September 2008

29th September 2008

ANOTHER ALBUM, another tour; music editor Matt Elwell chats to Jesper Stromblad, guitarist and founder of Swedish metallers In Flames.

“We are super happy with the new album”, exclaims Jesper, a remark not without justification. One and a half years in the making, A Sense of Purpose is the band’s ninth album, and perhaps most mature, but it wasn’t without its difficulties; “when you’ve been living with the songs for so long it’s hard to be objective and know if we’re putting out a crap album” he explains. The band also invested their own finances in the album’s production, purchasing their own studio in their home town of Gothenburg. “Fully equipped, state of the art”, Jesper boasts, comparing it to the days of The Jester Race where the band “had a much tighter budget”, and so “had to go in and out of the studio really fast”. The Jester Race was recorded in eleven days; A Sense of Purpose has, including the pre-production, two months of recording time behind it.

Across their eighteen year career, In Flames has managed to irritate every music classifier on the planet. Their debut album, The Lunar Strain, flirted with black and death metal, but landed in neither camp and even brought a melodic touch to the table. “Gothenburg” and “melodic death metal” are terms which have been tried, tested, and rejected, as attempts to describe the progression of the band’s sound from the early ‘90s to 2008’s A Sense of Purpose, which features a logical progression from a more metalcore and melodic death metal influenced Come Clarity. It would be easy to ascribe these changes to careful planning, but Jesper disagrees; “we don’t really think about it, it’s just a natural thing; every time we’re ready to write songs and go into the studio…we’re not sitting down and discussing ‘which direction’, or, ‘do we want to please certain market’”.

It’s a mindset that has produced its fair share of controversy over the years. Soundtrack to your Escape was dismissed by some critics as the band jumping on the nu-metal bandwagon, abandoning their extreme metal roots, and selling out. “It’s very different from the earlier stuff” says Jesper. “It came about because we more or less jammed the songs together…we rented a house and just locked ourselves in for three weeks, with a lot of beer”. “A totally different way for us to work”. It was an experiment, something that In Flames is in no way afraid to embark on.

Jesper Stomblad is the guy on the far left

Jesper Stomblad is the guy on the far left

In Flames has also enjoyed an incredibly stable relationship with their record label. Nuclear Blast is now the biggest independent record label, almost with In Flames as one of their flagships. It holds the band in high regard and pretty much drops everything when a new In Flames album appears; “you develop a relationship with the people that you work with…we haven’t seen any reason to change” he says. Politics and finances have only been an issue in America, and it is a situation that the band feels has in many ways taken away a lot of the pressures of the music industry, leaving them free to write, record and tour.

Their approach to music and all of its political and financial pitfalls has reaped many rewards, not just in terms of a devoted fan base. “I might be going to play ‘Cloud Connected’ for the 700th time but every time the intro goes on and I hear the crowd, that they’re really into it, you just feed from them” Jesper declares; In Flames is very much a band that wants to please, and rides on admiration received for that desire. “When you go on tour and you meet all the fans and you see how much people really love what you do; it can be as simple as meeting a fan and shaking his hand as he says ‘Hey, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t pick up the guitar’, or when a tiny baby is called Jesper”. “Music is therapy; it makes me happy” Jesper states enthusiastically. That’s why the band is still going after eighteen years. “Plus the fact that I couldn’t do anything else; I would probably be flipping burgers in McDonalds.”


29th September, 2008

trivium-shogunMETALLICA WANNA-BEES with a fit lead singer continue to insult the metal legends with another offering of absolute tosh.

Call me picky, but I expect a lot more from my metal than some half decent pit riffs and a growl. I’m sorry. That’s the first reason why this is an avoid-at-all-costs release. The second, is Heafy’s voice, either sounding like Hetfield eating cheese graters, or the God Forbid guy trying to do black metal. In fact, this album is just terrible Metallica mixed with the best of God Forbid; bad for me, as I like both. But it does work on ‘Down From The Sky’, but that’s about it. The third is the overuse of shred. Technicality is great, but here it exists only for itself and those who enjoy masturbating over million notes a second shred. The fourth reason is that the songs are all too long, with nothing engaging enough to justify six plus minutes. The fifth reason…you get my drift.


Published in Student Direct, October 2008

14th September, 2008

the-automatic-this-is-a-fix-443526THE AUTOMATIC’S debut album was essentially one track repeated twelve times, with a few week shrieks thrown in for good measure. Is This Is A Fix any better?

Well, no, it isn’t. The opening melody of ‘Steve McQueen’ has been lifted from ‘On the Campaign Trail’. The vocal rhythms vary little from song to song, and “if you’re looking for answers, if you’re looking, don’t look here” sums up the lyrical content on offer. ‘Make the Mistakes’ is nauseating, and ‘Secret Police’ sounds almost exactly like “By My Side”, just worse. The Automatic seem to be living off of three different ideas and their endless permutations. If Not Accepted Anywhere packed all the punch of a five year old, then This Is A Fix carries the force of a two month old baby’s tiny fist. And it isn’t even cute. It will satisfy anyone looking for the second coolest sound for the first half of this week, but for the rest, treat it as if it was a nuclear power plant about to explode.


7th September, 2008

ANYONE SEE the millionth Metallica documentary on ITV a few weeks?  Running through this millionth insight into the thrash metal legends was a patronising and frankly incorrect assumption that metal, in all its guises, is for the young and immature. The violence of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the live shows implicitly cited as being made for angst-ridden teenagers venting their frustrations at a world that is, like, totally against them and everything they do and say. But this documentary got it all wrong.

Metal has many forms. 2000 miles an hour or 2 miles an hour, satanic and pagan or relentlessly Christian, brutal and atonal or melodic and beautiful. But what connects all of its styles is the sheer energy, power, and often, the technicality and musical proficiency required to execute it successfully.

If people were largely attracted to the lyrical violence, then the number of murders imitating Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics would be in their thousands, and the Norwegian Black-metal church burnings of the late 80s and 90s would have left no house of God standing by now. Granted, many songs concerning themes such as rejection and isolation can be related to by some fans, but to think that every metal fan has disturbed and immature fantasies about brutally murdering their family? Oh please.

No, what attracts many metalheads to their chosen music is the power of those steamroller riffs, and the skill required to rip those amazing guitar solos out of thin air in front of an admiring and adoring audience. What else explains why bands like Metallica continue to make music? Metallica released their first album in 1983. Megadeth and Slayer, bands beginning in the mid 80s, are still going. As is Phil Anselmo from 80s groove metal band Pantera, who busies himself by fronting DOWN. Judas Priest have reunited, and of course, Iron Maiden (1970s) are still pushing boundaries. And they are all bringing the fans they captured from their first few albums with them.