Exclusive Interview: Anders Björler of At the Gates (ex-The Haunted)
Editor’s Note: This interview was not originally conducted specifically for MetalSucks.
Anders Björler recently left The Haunted, a band he’d played in since their inception in 1996. That is no small deal, but Anders’ career as an artist is most certainly not over. MetalSucks contributor Grant Fanning recently caught up with Anders via email to talk about is decision to leave the band, his new solo record, At the Gates’ legacy and more. The transcript of that conversation is posted below.
You and Per have left The Haunted. I’m not sure if this was expected but I can’t say I’m surprised. I feel like with the first Haunted album all the way up through Unseen there is not much more you could possibly do with The Haunted name, musically. Do you agree?
You might be able to do more of course, but personally I felt like moving on to pursue other things. We have always been a very progressive band in the sense that we try out new ideas for each album. That’s something that maybe was frustrating for the fans, not knowing what to expect for each new album. I guess that experimentation is what kept me going through all the years of writing albums. We never took the easy way and just re-used the formula of the previous albums. We have had our share of line-up changes through the years, and especially vocalist changes. I guess the singer is the hardest member to replace since he/she is the center of attention and normally the spokesperson for the band. It’s also the instrument most sensitive to personal taste. When Peter left earlier this year my first thought was to move on and try to find a replacement, but having had some time to think and reflect on the situation I felt that it would be better to call it a day.
I look back at what we have accomplished with great pride and a sense of fulfilment.
I enjoy everything The Haunted put out. My least favorite album is probably Made Me Do It, but I think you guys hit a high point with The Dead Eye. Your latest album Unseen may have gotten a mixed reaction from your fans, but I personally saw it as a necessary step that The Haunted had to take. When you were writing Unseen did you expect that you might have divided your fanbase in half?
Of course we knew Unseen was a daring album, but we also loved every aspect of it. In my book it’s the natural continuation (progression) of The Dead Eye which is my favorite Haunted album. I guess it takes a couple of listens to get into it. Also, it’s pretty different from all the previous albums. I hope it some day will be considered a classic. I am very proud of it. Always will be.
Your brother is still, as of today, a member of The Haunted, as is Patrik Jensen. Do you know what their intentions are as far as continuing with The Haunted name?
I hope they will continue, but it’s not my thing to decide or judge anymore. The statement from Jonas and Jensen says it all really: ”…We are still committed to the The Haunted. However, in light of these recent events, we honestly don’t know what will happen….”
Wasn’t it Patrik and Jonas that originally started The Haunted with you, correct? So technically the core of the band is still very much intact.
Originally it was Jensen’s project. He moved down from Linkoping to Gothenburg in 1996 and started playing with Adrian Erlandsson. When At The Gates broke up in the summer of 1996, Jonas joined on bass, and later that year I joined on guitar. So, yes, Jensen and Jonas are 2/3 of the original members, and Jensen is the founder of the band.
There’s no doubt that your former vocalist Peter Dolving has been very vocal about leaving The Haunted in the past few months. Have you read any of the words he has said about the band, and about you and your brother in particular?
I was pretty sad he had to blame me and Jonas for everything. There’s no need going into details or to throw shit at Peter. I am just not that kind of person. I just hope people are smart enough to make up their own minds and think for themselves. There’s not just one side to this story. There are five.
You have been pretty busy with your video production company, At The Gates Productions. Most recently, I have seen a Meshuggah documentary called Konstructing the Koloss. On top of that, you have done similar documentaries for The Haunted and At The Gates which seem to be quite successful. Is this what you would call your main hobby nowadays? You seem to have a knack for making very good videos.
I have always been interested in film. That’s what led me to eventually pick up a camera. The technology got cheaper and better around the turn of the millenium, which resulted in pretty good retail DV cameras. It started out purely as a hobby back in 2005.
I started filming some stuff on Ozzfest in 2005 and needed to find a way to edit the footage. I messed around with Adobe Premiere Pro for months on my computer, which was a very time-consuming process since my computer at the time was crap. Also, it took a while to learn all the features. After some time messing around I ended up finishing some music videos (The Haunted’s “The Drowning”) and The Haunted studio features. After a while I felt comfortable enough to undertake Road Kill: On The Road With The Haunted as well as Under A Serpent Sun: The Story of At The Gates. Nowadays I basically only take on projects I feel are interesting enough for me personally. The latest Meshuggah film Konstrukting The Koloss was really interesting, not only for the fans, but also for me personally as we hadn’t been getting any insight in the making of their albums previously.
Musically, can you tell us anything you have been working on?
I am completing my first solo album which will be released soon. I finally decided to do something that I wanted to do for years. It’s 100% instrumental, and kind of resembles film soundtrack music in the structure. The album will reflect my love for Italian soundtrack music like Goblin, Bruno Nicolai, Fabio Frizzi, Walter Rizzati, etc., mixed with influences from progressive UK bands (King Crimson, Camel, UK, Alan Holdsworth), Post Rock (Explosions In The Sky, MONO), ambient (Harold Budd, Brian Eno) and Jazz/Swedish Folk Music (Jan Johansson, Esbjorn Svenssons Trio, Lars Gullin, etc.). That’s maybe a lot of different influences you might say, but I hope this will help explain the style somehow.
