“Musical integrity is all we have” – In Flames
“Musical integrity is all we have as a band. You can try to follow trends but that will never work. We don’t want to stand on stage and play a song we don’t like, that we’re not behind 100%. I could never do that. Everybody in this band shares the same vision, we do it for us.”
In Flames guitarist Björn Gelotte is a compelling man to speak to. For a man whose native tongue is Swedish, he speaks fluently, coherently and intelligently in English as we sit backstage at The Ritz. The first thing he does after our introductions is offer me a beer from a fridge full of the stuff. Who can blame him? Riders are a wonderful thing.
“It’s always good to be back in the UK, we’ve been in pubs all day,” he smiles – a genuine one too, you can tell he really means it too and doesn’t want to avoid pissing off the native. “The crowd here is always great, but the weather leaves a lot to be asked for,” he concedes. This native can’t argue with that.
A band which willingly ingratiates themselves in the cycle of write, record, tour, repeat, tonight’s performance kicks off a three date UK tour in support of their new record, Siren Charms. Their musical integrity has sparked yet further change, further evolution. Sure, there are those who dissent the album – it’s a far cry from their original death metal vigour – but it’s hardly come as a surprise.
“We’re always a wave splitter, some people always love the new record and others hate it. That’s what we’ve done since Oracle 18 years ago. It’s a normal reaction. It comes with the territory, having integrity will have some people pissed off that you’re not doing what they want” he muses. “But we’re not the same band we were 20 years ago. When diehard fans listen to Siren Charms they will hear that it is different from our early stuff. Anders’ voice is changing and he wants to explore what we can do with it and I’m the same with the guitar. It’s necessary for the band’s evolution to make that step and we do it all the time. In Flames is just us five and if we all like it then the argument is done. When we write something we like it makes us feel ten feet tall.”
The night before, fellow Swedes Opeth had wowed a packed crowd at Academy 2. Formed in the same year, the band have taken similarly evolutionary paths, never sticking to the same formula, never allowing themselves to stagnate or simply get bored of the music they create.
“Opeth do what the fuck they want, just like us,” he chimes, talking animatedly with his hands, occasionally stroking his enormous beard. “We will never go back to our roots because that’s not what we do, we are looking forward all the time. In our mind’s it’s just the next record, the process was the same as with every other album, it’s just a matter of how we feel at the time. Our albums are examples of what In Flames sounds like there and then. We don’t write on the road, it’s not a continuous thing. We take time off to write the album. But I think that’s the most exciting way of doing it. Tour mode is its own thing, we write an album as a reason to go out on tour.
“A lot of the old songs will never fit live. When we did The Jester Race in ‘96 we didn’t play live. We played a few shows then wrote another record. We played a European tour that was seven shows in Germany and one in Switzerland and that was it – so we didn’t think about that when writing an album. The studio was the main thing back then, we didn’t think about live arrangements much, but it fucks it up later down the line. We do play older songs from Colony for instance, but a lot don’t fit live. We’ve had to re-do a lot of things in those songs to make it work, I imagine Opeth have the same problem.
“But, he concludes “when we play the new songs live we can see we did the right thing. The crowds have been really, really good. We try to put together a set list that maybe pleases a little bit more of a wider audience but in the end this is our music. Imagine having to play a song you didn’t really want to do in the beginning a thousand times. A thousand timesI,” he repeats himself, with an added emphasis stamped on the second utterance just to really get his point across. “Some of the songs we play live we’ve played live, onstage, not including rehearsals, over a thousand times. Maybe it’s not as fun to play as it was the first time, but it’s still my shit. We’re proud of each and every fucking song we’ve done.”
People can dissent all they want for all they care. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion; the internet is a hotbed for people telling the world how overjoyed or underwhelmed they are with every minute detail of life. But, if you like Siren Charms or not, you cannot, without a shadow of a doubt, criticize or belittle this bands artistic integrity. In a world where thousands – hundreds of thousands even – audition to become Simon Cowell’s latest money spinning audio slave every year, we should just be thankful that there are people like Björn and the rest of In Flames that still give a fuck about their art.
“It feels like I’ve just had sex with a really beautiful woman and I’m never gonna see her again,” sighs Phil Goddard, my photographer and trusted right hand man for the evening. I know how he feels, I think to myself as we step outside of the venue. The cold night air wallops me in the face and freshens my lungs. The world around us bustles amidst our comedown. The queue outside The Ritz, with doors soon to open, stretches down the road, all hair, denim, leather and excitement. Cars fly past, hissing as they do. People weave past us on the pavement and security guards man the closed doors as if it was their last dying task.
The past half an hour or so – it’s hard to say exactly how long – have come and gone all too soon, leaving only a blurred memory lingering behind. Bjorn Gelotte is a towering figure, he resonates this perplexing air, charming, polite and friendly yet so strikingly there. He’s not an intimidating character by any stretch – his easy going demeanour makes sure of that – but you sure as hell feel his presence upon you when you’re in his gravity. So I stand there, empathising with Goddard. The whole experience was extremely satisfying, but when he gently ushered us out his dressing room with pre-show preparation to be getting on with – “you can take your beers with you,” he chirped with a departing smile – and the door shuts behind you, you know it’s over. We may never feel his gravity again: It was an ephemeral perfection.
