in_flames_the_jester_raceSo the comment I made on Grymm’s piece on losing your metal virginity may have been intentionally provocative. I resented the proposition that everyone distinctly remembers their first exposure to heavy metal as I do not: I’ve always been exposed to it so can’t recall a precise occasion. While this is true, and as I later conceded, the story is quite different with regard to extreme metal. There’s a romanticized origins story involving Opeth but I could always appreciate them insofar as they overlapped with 70s prog to which I’ve also always been exposed. The first death metal that I heard and loved which was itself derived from metal was The Jester Race by In Flames. Opeth (and arguably Slayer) notwithstanding, this is ground zero for me. And you know what? It holds up brilliantly. Certainly better than 2 other releases of a similar time and style from the same town. Let’s call them The Calorie and Porter of the Seoul.

It may seem an unnecessary point to raise given the nature of Gothenburg metal, but this is primarily on the strength of the guitar-play. The dual attack facilitates heroic harmonies and passages which contrast blasty rhythms with exemplary melodies. The Jester Race is simultaneously supremely headbangable and laden with hooks which have meant I’ve not been able to get over a few of the tracks here. “Moonshield” opens with an awesome acoustic passage which utilizes such a harmony despite the absence of electrification and transitions into a lead which I now associate with not just In Flames but melodeath as a whole. The intro to “Lord Hypnos” blends the chuggy rhythm guitar with a noodly but focused top layer to truly compelling effect and the lead on “December Flower” remains one of their signature riffs, galloping in true Maiden fashion.

inflames - 1997

Outside of the core riffing passages occupying much of the album’s length, it’s the transitions and little flourishes and embellishments which elevate this to classic material. The guitar bridges used on “Artifacts of the Black Rain” have the complexity of solos but that they recur demonstrates the ability to write and perform technical but tasteful music. Great solos litter the record too. Even the gradual and organic evolution from the breakdown in “Lord Hypnos” offers something a little different to other tracks. Indeed, the short instrumental interlude of “The Jester’s Dance” is another highlight and may be my favorite of its type apart from “To One Far Away” by Mercyful Fate. The early solo is elite and the leads are unbelievably catchy.

And I’ve said all of these nice things without even mentioning the title track itself. I rank it in my top 10 metal songs of all time and never fail to be exhilarated by the introduction which gradually layers instrumentation and accelerates in pace. The chug is so satisfying and the solo at 3:40 is solid gold. I don’t want to vomit superlatives on to this page so suffice to say it still invokes the sense of exploration I first experienced when dipping my toes into heavier metal.

People talk about The Calorie. They talk about Porter of the Seoul. Some argue that In Flames went on to even greater things (not you Sounds of a Playground Fading, sit down). But The Jester Race consolidated their sound and marked the beginning of this exemplary run. It is the kingpin of mid-90s melodeath and remains a classic.

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  • The Nerd.

    They went from this to Siren Charms in less than 20 years.Life isn’t fair.

    • BenMech

      less than 10 years

  • This and Whoracle were/are amazing.

    • The Nerd.

      Whoracle, Colony, Clayman. Then it went to shit in my opinion.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        No love for Lunar Strain? That album kicks ass, too!

        • The Nerd.

          I’ve never actually listened to it. It’s on my list but this has been a fantastic year for metal.

    • Aaron

      I agree and would add Colony to that list. Zombie Inc. is one of their best songs ever.

      • John

        Dude, Zombie Inc. gives me chills to this day. When it cuts out to the clean picking, then the solo – I’m trying to think of a way to describe just how incredible it is and can’t find the words. I played Zombie Inc. for my mom back in the day and SHE liked it. One of my all time favorite songs.

    • Colony is the proper follow-up for me. Then, blah.

    • Grymm

      The Jester Race, Whoracle, and Colony were/are absolutely essential.

      Everything after those? Not so much, save for the back half of Come Clarity.

      • The Nerd.

        I really enjoyed Clayman. However that was my introduction to In Flames so I may be biased. And if I’m allowed to confess something….I like the first half of Reroute to Remain.

