Henrik tries to understand ... In Flames

In this section I will try to understand the greatness of a certain band that many people within the metal community seems to like. Or love. I will really try to get into the music and to listen to one (or more if I feel like it) song from each album the band has done. I don't have any real hopes that it will change my perspective or the way I feel about the band - but it could just remove some grudges or perhaps burn away some preconceptions that I might have. Some of these bands I have tried to understand before and some will be entirely new to me. Read and you'll see...

Having never heard of this band before, I decided to check them out on Metal Archives. An interesting thing is that, for a band of this size, they have incredibly low average scores on the album-reviews there. I assume this has to do with the fact that so many fans have felt betrayed in one way or another during the years.
Apparently founding member Jesper Strömblad formed the band in 1990 with an intention to combine "the melodic guitar style of Iron Maiden with the brutality of death metal". Well, either his intentions were a complete failure or they have changed their music style a lot over the years. Because the few songs that I've heard (yes, that was a lame joke at the beginning of this text. Get over it) have not had anything to do with neither Iron Maiden nor death metal. Well well, let's see who's right shall we?

The first sign of life from the band (apart from a demo in -93) was the self-produced "Lunar Strain". I have my doubts already - production-wise - and the fact that the album cover is one ugly thing. I choose to digest the title track because it's the title track. That's how crafty I am.
The sound quality might not be the best, but it sounds so 90's (it may have something to do with the fact that it was made in 1994) and who can not smile of nostalgia when thinking about those years? If I have understood things right, the vocals here are provided by Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity. I've always liked the man's voice and he does a really good job here. You can actually hear that he (probably) was a teenager and that just adds to the charm. Musically, I have to say that Strömblad's intentions came out alright, since this song reeks of Iron Maiden-melodies combined with just death metal. I really like what I hear. Even more than I thought. There's both intensity, aggression and melody. My main problem with this song is that it doesn't really go anywhere. I think this has to do with the fact that they were so young when this was recorded and they really didn't know how to put their riffs together in order to make a song interesting for 4+ minutes. As I mentioned, it's good but I kind of lose interest after a while.

 On to their second album then - the incredibly praised "The Jester Race" from 1996. Apparently, this is sort of the iconic album of the entire Gothenburg-melodic-death-metal scene. I realize I have to choose a good track here and my choice fell on something called "Artifacts of the Black Rain" - because I have heard OF this song before, yet never actually listened to it.
Hey what do you know? I think I chose right, because In Flames actually made a video to this song. Happy days! This was the first recording with their now current vocalist Anders Fridén who sort of swapped places with Mikael Stanne. Unfortunately, Fridén's voice is sub-par to Stanne's even though he does a decent job. It's more of a standard screaming voice and lacks the depth and emotion that Stanne can pull off. Every time I've heard Fridén (be it screams or clean vocals) I've always been annoyed by the fact that you can hear him breathe just before he's about to sing. Not all the time, but enough to make me irritated. The song has a much better production than "Lunar Strain", but the biggest difference is most definitely that the band's song-writing skills have increased about a 200%. The main riff is catchy as fuck and I can see why people like this sort of music. It's most definitely a seminal melodic death-metal hit and had I heard this in 1996 I think I would have liked it even more. But back then, I listened to Swedish punk and had just discovered bands such as Therion, My Dying Bride and Moonspell - that was (and is still) more my cup of tea.

 I have always loved the album title "Whoracle" - why I don't really know because it sounds rather 1997 to me now. Oh, that's right - the album is from 1997. And so is the song "Gyroscope".
This starts a bit more mid-tempo and remains so for the entire song. It's alright, but nothing very special. The acoustic parts here and there does not fit with this sort of music at all and adds zero to nothing. For the third time I heard the chorus it actually tired me and did not drag me into the song (as I suppose the idea was). And it was all over before I even wrote this sentence. After those 3½ minutes, the song should have picked up pace in order to get my juices flowing. After "Artifacts of the Black Rain" (weird title btw) this was a real let-down. Boring!

 Up next is "Colony" - last of the albums made in the 90's. This time I went with the first track since bands tends to place their best songs there. Hopefully, "Embody the Invisible" will be better than "Gyroscope".
After a few seconds, I knew I'd like this better. But as always, I am a bit skeptic to the over-jolly guitar solos that enters here and there. Fridén's screams sounds better than ever though - there's a raspier "bite" to them and he sounds more like Tompa Lindberg (At The Gates) rather than some generic vocalist here. Goodie good! Still, no sign of any clean vocals. I never thought that In Flames did 4 albums without them, but that made me positively surprised. And here is the part where some In Flames-fanboy comes and corrects me by saying there's clean vocals on this and that song on "Colony". Yeah, well that might be - but there's none here and I like it. In fact, this might be the best song I've heard with In Flames ever.

 New millennium. New album. "Clayman" it's called. "Pinball Map" is the name of the song. And yes, I chose it solely based on the stupid title.
The first thing that grabbed my attention on this song was actually not the music or the vocals - it was the lyrics: "As I aim for that bright white day  Conflict serum is my aura  It seems that life's so fragile  I guess I'll fly some other time  I lack from superhighway thoughts  Won't live as long as the city lights  Soaked by underwater times  Electric splash on a midnight drive" OK, is this supposed to make any sense or did they just throw some random sentences together? I'm sure that In Flames are one of those bands that says something like; "The listener will have to figure out the meaning behind the lyrics themselves" God how I hate that! But many of my favorite bands does the same annoying thing so I'll let that criticism pass. Musically it sounds like I'm used to now; melodies all over the place, guitar wankery and screaming. Oh wait, here comes the grand entrance to the clean vocals - the nightmare of every In Flames-fan that discovered them with the first demo. Honestly, them clean vocals are not as horrid as I remembered them. They do add a little dynamic to the music and I can understand that the band wanted to try something new and progress further. However, I would personally have enjoyed it more if they had ventured into some other territory - say something like At the Gates did. All in all, "Pinball Map" is a solid song with stupid lyrics. 

