Looking back on the history of metal, it seems as though the early albums from many a band turn out to be that band's most popular, well received releases in their discography. This isn't always the case, yes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to come up with bands where this is true. From the mainstream metal scene, you've obvious bands like Metallica and Megadeth, who've released successful albums like Master of Puppets and Rust in Peace early on and then largely disliked albums including Risk and St. Anger. Then there are bands like Cradle of Filth and Helloween, who each have had successes early in their career, but have been criticized by masses of metal heads later on, fairly or unfairly. But it's those early albums like Keeper of the Seven Keys and In the Nightside Eclipse where most seem to generally agree that a classic rating is merited. Another band which seems to receive similar treatment is In Flames. Though their last few releases, Reroute to Remain and Soundtrack to your Escape for example, have been met with less than stellar reviews, the influential Gothenburg powerhouse definitely has a very good past. They've got albums that are among Gothenburg metal's finest, albums like Colony and The Jester's Race. The latter in particular, is personally my favourite of the genre. Originally released in 1995, The Jester Race was re-released in 2002 with the Black Inheritance EP added to the run time, increasing the track list by four songs.
Anyone who knows my musical taste, knows that I love melody it my music. And In Flames definitely succeeds in meeting this craving. Every song is extremely melodic, both in the actual sound, and the mood of the music. Guitarists Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom combine their talents to craft beautiful melodies, harmonies, and solos. In this area, the band is not exceedingly aggressive, as a band like Arsis might be, but their main appeal comes from the, again, beautiful sound & structure, as well as the sheer precision in which Jesper and Glenn play. The melodic guitars, which are an important element in The Jester Race, snake their way through the release, and are one of the album's most enjoyable parts. In addition, these sections are enhanced due to the infectious tone on the guitars. Truly amazing and very fun to listen to, if I must remind you yet again.
But don't be fooled into thinking that The Jester Race is all melody and nothing else. Though it's no Scream Bloody Gore, the album still contains heaviness. Though perhaps largely overshadowed by the extreme melody, there are still aggressive riffs to be found, often holding up the rhythm of the music. The riffing is very well thought out, and does not take away anything from the music, only adding to it. Like the harmonies and leads, the riffing is precise and enjoyable. But the aggressive riffs found in the likes of Dead God in Me and the title track are not the only elements that make up the heaviness of The Jester Race. The brutal death metal growls of frontman Anders Friden definitely add to the heavy mood. Anders has what is arguably his best performance for In Flames. His growls are just as much of an instrument as the guitars. They are very effective and manage to add extra aggression to the music. Anders' performance on In Flames' second full length release is actually one of my favourite performances in the genre, as his technique has a real authority to it, and just has an all around excellent sound to it. Though it isn't as big of a factor as melody, is still find heaviness to be an important part of the band's formula, and an element which they make good use of.
In Flames is a band that has endured some harsh reviews over the last five years. Whether it is deserved or not is up for debate, but one thing that most can agree with is that The Jester Race is one of the band's top releases, and a classic in the Gothenburg metal scene, if there ever was one. The album contains the perfect dose of melody and aggression in a way that several bands have since attempted, but many have failed to do. The Jester Race is a perfect showing of In Flames' song writing skill, as well as the reason why they were at one time considered an important, innovative Gothenburg metal band. The album, their sophomore effort, is easily an essential metal release, and is definitely worth the money. Do not let albums like Reroute to Remain or Soundtrack to your Escape deter you from purchasing this album, as it definitely belongs in the collection of any metalhead.
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