        • Grymm

          I’m gonna catch some flak for this, but parts of Reroute to Remain are good. I’m very partial to “Trigger”.

          But this was the point where Anders Fríden was replaced by Jonathan Davis, and IF started to lose the plot.

          • The Nerd.

            Ugh…the nu metal whisper then scream. I have no clue why they haven’t kicked Anders out yet. I have never seen a vocalist fall so far.

            I enjoy the title track, Trigger ( in my top 10 In Flames songs) and Cloud Connected. That last one will get me in some shit, but I like it.

            The problem with RTR was that there was too much fucking filler. Those 3 songs are the only ones I can really listen to.

          • Syn

            Reroute to Remain was the first album of theirs I actually owned. It was a birthday present from my sister, a few days after its release.

            After the first few WTFISTHIS listens, I kind of forced myself to like it.

            Trigger was good (and it had that fun Trigger-Rejection Role video crossover thingy with Soilwork), but I always loved Dismiss the Cynics the most.

          • PaulyW

            Reroute to Remain was also my first In Flames. I picked it up because I was into Darkest Hour and somehow it was recommended. I think it’s pretty good. 5-6 real good songs.

            Later on, I picked up Jester Race. Definitely my favorite of theirs. This one is all about the melody.

          • Feytalist

            Count me among those that liked Reroute, too. Cloud Connected is, if nothing else, a ridiculously catchy song.

      • Reese Burns

        I really like Come Clarity, it’s different from their classic material, but not in a bad way for me. But aside from that, modern In Flames is pretty sad to watch.

      • Syn

        After Reroute to Remain, I kind of started listening to them less and less, both the new stuff and the old. Though if I were to be perfectly honest, I never really listened to Clayman and Colony all that much. Not in full, anyway; some selected songs have been spammed, but if someone asked, I wouldn’t be able to neither recognise all the songs, nor tell you from which album of the two they were. Well ‘cept for Colony and Clayman (songs), obviously.

        I like a fair amount of songs from post R2R era, but I can’t really say I like any album fully.

      • Wilhelm

        Colony had a commercial vibe that sometimes worked and often didn’t work – I prefer Clayman for the sheer experimentation – after that I’m done.

        • JL

          That’s bizarre. Clayman, with songs like Only for the Weak and Pinball Map was much more commercial than Colony. In fact, I can’t think of a single song on Colony that has a commercial vibe or feel to it even remotely.

          • Wilhelm

            Sorry, I didn’t mean commercial as I really meant accessible, colony is about as easy to digest as melo death metal gets, if you can even call it death metal. I’m not saying it is a bad album, but Clayman sounded more adventurous in comparison.

      • I’m glad a fan of their older stuff appreciates Come Clarity. There’s an immediacy to that record that sounds less contrived than the other ones they did just before and after…

      • JL

        You forgot Clayman. Well at least 3/4 of it.

      • This is my same opinion. Come Clarity bangers were truly bangers with some unpolished metalpop songs.

    • Syn

      Whoracle is the first I’ve ever heard of In Flames and is hands down my favourite of theirs. It’s not just music that binds me to it, but also emotions and memories. Cherry popping too, if you will. This one somehow feels a bit too… warm. Not sure how to describe it. It’s in the sound, the guitars. They just sound very warm to me. Whoracle feels a bit cooler and easier to listen to during summer hahahah :D

      But regardless of all that, this is still a fantastic album.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Whoracle IS In Flames to me.

        Intro riff to Food For The Gods is my favourite IF riff of all time.

        • Syn

          Jotun was my very first contact with In Flames and to this day it’s what I first think of when someone mentions them to me. It’s hard to say if it’s my favourite riff of theirs, but most certainly it’s most recognisable.

  • I agree with a lot of the superlatives here. This is a monster album. But I don’t understand the near zero-sum argument WRT other Gburg albums. The Calorie fucking rules, too.