Since it is almost Halloween, can you tell us some of your favorite horror movies? Are you a Dario Argento fan?
Well, the Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci films were the doorway into exploitation films for me. I remember seeing Phenomena, Suspiria, The Beyond, New York Ripper & House by the Cemetery back in the ’80s. At first I thought they were kind of creepy and mysterious. Later, I tried to dig even deeper trying to find other movies. I ended up moving away from the Horror films towards Italian giallo films (thrillers). Especially the films of Sergio Martino (The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh & All The Colors of the Dark). The cheesy dubbing aside, there was something very appealing with those films. Especially the photography and the music. Regarding horror, I never really cared for the slashers (Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.) and the “supernatural killer that never dies” movies. I enjoy the psychological horror films the best. Like The Shining. My recommendations apart from The Shining would be House By The Cemetery, Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead (the original), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original).
Opeth have taken a similar turn towards ’70s progressive, almost film soundtrack stuff. What did you think of their recent album Heritage? Did you have a chance to check out Storm Corrosion?
I have just given Heritage a few spins, and I think it’s great. Haven’t had the chance to check out Storm Corrosion.
I live in Richmond, VA. Do you have any particular memories about playing in Virginia? You’ve toured with Municipal Waste before, do you have any stories that you are particularly fond of?
We haven’t played Richmond, I don’t think, but we have been to Jaxx in Springfield, VA numerous times. I love that club, It’s one of the few clubs you always come back to play. The Municipal Waste guys are great friends. We did tours with both At The Gates and The Haunted with those guys. We are playing together on the Barge to Hell cruise which is coming up soon. I hope they bring their surf boards! Lamb of God are also good friends from the Richmond area. They opened up for The Haunted in the U.S. back in 2001. I don’t have any particular stories in mind regarding Municipal Waste, but, basically, every show they put on is hilarious and awesome.
So I assume you heard about the whole Randy Blythe thing. Do you have any thoughts on that whole situation? Have you ever run in to a similar situation as you’ve toured the world several times?
It could have happened anywhere, I guess. I think the most balanced person during this whole ordeal was Randy himself. I was really impressed with his statements after the release, and his dedication to do the right thing.
What is life like these days for Anders Bjorler? The Bjorlers seem to be very private people but you two have been a part of some of the most important bands in the history of heavy metal. You’ve created a very interesting persona for yourselves, like you two are always sitting behind the curtain, quietly creating a masterpiece. And when the masterpiece comes out, you shake your heads and go “It’s not a big deal, I guess.” Do you know what this is like for your fans? It drives us insane! Haha.
I guess I am pretty private as a person. If people like what I do artistically — music, film etc., — that’s great, but I don’t feel like I’m obligated to invite anyone into my personal life. I understand that people might be curious, but I pretty much like being “behind the curtain” as you call it. I need the satisfaction of the music more than the spotlight.
I remember years and years ago you two had a Quake clan called [AtG]. Are you two still active with Quake or Quake Live? Are there any other games you are crazy about?
Yes, we ran the At The Gates clan [AtG] playing Quake 3 and Counterstrike back in the day. I also played some Quake 2 together with Björn and Jesper from In Flames and their Trespassers clan. I occasionally play some Quake Live online (it’s free), but don’t have the time to play that many games amymore. It’s too time-consuming. The last singleplayer FPS game I played was probably Far Cry and that was ages ago.
Ahh. Quake Live. I played with you and Jonas once or twice, and I remember you making fun of me because I didn’t know where all the armor power-ups were. You absolutely destroyed me at that game. Guess I’ve got some skills to work on.
Yeah, we play some occasionally, but Jonas is much better, so it’s not that fun anymore. Haha.
How do you feel about your footprint on the Swedish metal scene? I heard from one Earache executive that when Slaughter Of the Soul was released people weren’t making a huge deal about it. Around what time did you guys start to feel like you had just made an earthquake that would disrupt the future of heavy metal forever?
Yeah, we struggled a lot the first couple of years, like all bands do in the beginning. SOTS wasn’t an overnight success, but we noticed as we got bigger tours with Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, and better press and promotion through Earache Records, things started to happen and the wheels started turning. It wasn’t until maybe five years after we had split up that we noticed that we and that album had received some kind of cult status. Mainly with the help of the new bands from the U.S. like Killswitch Engage, Unearth and the northeastern hardcore scene who mentioned us as an inspiration in interviews.
Last year you switched to Ibanez guitars, correct? Can you tell us about your specific model guitar, and maybe what kinds of gear and sounds you will use for your new project?
I switched from Caparison to Ibanez because I wanted to try something new. I am currently playing a customized version of the RGA Prestige which is excellent and fits me perfectly. I used to play something similar back in the day (Ibanez Maxxas). The thing I like most about the Ibanez guitars is definitely the neck construction.
For my solo project I have moved away from manual effects and pedals. There’s been a massive technical breakthru in plugins, effects and virtual instruments over the last couple of years, so almost everything can be created inside the computer. Another good thing is that you can record a clean line signal and mess around with the sound until you’re happy instead of re-recording if you get second thoughts about the sound. I am very happy about the technical revolution. It has helped me record music and edit film in a more easy and time-efficient way.
Thanks for this, Anders. Good luck in the future.