This is their second album, coming after Lunar Strain, and before Whoracle. It is definatley better than their debut, it feels more thoughout and complete. This may or may not be because of Ander Fridens addition to the band as the lead singer. He replaced Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity. They pretty much traded bands because Anders sung for Dark Tranquillity before joining In Flames. Back to the point, this album helped define a style. Along with a few other bands, most notably At The Gates, they started melodic death metal. Unlike the later albums I don't consider this to be "gothenburg". It's heavier than that.
I'm going to do something different(for me) and not do a track by track. This review is on the Jester Race alone, although Black Ash Inheritance came packaged with it the other review sums up my feelings about the EP. I'm a vocalist and lead guitarist so those are mostly what I can write confidently about.
Vocals - Anders Friden
This is his first album on vocals, replacing Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity, who did vocals only on their debut, Lunar Strain. He is a welcome replacement, and helps define their signature sound. His vocals are growled, although not gutterally like tranditional death metal vocals. Like a higher pitched variation. He lets out a few good screams too(like around the end of the Jester Race). While newer In Flames uses clean vocals quite a bit there are none on this album. And that is a good thing. On the subject of lyrics, they're pretty good. The theme of the album is human corruption and how man is destroying earth. He uses some fancy words, but generally the flow pretty well and are interesting to read while listening. This only matters because his words are audible, so you can actually tell what Anders is saying, if you listen.
Guitars - Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom
The guitars on this album are more balanced than in future albums. By that I mean that the ratio of bone crushing riffs to beautiful melodies is about even. And believe me, these guys are great at melody. From the nice acoustic intro of the opening track, Moonshield , to the upbeat and melodic lead driven instrumental, Wayfaerer, I never get tired of hearing these guys play their catchy lines. The heavy riffs are pretty sweet too. They mostly just compliment the vocals but can also be catchy like the main riff of Dead God In Me. They like harmonizing with each other so while not quite unique, it does make the songs sound more interesting. And finally, the solos. They're pretty good. They don't really resort to pure shred but they keep interesting with some fast runs and their trademark melodies.
Bass - Johann Larsson
As with most metal bands, it's hard to distinguish the bass. The sound of the album is pretty thick and bassy, but to actually tell what the bassist is playing has always been hard for me. So sorry bass lovers, not much to discuss here.
Drums - Bjorn Gelotte
Today he is one of their guitarists but on this album he plays the drums. He does a pretty good job too. He doesn't try to show off or just demonstrate pure speed, he creates a good rhythm for the rest of the band while still remaining interesting. Bjorn likes to use cymbals and toms to make to create a good sound, instead of just wailing away on the snare. He really doesn't just play standard beats much, but on the occassion he does atleast keeps em' tight. He doesn't resort to blastbeats much either, although he pulls them off nicely in the song December Flower. So in short, he's an interesting drummer.
One of the reasons I like this album is because of the variety. Each song has its own identity. Moonshield has great acoustic melodies and great singing, The Jester's Dance has haunting clean guitar, Artifact's Of The Black Rain has a great balance between heavy riffs and melody, The Jester Race has an amazingly catchy chorus, December Flower has that
solo, Wayfaerer is upbeat and one of the best instrumentals ever, and Dead God In Me is very high tempo and thrashy. You may have noticed I left out tracks 4-6. While they are damn good, they've just been put in a bad place. They all sound pretty similar so you might ask yourself what track you're on when you listen to this album.
OVERALL: This album is definatley a classic and arguably their best effort. I think it is deserving of a 4.5. It would be a 5 except for a few issues.
+ Great guitarwork which creates a nice balance between melody and heaviness
+ Intelligent lyrics and catchy songs
+ Good consistency in tracks
- A slight drag in the middle of the album
- Some of the clean guitar tones are annoying
*Note of interest: on track 4 of Black Ash Inheritance, Behind Space[Live], you can hear one of the guitarists mess up at around 1:45-1:55.