    • El_Cuervo

      I honestly don’t like Porter of the Seoul and The Calorie. I’ve never really liked At The Gates, and Dark Tranquillity went on to better things. So for me, it is zero-sum regarding the 95-96 albums innit

      • You raise an interesting point (sorta); i.e., I think DT has longevity. But agree to disagree on caloric intake. Doesn’t have the production of Jester Race, but guitar work and writing overall own.

        • BenMech

          As I said above, Dark Tranq had lyrics. IF, not so much.

      • Dethjesta

        On the whole I’ve always been more of a DT fan over IF and ATG (and prefer Amon Amarth more too). But I would agree that of the 95-96 albums The Jester Race wins, It took DT until Damage Done to release a truly 5* record, IMHO.

        • El_Cuervo

          Damage Done is fucking great. Up with The Jester Race for me.

        • Hammersmith

          Damage Done is absolutely their pinnacle record. Everything they’ve released since has been more or less great, but also chasing that magic.

        • Wilhelm

          the minds I and Projector are better, DD was great too but everything since sounds like a copy of that one.

      • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

        That kinda seems to be it, doesn’t it? Dark Tranquillity went on to better things, and (for my money) At The Gates had done better things.
        But for In Flames this is it. There wasn’t nor would there ever be an album where they’d top this.
        It”s wont to seem greater than the other two in that light alone.

      • Zadion

        Agreed immensely. TJR >>>>>>> its contemporaries. Honestly, The Calorie is probably my least favorite (or one of) DT albums. They kind of did the opposite of IF, ironically.

  • One More Thing

    The first song I heard from In Flames was Take This Life. The second song was Trigger (off the apparently unfavorable Reroute to Remain). I enjoyed both songs but, apart from these, all I’ve heard from them are some random songs here or there from their newer material. I’ve heard great things about The Jester Race but I’ve never actually looked into it or any of their other work. Would you recommend this to be the best place to start or should I try a different album first and graduate into this?

    • El_Cuervo

      Start here and listen through until Clayman. Some people would only say listen through until Colony but those 4 are great.
      > The Jester Race
      > Whoracle
      > Colony
      > Clayman

      • Netimer

        I would go exactly backwards)

      • One More Thing

        This is much appreciated, thank you. I always felt that I had been missing out on this band but I was never sure which albums I was missing out on, so this helps!

    • No, listen to this asap.

    • Johnny dangerously

      Nah listen to some new ones first because it’ll make the old ones that much more better.

  • BenMech

    So I notice a LOT of words in the review about GUITAR SOUNDS, but nothing of LYRICS . .which metal bands HAVE in plenty.

    IF’s lyrics were always . . not their best quality, while Dark Tranq’s were much better. AtG too.

    Soilwork had fairly good ideas but tortured their English As A Second Language classes (Mercury Shadow anyone?)

    • Grymm

      Ahh, the “spit or swallow” song!

    • Reese Burns

      I love Soilwork dearly, but my god, their lyrics are painful.

  • AndySynn

    Quite a pertinent post as I’m currently trying to review the new In Flames DVD for Terrorizer (in only 200 words) and it’s an odd experience as something of a “lapsed” IF fan… particularly in terms of trying to sort out which of my personal opinions/prejudices are actually relevant to the DVD itself, so I’m not judging it by false criteria.

    Don’t worry though, it contains such “old-school” classics as “Trigger” and “Cloud Connected”…

  • ferrousbeuller

    I adore this album, and although The Calorie was great it’s always been Character that really pushed my DT buttons. I can’t get on board with the Porter of the Seoul hate (I’m no North Korea sympathiser), but I’m waaaay too old to argue about differences in taste. Cool article, man.

    • Kronos

      Character was the first DT album I heard and it really is a favorite.

  • Morrowind542

    In Flames is fucking awesome, with Colony being their masterwork. They’re the only one of the three Gothenburg bands I like, and I never understood why they don’t get more recognition – Porter of the Seoul in particular seems incredibly overrated. The guitar harmonies alone put them on top. As far as I’m concerned, they stayed on top of the Melodeath genre until Be’lakor seized the crown.

