Most have heard the title ‘Gothenburg Sound,’ but do they really understand its origins? Well, without giving too much of a history lesson, the sound/style was originated and developed in Sweden’s second largest city, a seaside hub, Gothenburg. Here is where bands such as At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and, of course, In Flames pioneered a new brand of Melodic Death Metal that would change the scene.
Since then much has changed, but one thing has not, In Flames’ ability to distinguish themselves from other bands around the world. A feat they have accomplished for over two decades now, fans have seen In Flames grow from the mind-blowing early period of albums such as 1996’s The Jester Race and 1999’s Colony to the transitional years of 2002’s Reroute to Remain, to modern times with their brand-new album I, The Mask.
Their thirteenth overall studio album, I, The Mask finds In Flames firing on all cylinders with the signature guitar tone of Björn Gelotte and balanced vocal attack of Anders Fridén. In short, it is In Flames being who they are. Anxious to get out and bring the music to the people, Anders Fridén sat down to chat about the wild journey of the band, reminding himself he is never too old to learn something new, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – In Flames has been going strong for over two decades. From your early success on the Melodic Death Metal scene to your rise to more mainstream success, the band has certainly accomplished a lot. Briefly tell us, how would you describe the journey?
Anders Fridén – Long and hard. (Laughs) It’s been going slowly upward and we’ve had an amazing ride; there is nothing I would like to change. I am really proud of our accomplishments of this little, call it a village, Gothenburg, a small city in Sweden. We took our sound way further than we ever expected and that’s pretty cool – we’ve made something people recognize. Often people want to put it in different categories of genres, but I think that we have a sound that is ours; In Flames sounds like In Flames. At the end of the day when I look back at our career, that is probably what I would be most proud of that we had this sound and made some sort of impact.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely, In Flames does have their own sound and have made an impact. As mentioned, the early part of In Flames’ career, the band was more of an underground act with a very large following in the Melodic Death Metal scene. Obviously progression is essential for a band and, in 2000, the band put out Clayman before really making a bold step forward in 2002 with Reroute to Remain. Looking back, what was that time like for the band?
Anders Fridén – I think a lot of it had to do with that we changed studios, producers, we were in a different city, etc. A lot of the sound changed by doing so. Apart from that, we were getting more recognition, we got to tour more, we got to America for the first time around 1999. I think we grew as a band, songwriters, musicians, and as people. Those years were extremely important for the coming years.
Cryptic Rock – The band has continued to progress with each album. Now you are back with your thirteenth overall studio record, I, the Mask. What was the writing and recording process like this go around?
Anders Fridén – Sort of the same as Battles (2016): on Battles we started working with Howard Benson for the first time. We went to L.A., stayed there for a couple of months. We wrote a lot there and recorded right there. We did the same thing with this one – we went over, rented a house, and had a small writing studio there. It’s amazing and a learning experience.
In the past, we have been very much in control of every aspect of it. When we decided to start working with a producer like Howard Benson we knew we would have to give up a little bit of the control, because there is no point in going to hiring someone of his status otherwise – it’s not cheap. (Laughs) To just go over there to tell him exactly what we want would be a waste of expertise and a waste of money; already at that point we had to let go of a little bit of control.
The vocals are my department and the guitars are Björn’s department. Now we were just bouncing ideas back and forward; we knew what was going on before we actually went into the studio to record the songs. It was inspiring and gave us a boost, instead of the other way around where you would think letting go of some control would be the opposite; I think we gained a lot by doing so. It’s funny you learn stuff really late in your career.
Cryptic Rock – You are always learning, right? You mentioned working with Howard Benson. You work with a great crew of producers and engineers for this album. What did they bring to the overall sound of I, the Mask?
