Face it: metal bands are just brands, and to the headbanging hordes, you are only as good as your last breakdown — unless you can concoct a memorable musical identity to stand above the competition. For some bands, gimmicks do the trick. But Gothenburg, Sweden, melodic metal titans In Flames have been more patient, perfecting the band's precision attack through meticulous recalibration. Twenty-two years after coming together as a side project of Ceremonial Oath bassist Jesper Strömblad, the band's expert balancing of death metal, classic Eurothrash, and stadium pomp pours forth like fine bubbly.
TITANS With no remaining original members, In Flames have slowly and gracefully transitioned from a band of singular vision to a collective expression of sheer metal radness.
Their 10th and latest album, last summer's Sounds of a Playground Fading (Century Media), is perhaps the finest distillation yet of this delicate mix — and like a perfect game of Jenga, the band devised Playground precisely upon the exit of Strömblad from the band. With no remaining original members, In Flames have slowly and gracefully transitioned from a band of singular vision to a collective expression of sheer metal radness.
"At this point, In Flames are bigger than any individual member," explains drummer Daniel Svensson in a jovial tone as he prepares for a gig in Vancouver. "Since the beginning, this band has shown that the ship can be navigated even if someone leaves. We've been doing this so long together, and we all have the same vision."
In a sense, the last 10 years of In Flames albums are obsessed, more than anything, with the band's own ability to adapt not just to slowly changing lineups, but to an ever-evolving metal landscape. Just a perusal of their last five album titles (in order since 2002: Reroute To Remain, Soundtrack to Your Escape, Come Clarity, A Sense of Purpose, and the aforementioned Playground) foregrounds the band's penchant for clear-eyed sonic reassessments coupled with a desire to break free of the confines of death metal.
"To be honest," says Svensson, "I don't know if we are even metal. For other people, it seems important to put labels on what we do, but we don't care. We're not afraid to put non-metal elements into our songs. As long as it fits, you know? We don't think 'Oh, it's not metal enough!' We're not scared of taking wider turns around the genre."
Playground indeed makes wide turns, whether in the drastic dynamic shifts and mournful strings of "A New Dawn," the melodic throb of "Fear Is the Weakness," or the shift from gnarly aggression to a synth-bed of sprawling grace in "The Puzzle." "We're not a band that sets out to do the same record again and again," Svensson says. "We're afraid of stagnation, and we have no interest in playing old albums. The day that In Flames can't come up with anything new is the day that we'll stop doing what we do." That's how the band mutated from Strömblad's side project to the late '90s behemoth that Svensson joined upon the creation of death-metal classics like Clayman and Whoracle.