    I even enjoyed their later albums. Reroute to Remain and Soundtrack to your Escape had some great songs on them, though they didn’t come anywhere close to In Flames’ previous works. Come Clarity is a great album at least as good as their classics, but it’s marred by what comes later. A Sense of Purpose was also a solid album, though not hitting the level of Come Clarity.

    Then we get to Sounds of a Playground Fading, which had one or two OK songs, but was mostly garbage. And the less said about Siren Charms, the better.

    • Reese Burns

      Come Clarity is indeed as good as their classics.

  • Reese Burns

    This is definitely the best In Flames record. Hands down. Every song has parts in it I know by heart and find myself humming along to at inappropriate times. But unpopular opinion: I personally think that Come Clarity is their second best album, aside from Jester Race, it’s the one that’s stuck with me most.

    • Zadion

      A Sense of Purpose is that controversial second for me. Aside from the Davis vocals, ASoP has all the qualities of the IF everybody loves IMO. I think people just dislike it because of the modern, commercial sound.

      • Reese Burns

        I listened to Sense of Purpose once and it didn’t really connect for me, I’ll give it another go though, maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention.

  • pitz of hadez

    Absolutely horrible album, IF didn’t play death metal, they played power metal with harsh vocals on top and along with At The Gates, ended up laying out the foundations of what would be later known as metalcore. the guitar work is a childish and melodramatic slap of heavy, neoclassical, power and black metal that sacrifices all the abrasiveness and aggression of death metal in favor of melodies that could only be enjoyed by someone who had been listening to metal for like 3 months, and on top of that mess, you have those “poetic”, English major lyrics that were nothing but a cringe worthy attempt at pseudo intellectualism.
    IMO this album is as bad as anything in Children Of Bodom discography, it’s a childish, entry level abomination that somehow end up being labelled as a classic.

    • El_Cuervo

      Tom? Is that you?

      • AndySynn

        Well, you’ve got to love (and laugh at) someone who in one breath lambastes a band for “pseudo intellectualism” after having just declared that they can effectively only be enjoyed by stupid people who know nothing about metal.

        • El_Cuervo

          Stunning lack of self-awareness.

    • Bryan Stroup

      LMAO, at the “could only be enjoyed by someone who had been listening to metal for three months” comment. How old are you?

  • Matus Dust

    I never listened to In Flamas properly before, it just never cough my attention. Maybe if I heard this when it originally came out, my opinion would be different, but right now it doesn’t do anything for me. Is there a big nostaliga factor for folks who think this is a masterpiece?

    • Reese Burns

      I think it’s one of those albums that takes a few listens to really click. (Not that I’m implying you haven’t given it its fair due, if it does nothing for you, it does nothing for you)

  • Alan Smithee

    My favorite In Flames album by a long shot, but dare I say the best melodeath album as well? Discussion please.

    • Reese Burns

      I don’t think it’s the best melodeath record (myself being partial to Soilwork) but this album is a fucking monster. Any band would be proud to put this album out, and for good reason.

  • brklyner

    Nice review. I’ve only really listened to Colony and Clayman, but I will remedy that immediately. To me IF were never a band that were particularly innovative, but certainly a lot of fun. Clayman is not an amazing record, but it is catchy as hell. Gotta be in the right mood for it, but then it’s perfect. Not their fault (or ATG’s, for that matter) that a ton of less talented bands proceeded to rip them off for the next 15+ years.

  • Diego Molero

    Just yesterday was listening to this album, so, so good.

  • Wilhelm

    There’s a lush atmosphere overshadowing this release and Whoracle also, I’m guessing it was the mixing/mastering but the sound they captured feels so alive and beautiful (for lack of a better term) I think the interplay with twin (sometimes three) guitar lines and, especially, the acoustic guitars, feels somehow bigger than everything. It really is the perfect melo-death album, and Whoracle would continue the tradition with a more accessible, but more experimental, album. It’s hard to have seen them fallen so far into whatever alternative metal crap; but at least we have the classics.

