SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT: IN FLAMES – SWEDISH LEGENDS, INSPIRATION FOR A GENERATION OF METAL
The influence and importance of Gothenburg, Swedish’s In Flames is familiar to devoted metalheads but bears repeating to the rest: along with At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity, In Flames pioneered and refined the sound that would later become known as melodic death metal (or “The Gothenburg Sound”), directly influencing hundreds of bands from their genesis in the early ’90s to the myriad metalcore bands that walk the planet today. By combining death metal with Maiden and Judas Priest-influenced guitars and their own astute songwriting sensibility, Stromblad and co. hit a chord that still rings loud today. The band is now nothing short of an international metal sensation and they continue to take their blistering live show on the road year after year. I’d venture to say to that In Flames, through their unique sense of melody, aggression and songcraft, are more directly influential on today’s metal scene than any other band, even the much-celebrated At the Gates.
In Flames was founded in 1990 as a side project by Jesper Strömblad of the death metal band Ceremonial Oath as an outlet for a more melodic brand of metal. In 1993 Stromblad quit Ceremonial Oath to pursue In Flames full-time with Glenn Ljungström (guitar), and Johan Larsson (bass). The trio got signed by the local Wrong Again Records on the strength of a three-song demo, and proceeded to record the self-produced album Lunar Strain with Stromblad handling guitars, drums, and keyboards and his friend Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity (guitars, now vocals) filling in on vocals for the singer-less band.
After recording the Subterranean EP in ’94 with guest vocalist Henke Forss, In Flames signed with Nuclear Blast and tapped drummer Bjorn Gelottedrummer Bjorn Gelotte and Dark Tranquillity vocalist Anders Friden to become full-time members. The Jester Race was released in 1996, officially putting In Flames on the international metal map. The same lineup would record 1997’s Whoracle. Together these two albums would establish what has come to be known as the Gothenburg sound; the ferocity and melody of the twin-guitar attack, the frenetic thrash drumming, and death metal vocals mixed to create a NWOBHM-influenced stew of modern metal. Even in an era when technical metal was the least cool thing imaginable and guitar solos were shunned, In Flames didn’t let their technical abilities take a back seat.
In Flames – “Lord Hypnos” (The Jester Race)
In Flames – “Moonshield” (The Jester Race)
In Flames – “December Flower” (The Jester Race)
In Flames – “Jotun” (Whoracle)
In Flames – “Episode 666” (Whoracle)
But In Flames were never a band to be heavy for the sake of being heavy. From the beginning they were unafraid to incorporate overtly catchy melodies into their songs, often weaving classical acoustic guitar passages into their otherwise brutal assault. The next batch of In Flames albums saw the band take their melodic leanings to the next logical step.
By the time 1998 came to a close In Flames had built up a consistent and dedicated fan base throughout Europe by constant touring. When the recording sessions for the next record began, In Flames had replaced their bassist with Peter Iwers, Bjorn Gelotte had moved from drums to guitar, and Daniel Svensson had taken over drums, cementing the lineup that we’ve all come to know and love, the same one that is intact today. The first record this lineup recorded was Colony, which was released in 1999. Colony saw Anders Friden expand his vocal repertoire by adding singing and diversifying his growl, and the band also elevated keyboards and sequencers as a more tangible element of their songs. The band also continued to refine their songwriting, resulting in a swell of international attention that brought the band their first show in America, just a one-off festival, but an important milestone in the band’s history nonetheless.
In Flames – “Ordinary Story” (Colony)
In Flames – “Colony” (Colony)
In Flames – “Zombie, Inc.” (Colony)
2000’s Clayman continued in the vein Colony had started; by Clayman, the band had completely nailed the perfect combination of aggression and melody resulting in classics like “Pinball Map,” and Friden continued to expand his vocal approach. The production was also noticeably bigger and crisper, a departure from their raw early recordings, rankling some of the band’s core fans the wrong way. Clayman was by far the band’s most accessible work to date resulting in an ever-expanding fanbase and international acclaim.
In Flames – “Pinball Map” (Clayman)
In Flames – “Only For the Weak” (Clayman)
Reroute to Remain (2002) and Soundtrack To Your Escape (2004) marked a departure for In Flames, as the band parted ways with longtime co-producer Fredrik Nordstrom opting instead for Daniel Bergstrand. Sequenced electronics were now a much bigger part of In Flames’ sonic assault and Friden’s clean-sung choruses were now a staple, but the band’s sound was largely intact. Though many fans cried “sell out” and accused them of jumping on the nu-metal bandwagon, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rather, the band refused to stagnate and kept growing, adding new elements to enhance and improve their sound. All the elements that made In Flames In Flames were still there; the aggression, the melody, the harmony, the power and most of all the songs.
In Flames – “System” (Reroute to Remain)
In Flames – “Trigger” (Reroute to Remain)
In Flames – “Cloud Connected” (Reroute to Remain)
In Flames – “Touch of Red” (Soundtrack To Your Escape)
In Flames – “My Sweet Shadow” (Soundtrack To Your Escape)
Come Clarity, released in late 2006, brought In Flames a brand new record label for North America (Ferret), and in turn a greatly expanded audience. High-profile opening gigs including a main-stage spot on Ozzfest 2005 brought the band increased visibility, and years of dogging it out on the road finally paid off; Come Clarity was In Flames’ most commercially successful album yet. The album also re-injected a dose of thrash aggression – which had been toned down on the two previous records, especially Soundtrack — without sacrificing the songs and melody that comprise the heart of In Flames. At the same time the band scored their first bonafide power ballad hit with the record’s title track. The Come Clarity touring cycle took them across them world, from the biggest European festivals to multiple U.S. treks , to Australia, Japan, and pretty much everywhere in between.
Which brings us right up to the present. In 2008 In Flames is poised for another great year; their new album A Sense of Purpose comes out on April 1st on Koch Records (North America) and Nuclear Blast (everywhere else), and the evolution of this incredibly influential band will continue. Relentless touring will follow, but the band can rest easy; they are already one of the greatest metal bands of the past twenty years. Journalists lazily bastardize the style of guitar playing In Flames pioneered as “Swedish guitars,” or classify hardcore bands that utilize the style as “Swedecore.” Really, the description is pretty accurate, and In Flames is to thank.