The Gothenburg sound. Swedish melodeath. This album defines and
epitomizes both of these well-known terms in a way that no other record,
sans perhaps “Slaughter of the Soul”, can. The melodic death metal
ground was fertile, with seeds having been laid by At the Gates, Dark
Tranquillity and In Flames themselves with debut “Lunar Strain”, and
with “The Jester Race” they hit the jackpot. Less intense than “SotS”
and more harmonic than DT’s “The Gallery”, In Flames’ sophomore effort
is probably the most accessible and melodic album I still can bear to
call a death metal record, and even that feels like a stretch. Amped up
Iron Maiden-metal with twin guitars and growl vocals would be a more
suitable description, but since this is what melodeath sounds like,
let’s adopt the moniker for this review.
9. Great hooks in every song. And I mean every. Fucken. Song.
The melodies are all over the place, dragging you into the world of
toe-tapping and off-key humming faster than you can say “ABBA!” There
are fast songs, mid-tempo songs and calmer songs, so even though
everything is sugar-coated by guitar harmonies in layer upon layer,
there’s variation to be had. Effective breaks and tempo changes help to
elevate the energy level when things get too repetitive, and the
insertion of acoustic and clean guitars, so common to the genre, add a
notch to the dynamic spectrum.
9. A fine testament of the Studio Fredman sound – everything is
crisp and clear, with a reasonable punch and just a little hint of
sharpness to the edges to avoid fluffy mushiness. Considering the
probably ridiculous amount of guitar tracks used, it’s incredible how
well-balanced everything sounds, and that all details are easily
9. The real selling point of this album is of course the guitar
work. Heavy and thrash metal-inspired riffs alternate with the sweetest
and most innocent of melodies, that could as easily be inserted into a
folk melody, a pop song or on “Powerslave”. The aforementioned harmonies
are almost omnipresent, further thickening the six-stringed wall, as
well as honeying/lubing the listener’s ear with bittersweet overtones
that clash and caress each other like two lovers on the Reeperbahn. Why
does all this overtly sweet stuff work so well in a metal context? The
hooks, man, the hooks… The melodies are so catchy that even a lobotomy
won’t save you from them haunting your dreams. Rotting away in your
grave, you’ll still tap your toe to Dead Eternity, scaring the bajeezus out of the cemetery caretaker. Also, beautiful solo on December Flower by guest Fredrik Johansson (ex-Dimension Zero).
7. Fridéns first recording with In Flames only shows one side of his
vocal skill set, which has widened considerably during the last two
decades. On “The Jester Race” we get to hear his growl game, which is
quite nice, but limited. Fridén’s growls are raspy and
mid-to-high-pitched and he delivers the lyrics with poise and rhythmic
pregnancy, but as they are quite one-dimensional they tend to get a bit
monotone over the course of a whole album.
5. Not much to say here, the bass supports the guitars and nothing
more. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing spectacular either.
7. Well-played, well-arranged, well-sounding…and safe. Very safe.
There are cool double kicks, faster two-beats and even blast beats in
one song, as well as some nice tom rolls, but all in all there’s not
much that is special about the drumming on this record. It’s all tight
and fitting and nice etc, but nothing out of the ordinary. At the same
time, had Dave Lombardo played on “The Jester Race”, would it have been
as good? I’m thinking no, as his playing would probably have taken too
much attention away from the selling point of the album, which is…? The
penis. Yes. Good dog. Here, have a boner.
8. Half-mysterious and metaphor-heavy, the album’s concept deals
with the futile human race driving itself into extinction through
ignorance, negligence and stupidity. Penned by Fridén and Niklas Sundin
(Dark Tranquillity), the lyrics have a magniloquent and bombastic, yet
poetic aura, which was very “in” by the time:
Gaia impaled on their horns and lances
to fumes from her body give case
as the throng of blind mind savour the scent,
dream-dead from prosaic and hate
7. Some kind of mega-Transformer-tank-car (destroyer of the Earth)
sporting a jester’s face (the stupid humans) and an hourglass (the end
is near) driving through a desolate wasteland. Quite metal, and pretty
4. The logo could as easily be the logo of a Karate club or sushi restaurant.
7. Lyrics and photos and other essential stuff that no one will ever
write home to Mom about, but will definitely need for a deeper
understanding of the record. Standard.
In Flames’ finest moment, in my opinion, was definitely the
“Subterranean” EP that preceded this album, but this is surely their
best full-length effort. It further cemented the Gothenburg sound as the
prevalent genre in the mid-90’s and lifted In Flames into the upper
echelon of metal. If you’re ever in need of all-you-can-eat riffs and
melodies, this is the album to spin.