In Flames are a Swedish metal band from Gothenburg who, along with bands such as At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, helped to pioneer what is now known as Melodic Death Metal, and more specifically, the Gothenburg scene. In Flames was initially formed by Jesper Stromblad in 1990, in hopes to combine the melodic elements heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden with the crushing brutality of death metal such as Entombed and Dismember.
Now almost three decades on, featuring a multitude of line-up changes, stylistic evolution and the departure of Stromblad in 2010, the band is a much different beast to what it was when first created.
To usher in the release of album thirteen I, The Mask in March and without any more delay or introduction, here are what I believe to be the best and worst of In Flames.
#13 – Battles (2016)
This is an album I am quite torn on as I do genuinely enjoy songs from the record, in particular the bonus tracks/ lesser known songs Greatest Greed and Us Against The World. Battles suffered from muted production, unfortunate overuse of a child choir (heard on songs The End and The Truth mainly whilst being peppered in as sampling on other songs) and was seemingly trying to appeal to a younger demographic as a result. That said, there are good riffs there, and when Anders does decide to growl his voice can still make even the most hardened man tremble and shudder. It is a shame that this was the record to make people almost want to entirely write off the band, it did not help that they made the mistake of touring alongside Five Finger Death Punch and Of Mice and Men during the album cycle. An album with standout moments as heard on Wallflower, The End, Through My Eyes and the previous songs mentioned, Battles was a learning experience which should be amended with I, The Mask coming out later this year. If the three singles are anything to go by, (This is Our) House withstanding, then Battles should be moved on from in stride in search of something stronger.
#12 – Siren Charms (2014)
I genuinely have a large tattoo of the cover to this album on my shoulder, I do have a soft spot for it as an alternative metal/rock album but with that said, Siren Charms leaves a lot to be desired unless you know what you are in for. It took literal years for this release to grow on me as it has; the cold and slow approach to the brooding dark synth, interlaced melancholic guitar riffs and lead performances make this album a definite standout in the band’s storied discography. The biggest pill to swallow is that it’s a Sony produced disk, the only one of it’s kind to the band’s name and understandably dials back on the aggression and more heavy elements to their sound in favour of something a lot more accessible. It’s a rock album at heart that occasionally features the odd chug-a-long riffing pattern or growl here and there, but it beats to a different drum than anything else. An extremely divisive yet I believe underrated album in the field of rock, if it was any other band who made this and not In Flames then who knows? Maybe people would have given it a pass or even loved it.
#11 – I, The Mask (2019)
I have written a lengthy review for this record on this very site, take a look at our reviews tab in the top bar menu for more, however I will quickly summarise the record’s place here on the list in some new and exciting words.
I, The Mask starts off incredibly strongly. The first five songs are absolutely incredible and gave off the vibe on first listen that this would be the album to bridge the gap between the lost 2000s melodeath/melodic metalcore sound and their contemporary sound. However, the record starts to lose momentum with the frankly awful track (This is Our) House. Whenever I listen to the album I just cannot bring myself to hear that song all the way, it is the only In Flames song out of their entire discography that I skip.
The last half of the album features a lot of clean vocals and songs that are more bright and pop orientated with the exception of Burn which almost gets things back on track. Again, if the whole album had the aggression and the fire of songs like:I Am Above, Voices, Call My Name and the title track then I would be singing a different tune. I am not disappointed or let down but I feel that it would have only taken that little bit more to make this album stand out as the best of the modern era. As it stands I, The Mask, whilst coming so close, misses that mark ever so slightly.
#10 – Sounds of a Playground Fading (2011)
I also have a massive tattoo of the album cover, this time on my right forearm. Perhaps the most challenging of all albums for the band to create, Fading was the first release they released after the departure of creator, guitarist and spearhead Jesper Stromblad. His influence is definitely missed in places, however I think that all considered, they did an incredible job pulling everything around despite the jarring omission of Stromblad’s absence. Songs such as Dead Ships Dwell, Deliver Us, Darker Times, Fear is the Weakness and especially A New Dawn, helped to cement a new identity for a band without direction. Dark, melancholic, dreary and dripping in cold, damp atmosphere, whilst it may be a little cleaner and lighter in places, I believe the brevity only serves to highlight the darkness.
#9 – Reroute to Remain (2002)
It was no easy feat following up 2000’s landmark album Clayman (more on that release later) however, In Flames decided to take a new route when it came to their sixth album. Remain features a much heavier use of synths, more modern guitar production as well as riffs that blend through different genres. Anders’ clean vocals never sounded better and his fried screams are still as powerful as ever, though overall, despite many solid songs, this album felt like a transitional one ultimately bridging the gap between what would eventually be known as the two major distinct eras for the band.
#8 – Come Clarity (2006)
This was my first exposure to the band like many people, with the pulse pounding track Take This Life. Let it be known that I love this album and believe that the highs found here; title track, Crawl Through Knives, Leeches and the duet Dead End, far bolster this album to a new level among their mid era releases. The production is razor sharp, it’s very catchy, very heavy and blends together their older melodic death metal sound with the modern metal / metalcore approach following Reroute to Remain. The reason it doesn’t rank higher on my list is despite many of the songs being incredible, there are a couple songs which whilst not bad, seem like filler.
