Review Summary: Not all it's made up to be, but still a great Melodic Death Metal album.
If you ask me what I think of In Flames, one of Gothenburg's original Melodic Death Metal bands, I would probably mention their noticeable downfall from greatness into bland, uninspired mainstream trash. However, I would also probably mention their intense amount of input to the Gothenburg metal scene, and I would tell you that without this band, along with a few others, the metal scene as we know it today would not be the same. They were one of the first bands to take intricate melodies and slow, emotional bridges and intros, and combine them with the harshness and raw purity of Death Metal. Yes, they did it well. Yes, they played great music. Yes, their second full length album The Jester Race
shook the foundations of the metal world. No, this is not a classic.
Hailed by many as the crowning achievement of Melodic Death Metal, The Jester Race
certainly is a work of art. In Flames put years of thought and ideas into this album, and that really shows when you hear the first three tracks. However, just because they did this does not make this album a classic in my eyes. For an album to be classic, it has to breathe perfection in every second of every song. It has to be relentless in its genius, innovation and clarity. While this album is relentless in its genius, innovation and clarity, it is not perfect for every second of every song. The first three songs take you by storm, knocking you off your feet before you even have a chance to comprehend how great the tracks are you just heard. Then, we have a lull. Then, it’s back into that flawless coherence and pacing of the first three tracks. Did anyone else catch the lull there? While the majority of the tracks on this album are really, really good, by the end you are kind of sitting there listening to the last two tracks like a zombie, no longer excited by sweeping guitar leads, solos, acoustic passages or anything like that.
My main complaint, as stated above, are the few dull moments this album has. While they aren’t all too frequent, they take away from the overall captivating nature of this release. The song “Graveland” is pretty much useless and could easily have been removed for the benefit of the album. The second instrumental “Wayfaerer”, while good, is a few minutes too long and tends to drag on, something which can also be said about “Dead Eternity”. I’m not saying that these moments completely kill the magic of the album; it’s just that for an album to be hailed as a classic, there must be no points, and I mean none, where the listener may feel bored.
However, the parts on this album that are good absolutely shine. Right off the bat you are smacked in the face with riff after riff after riff of some of the best guitar leads Melodic Death has ever heard. The lead in the standout track “December Flower” is simply mind-blowing, and by one minute into the song you know for a fact you are listening to one of the best songs in the entire genre. Another tell-tale sign of genius at work is when you are completely unaware you are listening to an instrumental. The first time I heard this album a while back, “Moonshield” faded and “The Jester’s Dance” began without me really knowing that the tracks had shifted, and I simply thought I was listening to the solo of “Moonshield”. Seriously, when your instrumentals sound like a giant bridge and guitar solo, you know you have done something right. Also, when these amazing melodies are carried over into nearly every song on the album it adds more and more depth and variety to an already interesting lineup. “Artifacts Of The Black Rain”, “Moonshield”, “December Flower”, “Lord Hypnos”, and “Dead God In Me” all are introduced with simply insane guitar leads and melodies. Anyone with an ear for talented guitar players will be blown-away by the intricate melodies which In Flames has written for this album.
As with a lot of Melodic Death, guitar leads don’t make up the entire repertoire of melodies. Acoustic guitars are the first thing you hear on the album, as they string away on an extremely serene riff on the opening track “Moonshield”, something which always earns a huge plus for me for variety. Also, the way In Flames typically slows things down for a nice bridge before the guitar solo is something I notice, it makes the solo seem much more at the foreground since it blasts out of this calming tune of slow, meaningful electric guitar riffs.
The vocals though, aren’t nearly up to my usual standards. Much of the time, the vocals seem forced, and not nearly as strong and foreboding as I typically like to see with Melodic Death Metal. They lack the ferocity and bite of Mikael Stanne, they are missing the depressing rage of Niilo Sevanen. While some may disagree, Anders Friden simply isn’t exceedingly proficient with his Death Metal growl. It is under-produced slightly, not as throaty or deep and sometimes has a fairly irritating whiny-effect during the end of some of his screams. They aren’t terrible, and they are certainly bearable, but if they were more up-front, louder, and better executed then this album would be looking at a 4 or a 4.5.
I do give a lot of credit to In Flames for their input to what is now probably my favorite genre of music. Melodic Death Metal is a hard genre to get completely correct, because for me it must be full of different, interesting and emotional guitar leads, have meaningful lyrics and poetic, almost epic song structures, a lot of variety and innovation, incredible proficiency in each instrument, and deep, harsh vocals to set the atmosphere. While this may seem like a lot of criteria for one seemingly simple genre, it really takes all that to greatly impress me and hold my attention for a long time. With The Jester Race
, much of this criteria is fulfilled, but also a few things are missing. Some of it I can’t really explain, but during some of the tracks it seems like my sense of awe diminishes. My jaw dropped to the floor in admiration during some moments, all In Flames needed to do was secure it down there by keeping their attention focused at all times, but this time they were one nail short.
+ Amazing Guitar Leads
+ Excellent Atmosphere
+ For It’s Time, Tons Of Innovation
+ One Of The Defining Albums Of A Genre
+ Solid Instrumental Work
+ Good Amount Of Variety
- Vocals Are A Bit Choppy
- A Few Boring Moments
Artifacts Of The Black Rain
The Jester’s Dance