that's what the song says. It explains the idea of breaking down our perception of reality and trying to understand other perceptions of reality and going further from there. There's a lot of naivety in the world and that's what we are at war with really, this western Eurocentric world view. We really want to strike against that, so the title-track is the declaration of the concept behind the record.

4. The Circular Ruins
That’s the title of a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. I started with his basic ideas, namely his criticism against modern man and how we use technology to sort of "play God". It's a very weird, nightmarish kind of novel, so I took that concept and then applied it into the modern world to refer to what we're doing today with all of this new technology such as gene manipulation and whatnot. Every song has a similar concept, only with a different twist on it.

5. Heroes and Tombs
That's basically what Sabato was doing with his book, and I tried to do that with another layer on top of it. It deals with the superficial state of mankind today, how we're focused on all of these materialistic values, how society's become very plastic and how deeper values disappear from our agenda completely. Sabato was calling humanity "a cancer" at this point in his life. It's almost like a punk, hardcore lyric! (laugh) Only it's more abstract.
-Do you feel like this is a song you could've written for At the Gates back in the 90's?
I couldn't have done it back then because I wasn't that mature (laugh). The words I'm using and the style of writing are similar to the abstract symbolism of the early records, but now it's grounded in real philosophical theories. So it's wider but it's also more... "brainy" I guess...? (laugh) Or Nerdy! It's more nerdy! (laugh) So that’s' why I couldn't understand these kinds of concepts when I was 20. Other than that, the subject matter is the same kind of idea I guess, yeah.

6. Conspiracy of the Blind
It's also from this book On heroes and Tombs. One of the main characters has a conspiracy about the blind people taking over the world. He has very nightmarish visions about this and he starts this investigation, following blind people around... It's very twisted but of course there is a social comment behind it, and that’s' what I'm trying to do with this song as well. It's symbolic, with blindness referring to being blind to the truth. We are the conspiracy makers, but we are in on the conspiracy because we want to believe it. 

7. Order from Chaos
Order from Chaos is kind of like a sister-song to "The Circular Ruins", the continuation of it. There's a line saying "The Circular Ruins" in that song as well, it references back to that short story and whereas "The Circular Ruins" is more based on the actual novel, this one is more of an At the Gates comment on the novel. They really work together in that way.

8. The Book of Sand
This one is from a novel by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges really liked writing about literature; The library of Babel is one of his books as well. This novel is about a book that never ends, and it has a lot of references to that modern society he was living in, but brought in the idea of information overload that we have today and the questioning as to what is reality, what is true, what is information, and how these 3 interact together. I made it into a subplot to the novel, with this book of sand being the internet in a way really: how we perceive reality through the internet and not only through our language anymore.

9. The Head of the Hydra / Language of the Dead
The lyrics to “The Head of the Hydra” and "Language of the Dead" (a bonus track to the record) were intertwined from the start and I made them into two songs in the end.  “The Head of the Hydra” goes back to the Greek legend of the hydra of course but there's also a novel by Carlos Fuentes called The Hydra Head. It's also about this comment about modern man and how, if we were to forget the meanings of words and language, would we come up with new names and would the world change because of it? It's play with your mind. I speak a lot about language in this song as well. If we were to revive a forgotten language would our lives change?

10. City of Mirrors (Instrumental)
The city of mirrors is basically about modern society of today and how we constantly want to perceive ourselves through others, through media, through the internet, social media...

11. Eater of Gods
Eater of Gods goes back to the intro track, with this guy trying to create his own "God" concept and understand different concepts of God. In the intro there's the part that says that if God exists he's the devil, a bastard and this track is about his fight against his own personal concept of God that he grew up with.

12. Upon Pillars of Dust
Pillars of Dust are actually an astronomical phenomenon. It’s one of the few songs that deal with the general philosophical concept; with reality resting upon pillars of dust, which isn’t very stable. It's a metaphor for that. I really believe that we could really break down these barriers, not in the near future but we are starting to see the cracks. Maybe civil war breaking out in America... You can see stuff happening too, like the Arab spring for example. If you just look back a couple of centuries into the past, Europe wasn't how we want to remember it as, you know? We like to think that it's always been like this, but it hasn't. Reality is always changing and it's not as safe as we think.

13. The Night Eternal
This one is actually one of the few songs that doesn't really have so much to do with the concept, only it was written in the same style. It's being written from the perspective of a soldier from the Spanish civil war actually, that was the idea of the whole song. It's about being desperate and seeing something you firmly believe in torn away. That was the feeling I wanted to get across with that song. But there's also the idea that those beliefs are still stronger than the death of one person. The Spanish civil war has become somewhat of a symbol to me for struggle for civil rights, against fascist oppression and stuff like that. It's one of the best examples of how quickly we have forgotten about it. The fugitives from the Spanish civil war weren't let into France by the French and the British sent weapons to Franco. People have forgotten about this and it's being swept under the carpet. That kind of feeling was something I wanted to get across with this song. So in a way, this one strays away a little from the concept of the record but its’ written in the same perspective and with the same philosophy as the others.

Interview by Robin Ono

Interview with Tomas Lindberg
Part I:

Be sure to check the rest of the photos of the show on our facebook page at:

PS : A huge thank you goes out toTomas Lindberg, Martin Marx for her amazing work as well as to Deborah and the rest of the Rockhal staff for their incredible hospitality, without which this interview would've been possible.

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