#7 – A Sense of Purpose (2008)
The last album to feature Jesper Stromblad spearheading guitar duties and its safe to say that he left the band out with a bang. Whilst this record can be seen as somewhat divided by fans and the metal community, I can’t help but love every single track to be found here. This was the first In Flames album that I truly well in love with and for great reason, namely huge sweeping catchy choruses and amazing guitar riffs. Even after hundreds of times of hearing songs like; Alias, Delights and Angers, Move Through Me and the emotional gut-punch of The Chosen Pessimist, they never grow old on me. There’s something about the whole motif of The Owl Boy, what the album itself represents and the melancholic story told throughout that takes hold and never lets go. It might not be as raw or angry as Come Clarity but as I listen to both back to back, this album stays more in my mind.
#6 – Soundtrack To Your Escape (2004)
Without a doubt In Flames’ darkest album, Soundtrack can be overwhelming and draining at times but is what I believe to be the band’s most underrated album. The synths return from Reroute but with a much darker edge, the guitars once again blend in that chugging heavy style with a nu-metal/metalcore riff style. It’s a very modern album that plays to the strengths of the band being ushered through into the new millennium. Everything that made the band what they were is here in spades, the huge choruses, the aggressive vocal performances and the riffs that get stuck in your head. For one, It’s one of their best produced albums too, everything is balanced beautifully and the drums especially never sounded as good or since. I don’t believe this release to be for everyone, but if you can look passed nu-metal influences of the time, there’s something very special here.
#5 – Lunar Strain (1993)
The first album released by a young band finding their footing in the scene, Lunar Strain is a monumental landmark in Swedish death metal. The story behind the album itself is very interesting, the band essentially made a demo then lied they had a full release out to get on a label, and this shows. For the album itself; there’s some of the most iconic songs of the time; Clad in Shadows, Upon an Oaken Throne, Starforsaken and especially Behind Space. For as much as I adore this album I feel like ranking it any higher just isn’t fair. This was a completely different lineup, instead of Anders on vocals we had Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne and Glenn Ljungström taking on dueling guitar duties alongside Jesper Stromblad.
#4 – Whoracle (1997)
Yet another album cover that I have tattooed on my arm, What felt like the perfect successor to 1995’s The Jester Race, Whoracle continues down the bold path and etches in more lines into the quintessential blueprint of melodic death metal. The riffs on offer here are just as catchy and heavy as the predecessor, and the guitar work is even more complex as it became the centerpiece and main focus on the album. Whoracle bleeds confidence where Jester Race felt like they had something to prove. This release shows a band pour everything they have into crafting music they love, whilst almost single-handedly writing the playbook on the genre themselves. It’s everything that you could want from melodic death metal and its executed masterfully, though once again like on Come Clarity, there are filler songs that knock the experience a little, namely; Morphing Into Primal and Worlds Within the Margin. A small setback like that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a near flawless record worthy of acclaim.
#3 – The Jester Race (1995)
This album is perfect. From this point on the rankings genuinely become entirely up to a small preference in themes and approach. The Jester Race has some of the greatest riffs ever heard in heavy metal, featuring the incredible vocal debut of Anders Friden delivering some of the best growls of his career. Every song is phenomenal and there isn’t a moment wasted on what is a tightly focused and passionate release. Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, The Jester Race is an outstanding display of the best riffs that Swedish death metal has to offer; Lord Hypnos, Dead Eternity, title track, Artifacts of the Black Rain, Moonshield etc. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said but hundreds if not thousands of people over the last twenty-five years. Listen to it.
#2 – Clayman
Again let me reinstate that the last half of this list ranking are entirely equal in my mind and this album comes down to preference. Clayman once again shows off amazing riffs, incredible vocals and is something you could once again spin cover-to-cover endlessly. Where I think Clayman wins out ever so slightly is in the choruses, Clayman is just that little bit more catchy and features songs and moments that in my mind are a little more memorable. Everything from the opening seconds of Bullet Ride, perfectly setting the scene for the album to come, to the ending few chords of Another Day in Quicksand and everything in between. Not to mention the iconic Only For The Weak and title track or the earworm of Pinball Map. I could talk about this album for hours, you can’t beat this record, well almost.
#1 – Colony
This is the gold standard not only for melodic death metal but metal music as a whole. Colony refines and then redefines what melodeath is and what can be expected from the genre. Every song is a powerhouse and it’s a testament to what can be achieved when building on the framework created by a band which invented its own sound. All that was good about The Jester Race, the developed guitar work and confidence of Whoracle too came to define the perfect album. In their own ways, they are all unstoppable titans of their field though. If Jester Race represents the end of an age then Colony is the resurrection.
With Anders recently saying in a live show, ‘If you like Colony, you’ll love I, The Mask’ then hopes are high for what In Flames’ newest album has in store. Whilst not everything has been perfect, some albums being a lot better than others, It’s all a journey, and sometimes there are risks that need to be taken to find yourself again throughout the times. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember, and for good reason. Let’s see what the band has to deliver for us in a few mere weeks.