Review Summary: A spectacular display of heavy as balls music that uses slightly progressive song structures and very diverse guitar work to its advantage
Few artists could ever claim to have left such a lasting stamp on a genre as In Flames have on the melodic death metal genre since their inception in 1990, and not without good reason. This was the band that released Clayman, the mighty Whoracle, Lunar Strain, Colony and their opus The Jester Race. The band was initially formed as the side project of then-Ceremonial Oath bassist Jesper Stromblad as an outlet for his more melodically-oriented writing style that did not fit his primary band of the time. Come 1993, the situation had changed and Stromblad had quit that particular band and recruited a line-up to write and record a debut album under the In Flames band. Following this the band grew tired of using session musicians for vocals and Jesper playing drums on the album, and so they recruited the final members of their line-up and set about recording and then releasing The Jester Race in 1995.
This is an album that has no intention of taking its foot off of the listeners throat despite its melodic nature. The guitar tones are exceedingly heavy and the vocals are aggressive; the riffs bludgeoning and the drumming cool and calculated but still carrying a lot of rage behind it throughout. As far as complete band performances go The Jester Race ranks right up there among the best albums, with every member of the band consistently contributing something good that adds to the overall mood of the album. The guitars create a dark atmosphere that the demonic vocals from new recruit Anders Friden perfectly compliment with a lot of aggression behind them. Jesper also contributes acoustic guitars on this release which add a lot of diversity to it and draw up a gloomy picture, particularly on the opening song Moonshield. This five minute masterpiece was the perfect way to open up the album, with the acoustic guitar being used more than once to great effect including as the introduction to the song. The way the band transition from accompanying acoustic guitar work to electric guitar work is also something to marvel at; with the acoustic sections feeling suitably relaxed whilst the heavy parts are barbaric and yet somewhat restrained, keeping to a slow pace.
Each and every song on The Jester Race is one that leaps out with its own characteristics and yet still contributing to the overall flow of the album. The instrumental number The Jester's Dance shows off just how well the band can nail the soft to heavy dynamic, whilst Graveland shows off a much faster side to the band at times. The guitar work varies from the slow and sludgy to the lightning fast and the vocals aggressive whilst the drums constantly adapt to the meandering pace. This album makes great use of slightly more progressive song structures than what some death metal fans may be unaccustomed to with some frequently altering tempos and it is clear that In Flames really strived to make their mark on metal music with this release. This is arguably their most ambitious and complete-sounding release, although some might give that title to any of their first five releases. The pacing and flow of The Jester Race is completely unmatched, with every song feeling complete no matter what the length whilst the longer tracks (of which non stretches far past the five minute mark) never feel over-stretched, such is the genius behind the song writing.
The Jester Race is the perfect example of flawlessly executed melodic death metal with some angry vocal work, thought-provoking lyrics and great riffing and the cool use of acoustic guitars mixed perfectly among the heaviness. The production job is crisp and the drumming and bass work merely completes the rout. If you have not heard this then I highly recommend it as In Flames proved on here that they are more than a cut above the average Gothenburg band.