Then the venue doors swing open and the early arrivals shuffle keenly inside. When empty, as we had seen it only moments ago, The Ritz seems minuscule and humble. But as the masses pile in, the place seems to take on an almost Cinderella like transformation, it becomes this vast hall where anticipation thrives inside its four walls. We stood by the sound desk and, as Goddard flicked through his shots from the interview, grabbing my attention to highlight a particular shot that he deemed to be a keeper every now and then, I witnessed the transformation first hand.
The change was only beginning to take hold as Wovenwar took to the stage, the San Diego, California quintet greeted by a small cluster of people. The band doesn’t seem impressed. Then again, as they bumble their way through their excruciating set, neither are we. Before even hitting a note, they prance on stage with a self-righteous, up-their-own-arse composure, yelling at the crowd for people to clap and jump along – to what, I wonder, you haven’t fucking played anything yet?! No one takes heed.
How can something that attempts to be as musically vigorous as this be so abysmally soppy, like the metal equivalent to a Hugh Grant rom com. Each song reaches the same predictable, blubbering ending as the floppy haired actor’s recycled films. The vocals are the apathetic voice of a 12 year old whose mummy won’t let him play out until he tidies his room. More so, they are painfully out of key and try several more times, with equally cringe worthy results, to get the crowd jumping and clapping along like it’s a Busted concert. If you were to give Miley Cyrus blast beats and half-arsed breakdowns she’d still be shit. The same applies here.
“We stopped this song because you were too quiet,” states bassist Josh Gilbert, cap backwards like it’s 2001. “Because you’re shit,” yelled a member of the audience to the silent room. Enough said.
The transformation took a huge leap forward before While She Sleep’s set, perhaps the more street wise amongst us here tonight stayed back at the pub for another pint, knowing just how terrible Wovenwar are. The Sheffield noise makers giveve a performance of significantly more substance. Their abrasive riffs, frontman Lawrence Taylor’s powerful bellows and the tight rhythm section give you something, at last, to stick your teeth into. Everything Wovenwar did pales in comparison: The breakdowns here are venomous, the vocals volatile. They have the crowd in rapture, smashing through track after track without so much as a hint of mercy. When Taylor encourages crowd participation, people respond willingly and passionately, he has a command of the audience and one he has garnished through respect and hard work.
Phil returns from the battle of the photo pit, puffing and panting mid-set. “That was dangerous,” he tells me. “Beer, piss, everything, you name it, I’ve just been covered in it.” That right there is how to put on a good show.
And so, with the place packed, people circling the room on the balconies upstairs, the lights dim and In Flames make their entrance. They dive straight into the double-whammy openers from Siren Charms, their signature metalcore riffs and harmony tinged swagger grabbing you by the scruff of the neck.
“When we play our new songs live we can see we did the right thing.” As Bjorn’s words still ring in my ear, I witness The Ritz explode with In Plain View’s raging chorus. Bjorn had spoken animatedly about how performing their songs live made them feel ten feet tall and as Anders Fridén takes a podium at centre stage to belt out the his part in the chaotic and menacing Everything’s Gone, they bloody well look it.
Post-song he addresses the crowd with a charm matching that of his guitarist. “Film the show by all means, but remember that this is a live show, don’t watch it all through a tiny screen. Live in the moment.” He gets a massive cheer and rightly so.
The Swedes have brought an expensive, expansive light show on this tour with them. As the intro of Resinchimes out, bringing with it a tidal wave of emphatic energy, you can’t help but be staggered by the bright, beaming lights that flicker and furl like a city under siege. As you look around, no one is filming the show, there are no iPhones held aloft. It is a glorious, unadulterated sight.
Then another one-two from Siren Charms beckons in. Paralyzed is deftly groovy, carrying a more rock n’ roll feel than a death metal vibe, which provides extensive evidence of their intelligent evolution as a band. Bjorn’s undying love for stamping on his wah pedal here lathers his tone during a biting solo that really makes the song. Through Oblivion meanwhile, one of the singles to be taken from the new record, packs a sultry bass line, raspy vocals and the kind of lofty chorus that has always been such an integral counterpoint to this bands aggression.
Ropes is brilliant and Cloud Connected gritty and unrelenting. The band never put a foot wrong. The final three songs – all knockout blows – solidify that. The Mirror’s Truth, with its thrash metal roots and some outstanding lead guitar harmonies gets the circle pit fired up. The low end snarl of Deliver Us is simply crushing, it’s chorus weighty, emotive and anthemic. They leave it to the pounding heaviness of Take This Life to bid us farewell. The pit whirls to its biggest size of the night as Fridén takes his podium once more time. His shadowy outline, with the rest of the band lurking behind him, circling the stage like sharks, lights glare out like searchlights of blinding brightness is a sight to behold. I stand there and savour it before the stage is lays empty only moments later. What a show, what a band.
We step outside once more, the cold night air now freezing but just as fresh. We sink into another comedown, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Words: Phil Weller Photography: Phil Goddard