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.”