Review Summary: Featuring members of In Flames, Gardenian, and Transport League, the album is a good listen, but is basically "In Flames-lite", yielding a mild recommendation at best.
Hailing from Sweden, Passenger is a side-project brainchild of Niclas Engelin and Patrik Sten, members of Gardenian and Transport League, respectively. Wishing to perform music other than their familiar thrash and death metal style, the two musicians sought to achieve their goal. It would be in 1997, on In Flames's Whoracle
tour, that Engelin was hired as a session guitarist when the seeds for Passenger were planted. Sharing Engelin's same aspirations to create music that coalesced rock and metal, In Flames frontman Anders Fridén joined up with Engelin and Sten to handle vocal duties, effectively mixing . The addition of Gardenian bassist Håkan Skoger rounded out the quartet, and Passenger
was finally released in June of 2003.
Fridén's and Engelin's desire to play music that wasn't as intense as their parent bands but still maintained an assertive hard rock and metal edge ultimately yields great results. Anders can be compared in parallel to Corey Taylor, frontman of Slipknot and Stone Sour. Between those two acts, a vast majority of fans would consider the former to be heavier and faster than the latter, even though Stone Sour know how to be hard and heavy at times. The same can be said about Anders' contributions to his two bands: while In Flames - especially their earlier material - will forever remain a staple Gothenburg name and is well-renowned for their furious guitar assaults, Passenger doesn't rock nearly as hard as In Flames. However, make no mistake: Passenger is through-and-through a metal act and most certainly can pack a punch.
On the surface, it may be difficult to ascertain who would most enjoy Passenger
. Passenger is not just a watered-down In Flames or Gardenian. Instead, Passenger dabbles in electronics while containing elements of rock, metal, and pop, as well as traces of Gothenburg, death, and thrash which Passenger's members perform with their other bands. While on the aforementioned tour, Anders and Niclas were said to constantly play bands that helped shape Passenger's sound, ranging from Helmet to Depeche Mode to The Tea Party. Fans of early In Flames up to around the Colony
days will likely be disappointed; however, one who enjoys In Flames most from around Re-Route to Remain
to their most recent effort Come Clarity
will find this album to be spectacular.
Electronic drums and guitars open up the album with "In Reverse", which builds a steady crescendo before the rest of the band explodes into a heavy introduction and sets the tone for the album. Anders incorporates shouted vocals and In Flames-esque screams onto the track, but this track - and the rest of the album - is mostly Anders singing cleanly. The guitars and bass hit hard and often, and the guitar solo that precedes the electronics is both pleasing and engaging to listen to. The percussion, be it electronic drums or an actual drumkit, shines on the album, namely on tracks such as "Just the Same" and "Rain".
The most intriguing aspect of Passenger is hearing when the band "puts it all together." What tracks stick out the most on the album, and what makes these tracks so memorable? What do Passenger do best, and what do they need to improve on?
One track that absolutely must be pointed out is "I Die Slowly", which is without question the best track on the album but also arguably one of the best-executed songs in the rock and metal hybrid. Opening with a short-yet-blistering drum fill before frenzied guitars enter, the introduction is a sonic boom of warm distortion and insistent crunch. In the verses, the heavy feel drops for Anders to sing cleanly over slap bass work from Skoger. As the verses make way to the pre-chorus, the heavy main riff picks back up, only to change to a split of the main riff and a torrid lead guitar riff down the fretboard in each channel. From a production standpoint it is brilliant, but more importantly, it reaches a level of near-genius, especially over Anders' clean and dubbed vocals of "Blinded by false innocence, steal my wings, and I die slowly
- cracked smile, deceivable eyes, I'm burned by the wind, and I die slowly
." As a collective whole, "I Die Slowly" is an essential listen. One other worth-mentioning track where Passenger is at their best is "In My Head", which has a similar introduction to "I Die Slowly", but is more moderate in tempo and sports an extended introduction. Anders delivers a tremendous performance on the cut, as do the dual guitar parts, which play clean arpeggios as Anders sings, "I long for tomorrow - haven't seen it in awhile" coupled with a power chord-dominated riff. Engelin's guitarwork on the album is diverse and creative: his main riffs exude thick distortion and heavy chops, but his clean passages and his soloing are of mostly outstanding quality to compliment to his chord-driven main riffs.
Where Passenger falters on this album is with the electronic production because it is extremely hit-or-miss. At times, such as in the album opener "In Reverse" or the orchestra-like introduction to "Carnival Diaries" is well-executed, but in other tracks, such as "Used" or "Circles", the electronics are uninspiring or superfluous. The electronic drums are a highlight on the album, but every other electronic medium is, for the most part, disappointing. One other fault on the album is in the mixing and production on parts of the album, which gives the album a sense of choppiness as you listen through. On a number of instances, such as on the closer "Eyes of My Mind" or "Circus", Anders' dubbed vocals are strenuous and distracting, especially when the strings are pushed lower in the mix than they should, or Anders is pushed too high. Sometimes, the dubbed vocals, like in "I Die Slowly", are fantastic, but other times they sound extraneous. It is reasonable to make a claim that Anders could have performed his singing and shouting without the use of studio effects, and the album would have been bolstered significantly as a result in regards to the vocals.
In summary, Passenger should not be construed as a knock-off of Gardenian or In Flames. The band's desire to perform catchy tracks while still maintaining a metal edge comes to fruition on the album - just not consistently all the way through. Tracks such as "I Die Slowly", "In My Head", and "In Reverse" are imperative and essential listening, while songs such as "Carnival Diaries" and the frantic "Just the Same" are also worthwhile listens. Anders' juxtaposition of clean singing and shouting and screaming is reminiscent of latter In Flames material and is overall outstanding. And like Passenger's founding members' other bands, these tracks are most definitely guitar-driven thanks to the efforts of Niclas Engelin, whose bulky main riffs coupled with his solos and lead riffs bleed excellence. While the studio electronics - not including the drumkit - and the production are two major faults on the album, they are not overly distracting to the listening experience.
In the end, fans who are seeking a gateway band between the rock and metal genres without blindly diving into one genre or the other are encouraged to give this album a listen. Fans of Gardenian and Transport League will be disappointed to find no dominant thrash or death metal influences, and fans of older In Flames will share in their dismay. However, to fans of In Flames's most recent material, as well as casual fans of the rock and metal genres, Passenger
is suggested listening.
I Die Slowly
In My Head