  • Levly

    I love The Jester Race, and think it was indeed the best album In Flames ever released, and a classic that I always listen to with great pleasure.

    BUT I have to register a strong protest regarding the denigration of The Gallery, which remains for me the best melodeath album of all times, a true and immortal masterpiece with some of the best and most heart wrenching melodies ever recorded (see Edenspring for instance). I’m happy It already got its day on the sun in these hallowed pages :).

    • Brother Ben

      The Gallery was something else. While In Flames and At the Gates really cling to their metal roots, I feel Dark Tranquillity went behind simply infusing Iron Maiden-esque harmonies into an extreme metal formula. There were already other bands doing that prior to the Gothenburg bands. But The Gallery was truly melodic at its core, with the metallic harshness becoming auxiliary to the beauty. They managed to do that without becoming frilly or emasculated.

  • Jm from nj

    What a tremendous album.
    Jester Race through Clayman were peak In Flames. R2R was…so-so, with some of Come Clarity being okay. But this run, started with this album…awesome stuff. Got me into Melodeath, hard.

  • Chris_Martin

    This album was my introduction to melodeath (and among my introductions to metal in general) ten years ago. I’ve just realized that I’ve never listened to Whoracle…

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I lost interest for In Flames after “Reroute to Remain”, so I thought that mention to “Sounds of a Playground Fading” was another pun similar to that “Porter Of the Seoul” thing… I went to Metal Archives to find out the real album name and almost shat my pants laughing when I found out that was the actual real title… What a lame album title.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    20 years later “Moonshield” still pops out in my mind every so often… that song is a classic and has ingrained itself into my mind. And this album has many other great songs to keep company to “Moonshield”.

  • Hulksteraus

    I always favoured DT over IF. First extreme album was Skydancer and the lyrics along with the music hooked me in. DT have always had awesome and thoughtful lyrics. I also thought Stannes vocals were better than Fridens.

  • Brother Ben

    While I love this album, The Gallery has always been my favorite melodic death metal album. It is a more beautiful album, both lyrically and musically. It also comes across as less derivative than the other two big melodeath albums. However, the solo on December Flower is one of metals best moments IMO.

  • Enrico Pallazzo

    They lost it after Clayman.

  • Berit Dogg

    I’ll punish you all for not liking SotS enough, by standing over here in this corner! Silently judging you. Starting now. You’ll be sorry goddammit!

  • Arjan Zwamborn

    Excellent piece of writing, reminds me of why I like this album and old In Flames so much :-) I honestly think the Gallery is as good as this one, though.

    I don’t agree, however, with everyone here in the comment section; I personally enjoy every album In Flames made! One being better than the other, but I found things to like in all of them (Colony and Come Clarity being my favourites).
    But that must be because I like Jonathan Davis/ Korn too ;-)
    Don’t hate me too much

  • Bart the Repairman

    My gateway band.
    I had a roommate who was a big fan. He played guitar for some time, and I bought my first electric in those days. We looked for something simple to practice in duo and everything from Jester to Clayman was just perfect, with tracks like Jotun, Dialogue with the Stars or Jester Script Transfigured being our favourites. Old In Flames still make me grin every time I come back to it.

  • Hammersmith

    This is still probably my favourite In Flames album. Then Whoracle, then Colony. That build at the beginning of the title track just never gets old.

  • Excellent article. The Jester Race was also my first exposure to extreme metal. I had heard “death metal” before this, but could never get into it. Once I heard Jester Race, it all changed.

  • mtlman1990

    One of the best albums ever.

  • Bryan Stroup

    TLDR; The Jester Race is easily the best In Flames album, although I also happen to like Slaughter of the Soul almost as much. I also don’t find the vocalist of At the Gates anywhere near as grating, even though he’s not that good either. Somehow though, he compliments the music much more.