I'm assuming that 2002 and the album "Reroute To Remain" was something of In Flames' big breakthrough. I'm assuming here, because I've actually heard the song "Cloud Connected" before and I get why they made a video to this song and why it became so popular.
The addition of keyboards might sound a little off-putting at first, but you get used to them hanging around that insanely catchy riff so fast that you soon forget they're even there. Musically, this is a very good song. Vocally, I think this is the first album that Fridén started with his insanely annoying whine-voice which sounds absolutely horrendous. I've also heard that these sort of vocals have influenced like a billion American bands to whine in the same way. I'm not sure, but if that's true, I feel utterly ashamed to be Swedish. Also, towards the end, we're served one of the most useless guitar solos I've heard since I listened to Sabaton yesterday. 

Once again, I chose a song on random from an album - this time it turned out to be "Like You Better Dead" from "Soundtrack To Your Escape". Deal with it.
If I thought the lyrics to "Pinball Map" was weird, then this is plain pathetic. "I can be as angry as I want to be Just watch me burn (need to be motivated) I think you're way too cold Just watch and learn" This is the first time I had to fetch my embarrassment-pillow whilst listening to In Flames. The keyboards sounds really out of place during the verses and the song itself is actually quite weak. Thankfully, Anders' vocals aren't as whiny as they were on "Cloud Connected". What's the deal here? Am I missing something by choosing songs on random or did he suddenly improve his clean vocals AGAIN after the dip with said song? No, I haven't got the patience to listen to an entire album by In Flames - they might be decent and even good at some points - but I am no masochist. But I have to know. So I do the only sane thing here and try yet another song from the same album - this time I chose "Trigger" - solely with the knowledge that it became a single.
I remember watching this on ZTV way back in the days (2003 or 2004 I assume). The video shows us Soilwork looking all ugly while In Flames are performing. The song follows the exact same formula as I'm used to the band doing now. It's a perfectly decent song with a boring chorus and Anders' vocals sounds exactly the same as on "Like You Better Dead". So yeah, he must have slapped himself in the face before recording clean vocals for this album. Good good.

 For 2006's "Come Clarity" I just chose the song that sounded most metal - "Crawl Through Knives". And again, it turns out the band has done a video for this one. I'm fucking Nostradamus reincarnated!
Here we go again with another patented melodic metal song. God how boring it is when almost every song follows the exact same formula. Not that the music is bad in any way, but it would be refreshing to hear something just a tad more exciting. Here we are presented to another new clean vocal-style by Fridén. It's actually better than anything before and you can tell that he is much more confident here. But it's definitely nothing out of the ordinary and as I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred more aggression instead of streamlining one's sound in order to attract more listeners. Or is this a part of growing old? I mean, I listen to many different music styles, but when I listen to metal - I prefer when you can actually hear it's metal. Here the band comes dangerously close to sounding Eurovision. Once again, I curse thee Lordi!

 Now we write 2008 in the calendar and would you believe it? Another album from In Flames! As I said, I'm beginning to grow tired of the same formula all the time and I sincerely hope that "A Sense Of Purpose" will bring something new to the table. I just chose the first song "The Mirror's Truth", and it made me Nostradamus all over again.
I'm having a hard time to hear the actual song, but that has more with the fact that my girlfriend asked me to turn down the volume since she is trying to read in the same room, rather than the quality of the music. Actually, it doesn't matter anymore. This sounds exactly like "Crawl Through Knives", "Trigger" and a little like "Pinball Map". It feel like they don't even try anymore. And how short was that song? Under 3 minutes? Hell, I thought I was listening to metal - not radio music. But I must say I am a bit confused. I thought that their most extreme "fans" started bashing them because they changed so god damn much during the years. With the exception of the ever-changing clean vocals and the very subtle keyboard additions - this sounds terribly similar to everything I've heard from this album down to "Whoracle". There is very little difference and absolutely zero effort in song writing. Either I got it all wrong or I'm in the Twilight Zone. I vote for the latter.

 Finally, I've arrived at the latest In Flames-album "Sounds Of A Playground Fading" (that's one of the most stupid album titles I've ever heard). I just went with the first song to get it over with.
Acoustic guitars - here's something different at least! But the melody is bloody awful and doesn't say anything at all. After a minute or so, it is over and the patented formulaic melodies begins once more. How many of these similar-sounding riffs can a band come up with? I realize I've had enough of In Flames' music when I start to watch videos with Bloodhound Gang (sound muted though) instead. I've always hated Bloodhound Gang and their so-called "humor music". Still, it's more interesting than hearing the same thing over and over.

In conclusion, I always thought that my biggest problem with In Flames would be the annoying vocals - which in reality weren't as annoying as I thought. Either that or the much to melodic and gradually softer approach to the music. But no way. Turns out it was the fact that EVERY SINGLE FUCKING SONG SOUNDS THE SAME! I'm impressed that this band still can draw such big audiences to their shows and sell so many albums when they have done the same thing since 1997 - more or less.
Yeah, I know I might be wrong and I'm sure there's an acoustic semi-interlude and some slower songs here and there on each album. Still, their singles, videos and "popular" songs are all written in the exact same way - you can't deny that. Or rather, you can deny it, but I'm not agreeing with you.

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