In Flames and their 180° turn: a case study
In Flames was my favorite band for many years. They were one of the main reasons is started to get interested in extreme metal genres, back in the day my taste in music was unrefined, I listened mostly to heavy and power metal with the addition of all kinds of rock music. After I discovered them many more bands and styles had got into my definition of what quality music is and my musical horizons just got wider and wider as the years have passed. After high school I discovered Drum and bass after listening to self-vs-self (A collaboration between In Flames and Pendulum), that song got me into the electronic music and I have to thank In Flames for that too.
But the flames that keep my interest in the band started to extinguish back in 2002. I listened to them for about a year, still discovering new albums and songs, when Reroute to Remain came out. Music on that album couldn’t be described as melodeath, a sound that I and many other fans considered a signature for In Flames, something that will never change and will only get better and better with each new record. But, as Chuck Schuldiner once said, I had let the metal flow. And at the end RtR became a solid offering in my book.
But the fall of In Flames continued. 2004 saw the release of Soundtrack to your Escape, an album that buried all my hopes of the band’s return to the classic sound that made them famous in the first place. It always bugged me why they made such a drastic change in their sound was it just a desire for bigger popularity, maybe notion that the fan base is changing, that kids who grow up listening to metalcore just won’t accept melodeath sound from the pre-reroute era. I had thought about it and here are my conclusions.
Members of the “big three” of Gothenburg melodeath scene (along with At the Gates and Dark Tranquility), In Flames were a band that made melodeath huge in terms of popularity. Along with Carcass and At the Gates they paved the path for a million of other bands that nurtured Gothenburg sound in their music. The holy trinity of their work that made them world famous (Whoracle, Colony and Clayman) is a prime example of the perfect Gothenburg metal that is so good that no one thought that that albums could be topped. And they weren’t. Maybe the band realized that they can’t make something better and decided to explore new musical areas. In addition to that, I think that they just got tired of playing the same thing all over again. Yes they constantly refined their sound and yes, every record by them had unique signature that made it instantly recognizable and distinct when compared to others but at the end the core of the music was good ol’ Gothenburg metal. On top of that, at the start of the 21st century a huge cluster of new bands started playing, bands that found their inspiration in the melodeath bands of the nineties. You can see this trend even today, just look how much bands plays Gothenburg metal. That fact is also one of the reasons I think In Flames had made a sudden turn in their play style. The scene was simply overcrowded.
RtR came and dramatically divided the fan base. Soundtrack just drove away even more long-time fans. But many new devotees had come into the colony, kids that listened to metalcore, nu metal, and similar genres were fascinated with In Flames. This could be a reason for the change; getting new fans, broadening the popularity, especially in the US. As you know, today, In Flames are more famous over the Atlantic than here in Europe. I remember reading an interview with Anders Friden, sometime in 2004. He said that the band want to have a bigger reputation in the States and that their next album will be something never seen before. And it was because, in spite of the negative reviews, Soundtrack had opened the US market for them, it was their first album to be in the first 150 albums on the US music charts. By comparison, this year’s record, Siren Charms peaked at number 23 on the US chart. If a bigger popularity was the reason for change they surely succeeded in accomplishing that goal.
So, when looking again at the conclusions there are a couple of reasons for the change; Widening the fan base, getting tired of playing the same thing all over again or just impossibility of making a record that could top Clayman, Colony or Whoracle.
I like to believe that they just got tired of melodeath and that the chance to have more fans (and money) was not the reason for the change. All I know is that after Reroute they had one good album (A Sense Of Purpose) and that after Jesper Strömblad had left the band, I never heard the energy that was present in every one of their records (even on the Soundtrack or Come Clarity). So, maybe deciding to sail away from Melodic death waters wasn’t such a smart thing to do. At least in terms of quality.