    My first exposure to “metal” was umm…probably always, if you count Led Zeppelin as metal. I grew up listening to whatever my mom listened to, which was a mix of 80s pop rock, and 70s/80s hard rock and metal. I don’t really remember which was the first “metal” album that I personally owned, but in ’87 I was playing the hell out of Appetite for Destruction and Hysteria on a daily basis. Everyone else at school was listening to Seventh Son, Master of Puppets and Peace Sells. I think I actually actively stayed away from even attempting to listen to any of those kinds of bands at the time due to 1) I had no way to really preview them and 2) while I thought the artwork for the shirts was amazing, the majority of the people who wore them were typically part of the “bad crowd”, which I wasn’t involved with and wanted nothing to do with (for many reasons).

    Eventually in ’91 though I did start listening to Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Ironically, a few months before The Black Album.

    I tried listening to the various popular death metal bands during the 90s, but absolutely could not get into the cookie monster vocals. Instant turn off when I was actively listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Queensryche and especially King Diamond/Mercyful Fate at the time. Just no.

    Fast forward to ’98, and I started seeing all of these ridiculous reviews for a band called Opeth. A band that I actually heard on an Iron Maiden tribute album, and one of the few bands on it that I thought sounded decent. Reading all of the reviews that I could (almost all of which were 9/10 or 10/10), and seeing absolutely NOTHING at all about death metal vocals, and assuming the vocals were clean like on the tribute album, I ended up paying quite a bit to get their first three releases. I was so excited to hear them, and once they finally arrived (three weeks later), I quickly unwrapped My Arms Your Hearse, popped it in waiting to hear some of the best music ever, only to be greeted by the Cookie Monster. Arrgg, what the hell was this shit?! I was so disappointed that I shelved them for a few weeks. Finally, one day while cleaning my apartment, I just decided to give them a second chance, since I did pay so much for them, and had them playing in the background while doing housework. I wasn’t actively paying attention to it, and then all of a sudden it just clicked. Suddenly I “got it”, and the death vocals randomly didn’t suck to me anymore.

    Opeth was the band that allowed me to “tolerate” a handful of other extreme bands, although to this day, there are only four bands that I actually enjoy the death vocals. Opeth, Scar Symmetry (with Chris), Into Eternity and Mercenary. Notice what they all have in common?

    Anyway, my first exposure to In Flames happened to be Clayman. I actually bought that album for reasons similarly to those of the first few Opeth albums. By that point, I had built up somewhat of a tolerance to the more extreme vocals, but even then, it was truly hard to listen to Clayman all that many times. Of all of the popular melodic death metal bands, In Flames had some of the best music, and by far the worst fucking vocals imaginable. Even to this day I don’t like the vocals at all, and I’ve listened to their first few albums countless times.

  • Bryan Stroup

    Haha, holy happenstance. All this talk of one of the best melodic death metal albums ever, and I just learned of Witherscape’s latest. Has vocals that are very reminiscent of Scar Symmertry and The Calorie.

  • JL

    Great little write up here. In Flames’ music up to and including Clayman is honestly…PROBABLY….my favorite heavy metal of all time. I still listen to those records fairly regularly and its been well over a decade since I discovered them and subsequently played the absolute shit out of them over the next few years. My favorite has to be Colony because it contains my favorite song of theirs, and one of the best melodic death metal songs of all time in my opinion, which is Zombie Inc. The melody, the riffs, the solo, the vocals, the lyrics…all perfect. I simply LOVE that song. It’s such a shame what happened to them after Clayman.

  • yourmomsidol

    Never gets old, this one. Artifacts is such a great song.

  • Larry Grover

    Lunar Strain was my favorite IF album and ranks among metals shining stars. There were sprinkles of MDM before this album came along but it was here the classic sound was cemented. DT’s Stanne on vocals – what more could you want? Certainly an absolute must for DT fans!

    The opening to “Everlost (part 1) is one of metal’s best ever. My fav song is ‘Lunar Strain’, the way the guitars speed up & slow down is just killer. You’re never bored in the album, if you start drifting something grabs ahold and pulls you back in.