Yer Metal Is Olde: In Flames – Colony

Some bands you make memories with; for me, In Flames made the memory. “December Flower” at dusk. “Swim” stuck behind some slow asshole on Rt. 114. Twisting “Embody the Invisible” into “what is written in the shining silence, we all have to breeeeeeeathe” during a too-long run. There is no part of me that would trade away the pain and disillusion of losing a childhood idol, of walking out on shitty setlist after shitty fucking setlist1 if it meant losing In Flames‘ impact on my life, Colony in particular. It isn’t their best album; it certainly isn’t their most successful. Perhaps though, Colony encapsulates everything In Flames could and would become better than any other record could.

The year was 1999, and metaldom proper could barely keep up with the ladles of mainstream bullshit being poured down its throat. Lamb of God. Korn. Slipknot. Disturbed. God, not Machine Head too? Everyone was doing it! It wouldn’t be hard to believe that In Flames simply got caught up in the hype. But by Colony‘s release, the writing was on the wall anyway. Two years prior, Whoracle—their first record on Nuclear Blast—already made an attempt at a three-quarters-baked bisection of The Jester Race‘s long-form Gothenburg songwriting and Jesper Strömblad’s taste for melody. Anders Fridén’s barks lost their punch the second The Jester Race went to press, replaced by scratchy one-notes more suited to what the cool kids were doing. Guitarist Jesper Strömblad ceded the lead role to drummer Björn Gelotte, and with their combined penchant for powerful, slick tunes, the bangers cup would overfloweth. No, Colony wasn’t a reaction to Y2K—In Flames were likely slated for fame and infamy no matter what. And for all the bullshit that it would eventually unleash upon legions of fans, the dreads and the trucker hats and the warping of an icon past the point of recognition, the sounds of the times made Colony the giant purple lighthouse monster powerhouse it was.

Not like that’s a bad thing. Everything clicked onto the next level as In Flames found their stride as well as they ever would in that era. The hyper-efficient guitar lines and hint-o’-grit melodies cleared out Whoracle‘s janky ass in record time, streamlining the songwriting into something more in tune with its intent. Comparing the blocky first bars of “Jotun” with the slick slide into “Embody the Invisible” is like night and day. The dour “Worlds Within the Margin” morphs into the ultra-smooth “Ordinary Story.” “Episode 666” gets leaner and meaner on “Scorn.” “Pallar Anders Visa” isn’t “Dialogue with the Stars,” but so the shit what when it leads into “Coerced Coexistence.” That galloping horseman of the Apocalypse is such an atom-splitting jam that I am still infuriated that “Only for the Weak” and “The” fucking “Hive” were the bones that In Flames threw to fans of their old shit back when I could dupe myself into thinking I’d have fun at their shows.

The broad appeal and newfound marketability captured by Colony made it seem like The Jester Race was written by a completely different band. It might as well have been by the time Clayman exploded onto the scene, bigger, better, and so far up MTV’s ass, Sway was wearing an Anders wig. In short order, In Flames would dump Moonspell and Dimmu Borgir for the in-crowd, playing alongside Mudvayne, Killswitch Engage, and yes, Slipknot. Clayman was fate, but Colony was the fortune teller. With the pinball map splayed in front of them, In Flames‘ re-route to Remain was never the RKO outta nowhere heel-turn the way The Black Album was. In fact, it was a near certainty. Colony wasn’t, and it was in Colony that In Flames, for better or worse, began their march toward superstardom.

To hear me tell it, Colony is the most important album In Flames ever released. It isn’t. Despite its pluses, it can never be what Clayman was: a true beacon of skill and influence, the perfect end to a heyday if there ever was one. Honestly though, I find Colony‘s imperfections as compelling as any of its strengths. The album is a classic, but it is not a masterpiece. Lonely Saturday nights, I enjoy envisioning another tale that might have been nestled in those flaws. Say Clayman suffers the same imperfections and isn’t quite an instant hit. In Flames never write “Cloud Connected” because they never need a lead single. The next few years are tumultuous. Fridén or Strömblad bails to work on something with more legs. The lingering influence of The Jester Race pulls the band back toward a refined Whoracle sound, and they settle into a consistent groove. Ten years later, a worldly, satisfied In Flames takes another swing at that Clayman sound and finally nail it, ushering in a new era. Their fans, glad for the change, follow them on the bullet ride. No one begrudges their success. The music in this montage is, of course, “The Hive” “Man Made God.” It’s only a dream, but compared to today’s reality, one of absurd music videos and bald-faced disingenuity,2 Colony is the soundtrack to my escape.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Go ahead, begrudgingly play “The Hive” for the thousandth time, no one will notice that you hate your old shit.
  2. Any interview will do, but I like the ones where Anders they talk about being done with the past despite their undying, overwhelming love for it. Like this one. Or this one. Or this one.
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