Sweden’s In Flames are a heavy metal institution, their winning combination of gorgeous melodies and potent aggression keeping them at the very top of the pyramid for over 25 years. On the eve of their thirteenth (!) album release, we caught up with vocalist Anders Fridén.
I, The Mask, the band’s new album, will be out on March 1st via Nuclear Blast Records (worldwide ex. North America) and 11-7 Music (North America) (and can be pre-ordered right here), and In Flames have already showcased four tracks: “I Am Above,” “I, The Mask,” “(This Is Our) House,” and “Burn.” But Anders focuses on the album as a whole and would have been happy releasing any of the tracks from the album as singles. “The songs we have released so far are a good presentation of what is to come if you haven’t heard the album, or if you are new to In Flames in general. There’s the fast pace, the melodies, the heaviness, the big choruses, and all that stuff. It’s sort of the essence of In Flames.”
I, The Mask was composed during the first half of last year in California, where In Flames used the same formula as with 2017’s Battles. Anders and guitarist Björn Gelotte rented a house together and contributed lyrics, riffs and melodies collaboratively, with the extremely well known producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Motörhead) having a consultative role during the writing process. Anders is really happy with this new symbiotic formula for songwriting…
If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the lyric video to “(This Is Our) House.”
“It’s good to change things up. Not that things were bad in the past at all, but in the earlier days, before ‘Battles’, everyone had their own separate area. The music was always done first; I did my vocal melodies and all the lyrics behind closed doors. And then I presented to the other guys and it was just, I hope you guys like it. But now Björn and I are in the same room, working through everything; I’m involved with the music; he’s involved with, not so much the lyrics, but the melodies, and how we create the feelings of the lyrics. We have found a formula that really works. I need him, he needs me, and it’s a marriage that really becomes In Flames. And because we present the demos to Howard before recording, there are no real surprises for anyone.”
Lyrically, the new album tackles some weighty and emotional themes, including modern isolation, social media, and the environment. “(This Is) Our House” employs a children’s choir at the beginning, as In Flames did with “The Truth” on their previous album, as a commentary on preserving the planet for the next generation. “It’s like a call to arms. We really need to change things around and to turn the tide, basically. Scientists are telling us all the time what is happening with our planet and it seems like politicians are not listening. But also, we don’t appreciate the freedom that we have as much it seems. People are getting louder more violent, we are closer to wars than ever, and it’s just like we need to stop and turn things around. So yeah, the choir is a symbol of that.”
The video for “I Am Above” is notable for featuring Swedish actor Martin Wallstrom (Mr. Robot), who mimes to Anders’ voice against a black background. “The concept was a fun collaboration between me and my manager. It’s an angry song, and the lyrics are important, so we talked about different ways of bringing them out and really making people listen. I would say it’s also a homage to Sinead O’Connor’s video for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It’s really weird for me watching because I can hear myself and know it’s our song but… he’s there. It’s crazy and he did a great job. Honestly, we don’t really like to be in videos, it’s a necessary evil so I’m happy whenever we can do a video where someone else is acting.”
I, The Mask will be released on March 1st via Nuclear Blast Records.
There are some ballad-style songs on I, The Mask, most notably “We Will Remember” and the final heartbreaker “Stay With Me,” but overall this album is more up-tempo than Battles, and as with all In Flames music it’s ultimately uplifting and energizing. This is something that happens organically, according to Anders, rather than any sort of constructed concept. “It just happens. Really. I get inspired by the environment I am in when writing an album. When we did Siren Charms we were in Berlin, it was cold and dark, it was November, and I think that album has a certain melancholy to it. Whereas being in sandals when there’s sun, good beers, and a nice barbecue that gets into the album somehow… even though we don’t write about barbecuing and sun! In Flames are known for the combination between melody and aggression; we try to bend and shape our sound around that then we can take it far left or far right, whatever you want to call it, but that’s still the essence.”
Over the years Anders has gradually added more clean vocals to contrast with his growls, and this added method of delivering melodies has both delighted and divided fans. The new album features the most technically difficult clean vocals yet for In Flames, and Anders rose to the challenge he set for himself by taking vocal lessons. “It’s my instrument; I want to take it as far as I can, and also for my own research. I’m not trying to be the best singer, I’m not going to apply for The Voice. It’s for my own good, and it helps with the writing to know what sort of range I have. I have expanded the possibility of hitting higher notes. I first got to know my vocal coach Mark during Battles. I was sort of against it at first, I couldn’t see myself, a heavy metal singer, standing next to a piano doing scales, you know. But I got to know him and he knew where I was coming from and what I wanted to do. We formed a really good relationship and we took it further this time around. I went three or four times a week over three months. It really helped, it really improved what I can do with my voice and how I can master my own instrument.”
Get a really good look at this one-shot music video of lead singer Anders Fridén in “I Am Above.”
So, nowadays, does he have a preference for clean or growled vocals? “I love both. In the studio, it’s more fun to sing clean, but I love to scream because then you get the energy from the crowd; you have all these people screaming in your face instead of a dead microphone in the recording studio. So I like both, and I think it gives In Flames another dimension if I can blend it back and forth. It all depends; nothing is written in stone. It’s not like I say, okay this song needs to have clean vocals. It all depends on the music that we write and what I should add on top. It’s like finishing a painting by bringing out the different colours.”
In Flames have legions of fans (known as Jesterheads) spanning the globe, although it’s nothing controversial to say that fans have been divided over the years by the band’s development in style. Why does Anders think people take it so personally that In Flames innovates? “It really doesn’t bother me. I’m happy that people care, you know, that’s better than the opposite. It’s a sign of the times, people are loud on social media. Maybe they listen to In Flames secretly behind closed doors. I can’t let it get to me. Because I don’t write music for a certain type of fan or certain type of person. I write the music for me, stuff that I like, and then it’s up to people to take it and do whatever they will. If we had listened to what everyone has been saying about us in the past, we would end up with a really weird jazz introversial type of heavy metal. I love the face-to-face reaction of fans that I meet when I’m out playing, and most of them are very happy and don’t say anything about how I should write a certain song.”
In Flames are set to tour this spring, beginning in the U.S. and then heading to the UK and Europe. Can Anders give us any clues about the setlist? “I’ve sent out the setlist of like 25 or 30 songs that everybody needs to rehearse on their own, then we’ll meet up and we’ll decide from the list. We’ll definitely play some songs from the new album.”
Over the years, the rigours of the touring lifestyle have led to several lineup changes, and In Flames welcomed a new drummer in 2018, Tanner Wayne. But despite the downsides of touring, In Flames is very much a live band and they still love performing more than anything else. “I love it. I think I love it even more now because I cherish the moments that we have. I mean, it’s crazy that we’ve been doing this for such a long time and without the fans, there wouldn’t be an In Flames. And I love being in the band with the people that we are right now, with everybody wanting to be onstage doing what we do. Not that we didn’t sound good in the past, but I think we sound better than ever now.”
Anders also loves the fact that they have such a diverse audience. “We have really mixed audiences, from young boys and girls to old dads and moms and everything in between, and I think that’s cool. It’s cool to see a new generation coming. I got something from an 11-year-old boy, who said his dad gave him ‘Colony’ and now he’s a big fan. That’s amazing to see. And I took my own son to a KISS show. I thought that was like for me to pass the torch to him, you know.”
With an uptempo album, a huge tour ahead, and as much energy as ever, there’s no doubt that In Flames will be bringing in a new generation of Jesterheads in 2019.
Here’s yet another cut off of I, The Mask with the just-released lyric video for “Burn.”