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The controversy that is In Flames’ entire career is well known amongst extreme metal circles, in part because they ushered in an era of commercialized music that came to be the least extreme variant on the outer fringes of aggressive metal. This criticism is perhaps mostly apparent amongst orthodox death metal affiliates, who saw albums such as “Lunar Strain”, “Skydancer” and perhaps even “With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness” as being 100% departures from the genre whose name was still touted as being that of the bands in question. To be fair, while the melodic content was a lot more informed by the consonance of early to mid 80s metal than even the lighter albums put out by Death and Carcass at this time, the overall asymmetrical structural tendencies and presentation still kept enough of the practices of the late 80s and early 90s death metal sound to be noticeable.
In terms of death metal tradition, “Subterranean” is actually much closer to the free flowing, extreme thrash infused style that Death had been tinkering with since “Spiritual Healing” than “Lunar Strain”. Usage of acoustic passages and keyboards, which are not completely out of character even for certain Florida acts like Nocturnus, or even that of Morbid Angel when proceeding a bit later in their career. But it should be noted that although the riff assault utilizes a similarly frenetic tremolo character with blast beats raging and thrashing goodness coming in for a needed contrast within the louder passages, the melodic contour is far less chromatic. In fact, when listening to the more blinding passages on “Ever Dying” and “Biosphere” there is a casual familiarity in the guitar work with the blackened landscapes of “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Stormblast”, though the production practices are not quite as frosty and obscured. Even the garbled screams of one-time vocal helmsman Henke Forss, who happens to be the best vocalist this band has ever had, seems a bit more informed by the sepulchral ravings of Shagrath than any of the Florida or Sweden based death metal mainstays.
While there is clear genre blending at work here, it is also important to keep in mind that this is still a Gothenburg album, and has all of the usual elements at play, albeit far better executed than later offerings. The mishmash of Iron Maiden influenced guitar melodies, occasional folksy and classically influenced harmonic clichés, and the occasional odd twist into semi-happy/triumphant territory pops up. “Stand Ablaze” could almost be classified as a somewhat power metal oriented song between the Baroque-influenced counterpoint going on in the guitar harmonies, and along with it a share of minimalist riffs that are somewhat reminiscent of early German metal ala Running Wild. The intro of said song, along with the ending of “Ever Dying” and the entirety of “Timeless” shows the typical mixture of acoustic work and sound effects, presented in more of a somber traditional fashion rather than the industrial electronic that began seeping in circa “Clayman”.
To anyone who has not heard In Flames prior to the release of “The Jester Race”, this will probably come off as being an entirely different band, and in several respects that is a correct notion. This is music that, while not being the most extreme brand out there, is far from the commercial safeness that has tended to typify this band. This is something that could maybe stand toe to toe with some of the 2nd wave black metal albums that came out at around this time, though the audience being played to here will probably have a greater affinity with the least grim and frostbitten and more melodic variants of said movement. It is perhaps a bittersweet notion that this band did their best work on a short EP, but nevertheless, this is a band that actually did have a brush with greatness, if only one single time.
In Flames were one of the first real metal bands that I began listening to around 2003; remember that Freddy Vs. Jason movie (yeah, enough said)?. The song “Trigger” was my introduction, and I thought In Flames were the gnarliest band on that movie’s soundtrack. It’d take a couple years later to further cement myself as a metal listener and delve into In Flames’ older catalogue, eventually coming across this and firmly shitting my pants. Nowadays Subterranean isn’t anything that blows my mind, aside from how the band went from this to A Sense Of Purpose. The skill is as good as it gets with these guys, as are the riffs, leads, and vocals, too. Just above twenty minutes of music is what’s offered on the original release, though there are re-releases with extra tracks which you may like (I’m not too fond of them).
