Review Summary: The best melodic death metal album of 1997, Whoracle is nothing but pure, unadulterated metal pleasure
Back in 1995 when the “big three” of Gothenburg released three of the most influential melodic death metal albums in the history of the genre, In Flames’ first effort, “The Jester Race” was probably the worst of the three, lacking the bite of “Slaughter of the Soul” and the crushing vocals of Mikael Stanne in “The Gallery”. Fast-forward two years and the story could not be much more different. At the Gates were finished (for now) and Dark Tranquillity released “The Minds I” which not only failed to live up to the hype the band had created for themselves with “The Gallery”, but was simply a boring, disjointed affair which made it seem like the group had peaked too early in their career. Enter In Flames, who took the basic recipe they had started brewing with “The Jester Race”, improved the vocals of Anders Friden considerably, emphasised the lead guitars even more and produced their finest album to date.
When one looks at In Flames now, they see a sorry mess of a band who took precisely the wrong route of evolution and ended up towards the bottom of the pile. But if you listen to this album, one simply cannot work out how. Anders Friden, who is a truly marmite affair is for once the albums selling point. On “The Jester Race” Friden sounded like an old man chasing away the children pinching apples from his tree, his guttural growl fading away and sounding tired in many of the albums faster parts. Not so here. Friden settles in comfortably with the rest of the band, his growls on opener “Jotun” being some of the strongest of his career, accompanied by menacing spoken parts that establish the song as being a true In Flames classic. The instrumentation is also particularly strong here, guitarists Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom churning out a fantastic lead that twists and turns throughout the songs run time, and provides some cracking harmonies that are the bands best to date. Bjorn Gelotte, then drummer and Johan Larsson on bass also hand in competent performances in the rhythm section that establish the pace of the album and are also much improved from the predecessor, but nothing to get excited about.
In the genre of melodic death metal, you will be hard pressed to find a more melodic album than this. Everywhere you seem to turn, the harmonizing guitars of Stromblad and Ljungstrom fill the ears and even venture into folk and tribal territory, which is refreshing to hear considering In Flames never really touched upon the genre again. The title track fuses the two together to produce a fantastic, rhythm driven instrumental while the break in “Dialogue with the Stars” manages to add another dimension to another stand-out track.
Just one or two niggles manage to reduce the end result from being a truly classic effort from everyone’s favourite love ‘em-hate ‘em band. While Friden’s vocal efforts are considerably improved from “The Jester Race”, especially in the growl department one has to wonder why his poorly executed clean vocals are even present. Unlike the opener, “Jester Script Transfigured” contains Friden doing some dreaded crooning which does absolutely nothing for the listener. Neither does the frantic nature he goes about vocal duties in “Morphing into Primal”. Furthermore, it is fair to say that Bjorn Gelotte is a far superior guitarist than he is drummer. It provides a steady beat that adds one or two intricacies to “The Jester Race” formula, but don’t expect any frantic fills or furious blast beats like his replacement Daniel Svensson.
“Whoracle” is not only In Flames’ finest effort to date. It is, put simply one of the finest entries in the genre. The lead guitars provide a distinctive tone that refines the formula of “The Jester Race”, Anders Friden hands in a far superior effort that suits his vocal style considerably more than any of the bands other efforts, and the rhythm section for the most part provides a solid base for every song to construct upon. Ignore at your peril, for “Whoracle” is one of the most enjoyable entries into a genre nowadays cluttered with mediocrity.