Anders Fridén – Howard is amazing at getting into details, but at the same time letting us be who we are. That was the first thing he said to us; that is why we started working with him. It was not just based solely on the résumé of what he did in the past, but just him saying, “I want you guys to be who you are, but then I’m going to make it better once it’s time to actually record.” With this album we wanted a little bit more focus on the guitars, a heavier production with the guitars more upfront than say Battles. Chris Lord-Alge, someone I’ve heard countless records with him, I know he’s really good, so we got to meet him and talked. Apparently he liked us and we liked him, so we decided we should work together; it was an amazing match. We are grateful to be able to work with these professional guys.
Cryptic Rock – The end result is quite good. The album has the signature In Flames guitar sound but also features some well-balanced vocals. You have experimented with different styles vocally through the years. How would you describe the evolution of your approach to singing?
Anders Fridén – I am very much home-schooled in my technique. When I started screaming, in the beginning I just wanted to sound like Mille from Kreator; I thought that was cool. Even when I was back in Dark Tranquillity at the end of the ’80s and early ’90s, I wanted to have that raspy screamy voice. I’ve become better and better at what I do, but at the same time, I have always felt it’s mine. I’ve never tried to be someone I’m not, even though I am inspired by someone like Mille.
When it came to do Battles, I took some vocal lessons on the recommendation of Howard Benson. I saw myself next to someone on the piano doing scales up and down; very intimidating. To my surprise, I had an awesome time; it was really fun. I learned a lot, not only about scales and singing, but about breathing and treating your voice right. I learned what you should do to prepare yourself before and after a show, things you should think about.
When it came to this album, I called management and I told them I want to do it even more extensively. They hooked me up and I did 3 days a week for 3 months while we were in L.A. It’s been extremely rewarding: it helps us when we write and helps what I see and hear now. I think it’s even made my growling vocals even better, more clear, and on point; it’s really fun. I am still not aiming to be the best singer in the world, but trying to learn my instrument and learn what the whole thing is about. I ignored that for so many years, thinking, “I don’t need that shit,” and here we are. It’s sort of like the whole thing about letting go and the control: you surprise yourself if you just do it and get into it. The reward is so much greater than the stubbornness of “I know best.”
Cryptic Rock – That is always a challenge to take outsider’s thoughts into mind. In Flames has done their share of touring through the years and has visited North America many times. You recently wrapped up a run with All That Remains and will be embarking on a tour with Within Temptation. With so much material at your disposal, what can fans expect from this run of shows?
Anders Fridén – We came off a headlining tour and now we are supporting. We are going from 1 1/2 hours to 1 hour, so we have to cut some songs. It’s extremely difficult because you want to play some old stuff for the people who’ve been with you for a long, long time, but you want to promote the new album; it’s a balance act. I guess you will always disappoint someone; it’s difficult.
Cryptic Rock – It has to be very difficult. Speaking of touring, of your many tours, do any stick out most in your memory over the years?
Anders Fridén – In the early days we did a lot of fun tours with Children of Bodom, Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork, Arch Enemy and our friends from back home. The first time we toured with Slayer was amazing over in the USA. Obviously they are a super influential band, have an amazing catalog, but just seeing how they treat their fans and the whole show itself, it was like, whatever is happening outside, you don’t bring that on stage, unless it’s positive energy. That was a very cool tour and a dream come true, because when we started tours like that and playing with bands like that was so fucking far-fetched. I’ve played with a lot of my heroes like Motörhead, Judas Priest, Metallica – name them all, we’ve played with them. It’s quite insane when you think about it.
Cryptic Rock – They are all fantastic memories to have! My last question for you is pertaining to movies. What are some of your favorite Sci-Fi and Horror films?
Anders Fridén – For Science Fiction, Star Wars (1977) of course; I grew up on that. Blade Runner (1982) is one of my all-time favorites. I love the movie, I love the soundtrack, it is definitely one of my top 5 movies ever.
Cryptic Rock – Good selections. Did you see 2017’s Blade Runner 2049?
Anders Fridén – I did see it, but I have to see it a couple of more times. I think I came in first with the wrong expectations, but it is great and looks good. It just can’t compete with the original.