The Nightmare Of Being

The Nightmare Of Being

With their seventh album, Swedish death metal masters At The Gates have delivered a finely crafted concept album about pessimism. “I guess I had an amateur view of pessimism, as most of us do,” vocalist and lyricist Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg tells Apple Music. “I thought it was just the ‘glass is half empty’ kind of thing.” Some initial research led him back to American author Thomas Ligotti, whose horror fiction Lindberg had read while working on his 2017 side project The Lurking Fear. Then At The Gates guitarist Martin Larsson recommended Ligotti’s nonfiction. “It’s basically an introduction to pessimism,” Lindberg says. “I got about halfway through and realized that this worldview is very death metal.” The result is The Nightmare of Being, a ripping and majestic death metal album influenced by the writings of Ligotti, Emil Cioran, Peter Zapffe, and contemporary philosopher Eugene Thacker, whose ideas surfaced in the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Below, Lindberg takes us through each track on The Nightmare of Being. “Spectre of Extinction” “Since [1995’s] Slaughter of the Soul, we’ve written almost every track to fit the sequence and flow of the record. So ‘Spectre of Extinction’ was really written as an opener with the classic metal intro thing—acoustic guitar, big Judas Priest chord swinging out, and then At The Gates after that. The middle part was written specifically for Andy LaRocque to play a solo. I call it the Death part because it really sounds like Human by Death. Lyrically, it’s basically the introduction to the idea that we’re the only species conscious of our own mortality.” “The Paradox” “This is the only one that was not written for this place in the sequence. It was written very early on in the songwriting process, and it turned out to be this weird death metal song, but it has a lot of the classic Mercyful Fate vibes to it—very melodic at certain points. We had it hidden later in the album, but then [mixing engineer] Jens Bogren said, ‘This is a monster. This has to be the second or third track, guys.’ And then Andy LaRocque and [engineer] Per Stålberg said the same thing, so we put it at number two. It’s a little bit of a rager in that sense.” “The Nightmare of Being” “I’ve done this on a few records now, where the title track is the whole concept of the album in one song, basically. This has a line about the ‘parasites of the subconscious’ which I really like—even if we are aware of our mortality, we’ve got to have a defense mechanism to keep us sane. Our subconscious is always tricking us because all this pain and suffering is too much to take in. So the ‘nightmare of being’ is basically the pain of existence. It’s a heavy, slow song with lots of acoustic parts, and the end is almost like a breakdown—we never wrote something that heavy before.” “Garden of Cyrus” “This is one of the curveballs of the record. I think the big challenge of this album for us was to build upon what we started on At War With Reality and To Drink From the Night Itself—the orchestration, different arrangements—just seeing how far we could take that without losing what is At The Gates. This one has the dreaded saxophone, so my hope is that someone listens and recognizes At The Gates, even if it sounds like a Goblin or King Crimson song in a way.” “Touched by the White Hands of Death” “Again, it’s about the instrumentation. This was really written to come after ‘Garden of Cyrus’ with a really slow build by a low flute. If you were to play that on electric guitar, it wouldn’t have the same emotional impact, because every instrument has its own voice and emotional tone. But then it turns into a classic At The Gates thrasher in a way. Lyrically, it connects to the opening track because it’s about the knowledge of mortality again, and this song is about those defense mechanisms being attacked.” “The Fall Into Time” “If you get the vinyl, this would be the start of side B. It’s really heavy, with a slow build and almost like a free-form prog part in the middle. It reminds me of the more epic songs we’ve had before, like ‘Neverwhere’ from the first album or ‘Primal Breath’—like a triumphant, majestic kind of piece. Lyrically, it connects to Cioran’s ideas about the fall into time, the whole Adam and Eve thing with the apple of knowledge, which connects with his pessimist philosophy.” “Cult of Salvation” “This one is based more directly on the defense mechanisms which I talked about before. The first person to talk about this was a Norwegian philosopher called Zapffe. He talks about religions, states, and worldviews as distractions, and about trying to live your life aware that you have these defense mechanisms. For example, we create music as an escape from the everyday struggle. But as long as I’m aware that I’m using it as a defense mechanism, then I can actually live my life a bit more fully and understand why I work the way I work. I love the middle part here—an homage almost to Goblin.” “The Abstract Enthroned” “I think this is the one that changed places with the ‘The Paradox,’ actually. It was a latecomer to the record, with a big orchestral part in the end and a great guitar solo. This one is a little bit more like pure death metal. You can almost hear the Morbid Angel in parts of the verses. It’s the only really aggressive song on the record. It deals with religion and how we enthrone the abstract, basically putting blinders on ourselves to be able to cope with life. I unintentionally put the word ‘virus’ in there somewhere. That’s the only pandemic reference there is.” “Cosmic Pessimism” “Musically, we really wanted to do something different here. We wanted a monotonous, almost oppressive musical landscape, similar to some of the krautrock bands like Neu! or Tangerine Dream. I had read three books by one of the current writers about pessimism, Eugene Thacker, and then I stumbled upon his personal email. I sent him a really long email explaining the concept of the record and dared to ask if he would want to participate in some way. He allowed me to use some passages from his book Cosmic Pessimism in the lyrics, which I did as a spoken-word part.” “Eternal Winter of Reason” “This was written specifically as a closer. I feel it’s the most emotional song on the record. [Bassist] Jonas [Björler] really wanted to try something else, too—if you notice, only the chorus riff returns. All the other riffs just build and build. I think there’s eight riffs or something, but they never come back. Lyrically, I tried to describe the emotional impact that this concept had on me as a person. There are some really strong, melancholic riffs, so I couldn’t do anything else but give in emotionally. So it’s like closure: What did I learn emotionally from this record?”

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