Everybody with an appreciable interest in extreme music has that one band and perhaps one album that served as the gateway to what would, perhaps, become an obsession. One doesn’t simply dive straight into Immolation, Cryptopsy and Demilich without first sampling the lighter, more accessible treats that the world of extreme music has to offer. More often than not, an unrelenting curiosity for all things fast and heavy will begin with a passing interest in a fusion genre, a delicate mix of accessibility and extreme influences, not too extreme to scare somebody off at first glance and not too accessible to bore one to death.
In Flames being one these bands, were ultimately the path-forgers for my seemingly never ending personal journey into the murky depths of death metal. Come Clarity
was my first In Flames record, and though it’s as far removed from death metal as possible, it helped desensitise me to the extremities of the parent genre. Had it not been for me randomly picking up said CD for a ridiculous $21.99 at HB Hi-Fi, I almost certainly wouldn’t be writing this review right now. I will always have an affection for Come Clarity
as a result, but it’s Whoracle
that will forever remain the most pivotal record for me in terms of how it shaped my taste in music, and why it reserves a special place in my CD collection after all these years.
Although cited as a “melodic death metal” album, you’d be hard pressed to really tag this as “death metal” of any sort. Sure, the influences are there, in the vocals and in the riffs – you can hear elements of something a little more menacing. But mostly lacking the intricate harmonies of The Jester Race
and lacking the aggression of Colony
simpler formula sandwiches it between two seemingly more purposeful albums. Critically, Whoracle
has an advantage in that it’s far more accessible than either of the aforementioned. Although The Jester Race
rules the roost in terms of absolute quality and Colony
is closer to its roots, the two can be quite overwhelming for beginners. Their non-stop barrage of riffs would have reduced a younger, uninitiated me to a zombie by the time “Lord Hypnos” or “Clayman” came along respectively. Whoracle
never seemed to suffer from this issue, which is why it serves as such an appropriate stepping stone into the very bands and albums that influenced it.
The opening riff of “Jotun” is an excellent display of flashy and melodic riffing, arguably the best introduction to any In Flames record. The song wouldn’t feel out of place on The Jester Race
, as it’s the more akin to a typical melodeath song than any the tracks that follow it. From this point on, Whoracle
becomes a little more formulaic. “Gyroscope” features the best balance of melody, aggression and simplicity on the album, built around one of the most infectious riffs In Flames have ever written, as guitar lines weave through and between each other in a way that can only be described as breathtaking. The highlight of Whoracle
comes right in the middle in the form of “Jester Script Transfigured”. Beginning with an acoustic intro not unlike the one on “Moonshield”, it’s complimented by the melancholy spoken words of Anders Friden, before diving into a powerful riff consisting of a gorgeous rise and fall. The song features a myriad of acoustic breaks as well - adding to the splendour of the main riff and giving the song a fantastic dynamic.
However, while containing some of In Flames’ best and most instantly recognisable material, Whoracle
isn’t exactly flawless. “Morphing Into Primal” is dubbed as “filler” - even though it plays a key role in providing a transition from the melody soaked “Jester Script” and the synth infused “Worlds Within The Margin” - it’s undeniable that at least in relation to rest of the release, it’s a poor track. The production is also not a clean as that of The Jester Race, while “Jotun”, “Gyroscope” and “Jester Script” overcome this by featuring a lot of high-register riffs and leads, other tracks such as “Everything Counts” can sometimes have their riffs compromised by a particularly invasive snare tone and some odd vocal layering. So why exactly is Whoracle
a classic? It’s fair to say to say that nobody can really deliver an impersonal, hyperbole-free explanation as to why something should be held in awe despite its flaws.
But as explained earlier, everybody has an album that they would consider pivotal in terms of their musical development – it could be something as universally acclaimed as Symbolic
or Rust in Peace
, or something deplorable like The Cleansing
. What separates a classic from something merely nostalgic is simple – the quality is everlasting. This is why Whoracle
and not Come Clarity
retains its spot as “most pivotal” for me, because Whoracle
blends accessibility and extremity with a sense of authenticity, while the latter was uses said factors as a gimmick. Even after years of repeat spins, Whoracle
still sounds fresh, because it’s a no nonsense example of how to make an original piece of art composed of diametrically opposed influences and make it work, accessible but still completely inimitable.