Stanne turned tail to host Dark Tranquillity full-time and in his place we get the badass Henke Forss from Dawn. Now while his vocals in Dawn surpass the ones here, he still does a better job than Stanne and a better job than Anders’ overall career in the band. Whereas Stanne had some raspy growls, Forss has forceful screams all cut-up inside like a true crypt-robbing ghoul. In some desperate sense they are kind of thin, since he bests himself in Dawn as a mutilated demon, but props for him upping the competition for In Flames vocalists past and present. Forss is encircled by some wickedly historic and malevolent atmosphere – a staple of old school melodic death metal. The most ominous of this is unleashed right away on “Stand Ablaze” with its brooding keyboard intro straight from the protruding cracks of Hell (think Gorguts’ “Condemned To Obscurity,” but less threatening). Not like the drums, though: loud, precise, intimidating, and rolling with tank-like weight. The two guests musicians on the kit were great choices and the tantalizing gallop style employed by both trumps the clapping duty from before.
Jesper and Glenn have more than doubled their efforts since the debut to actually supply some boiling riff charges and incredibly harmonic leads on the ‘80s side of Iron Maiden. Nothing frail or timid about them, and the instrumental mixing has been cleansed, helping the overall tone of antiquity instead of only the guitars like on the Lunar Strain. While I do miss the thrash edge the band had on some of their songs, they do bump up the overall appeal of heartfelt tunes like the title track or the acoustic crutch-song “Timeless.” The bass support, while loud and thunderous on occasion, is still the same follow-the-leader stuff that works and doesn’t work at the same time. Not to say that it needs to always be autonomous and playing its own stuff, but backing the rhythm for thickening purposes wastes the instrument’s potential, especially on music like this that has the capabilities to be excavated further.
In Flames may have played an important role in the influence of a lot of bands and a genre or two, but to me their music precedes their fame. This claim is limited to only a couple releases, though, as everything else they’ve done has needlessly been mediocre or squandered for dreadlock maintenance. Subterranean is one of those lurker releases that takes little time to settle in and a lot of time to kick out. Think of it as the drug dealer that shows up at the party and still hangs around after the purchases, even though no one wants them around anymore… except Subterranean can stick around awhile longer since it comes with riffs.
The In Flames of 1994 was a very different entity than what the band has become today, but it's interesting to listen back and realize just how much their core, melodic values have remained the same. In fact, now that Jesper Strömblad has departed, there is not a single original member left in the band from those formative days before the band took off in a skyward direction with The Jester Race, perhaps the finest melodic death metal album I've ever heard. But the seeds for success were being sown as early as the debut Lunar Strain, and certain on this 5-track EP, its follow-up.
You won't be hearing Anders Fridén's emotional snarling or any use of electronics and excess multi-tracking to modernize or debilitate the compositions here. This was strictly melodic death metal in the same vein as Dark Tranquillity, though In Flames had the early jump on that band in terms of production values. Subterranean sounded quite excellent for its day, from the bloodied vocals of Henke Forss (who generally dabbled in far more extreme bands like Dawn and Niden Div. 187). Strömblad and Glenn Ljungström were as evenly matched here as they would be on The Jester Race, and the drums are split between Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy, Eucharist, and others) and Anders Jivarp (Dark Tranquillity), with Johan Larsson on bass, who would go on to Hammerfall for a short time.
"Stand Ablaze" is an excellent pick to open the EP, for the searing dual melodies are nearly the equal of anything on the following album, and there are plenty of them...as the band cycles from the melancholic intro of pianos and sampled conversational voices to a smorgasboard of showy riffing that pretty much sets the standard for the entire genre, surpassing the band's previous effort Lunar Strain. It's carnal, emotional and showing all the love for traditional metal guitars, like an Iron Maiden jacked up in proficiency. "Ever Dying" continues right where the first track leaves off, with a more downtrodden, somber aggression cast through a mid-paced storm of charging, rampant guitars, and a nice, shifting melodic thrash breakdown after 2:00 which is the apex of the entire song. "Subterranean" is absolutely glorious, in particular where the guitars erupt after 1:30 into a wall of stark, festive majesty. "Timeless" is a catchy acoustic instrumental which nearly rivals "The Jester's Dance" from the following album, and "Biosphere" closes the effort with a folksy surge and some precision riffing that borders on frenzied, technical thrash.
If you have somehow never versed yourself in this band's charms, or perhaps you're just hated the band due to some of their more modern efforts (Come Clarity, Reroute to Remain, etc), you should first direct yourself towards The Jester Race. But Subterranean would come directly after that, for it has much the same impact, with the one exception being the vocals. Some would argue that Forss was a better fit than Fridén, and I can't debunk the theory entirely, though I really enjoyed the latter's work on a few of the band's albums before the turn of the century. Crucial material here for any fan of 90s melodic death metal, and as it is generally sold in a package with Lunar Strain, you get more bang for less lightening of the wallet.
With the recent departure of the last original member of In Flames Jesper, and the life blood of the machine that is my favorite melodic death metal band, I had to take the time to re-listen to all of Jesper’s best works, and this one, every time I listen to it, stands ablaze above all the others. The talent that lies in these players never ceases to amaze me and every time I begin this album once more with Jesper’s piano melody in the first half minute I have to let it play all the way through, I just can’t seem to let this album go unfinished.
The thing that really gets me into this album is the incredible musicianship by these performers, not only strictly Jesper, but each person. The session drummers that In Flames had on this album both provide a unique and different taste to the drums in each track. Whether it’s the steady and solid, but still very interesting and catchy beats of Anders Jivarp, or it’s the incredible talent of Daniel Erlandsson wailing away on the double bass but still keeping a very interesting group of hits on the snare and cymbals going through the whole song. It was a very smart move and as I said before adds a lot of flavor to this EP. Next are the vocals. These are just incredible; they really compliment the almost melodic black metal feel of this album, and Henke really puts a lot into it to make them as good as he did on this album. His shrieks are menacing and his growls are deep and cutthroat, I really wished they kept him around for a few more albums, because I really enjoy the type of vocals that he brought. And here comes Johan, the bassist, and holy crap you can hear him! He really doesn’t falter when he is playing and he does an excellent job on holding up the low end of this album and keeping it as heavy as ever. Plus he also keeps the main counter melody going when Jesper and Glenn are harmonizing on those amazing riffs together. Which leads me to my next point, I have always loved the guitar team of Jesper and Glenn, and they are able to compliment each other so well that every harmony sounds perfect and so well played and built up that it’s sad that they are not playing together any more. The melodic riff in Stand Ablaze is a perfect example of this when they are harmonizing while tremolo picking and string skipping in some instances, they were just made to play together and this EP is the prime example of them at their best.
This album is a must have for any In Flames fan, for in my opinion, it their best album, each song flows into each other, from Stand Ablaze to the extremely catchy main melody of Biosphere, this album bleeds melodic death and black metal. It is a must have for any In Flames collection and if you can find the re-release that contains the demos of Dead Eternity and The Inborn Lifeless, it is even a better album and one that you will want to listen to over and over again. In fact, if you are a musician like me, you may even start playing these amazing bass lines or guitar riffs, and these will greatly influence and especially, will improve your playing and are just loads of fun to play, plain and simple
I was never really keen on EPs. I've always had a feeling that you get too little for your money. Being a dedicated In Flames fan, I was aware of the presence of this EP but never felt the need to buy it (nor was I able to, since it sold out years ago...). Until I saw the reissue (there is a certain amount of confusion whether it was released in 2005 or 2006), that is. Nine tracks instead of 5, OK, that seems like a fine amount of additional pleasure for my 15C... So, what's it like?
From the piano intro for "Stand Ablaze" (building up the pressure until it bursts into melodic riffs) to the end of "Murders In The Rue Morgue," this album is fantastic! Being a guitar band per definition, In Flames delivers piercing riffs, which are followed by some competent drumming. This piece of work is something you could call "more progressive" compared to its predecessor "Lunar Strain," even to the infamous next album "The Jester Race"! Melodic death metal at its finest, guitars at harmony, spitting out riffs that intertwine during the songs, often changing the structure of the song completely (listen to "Subterranean" for example). The acoustic parts are still there and show a more gentle side of In Flames' musicians. "Biosphere" even features some riffs that you would easily expect from vintage bands such as Iron Maiden, only repacked. The Bonus tracks "Dead Eternity" and "The Inborn Lifeless" (the latter named "Dead God In Me" on "The Jester Race" album with different lyrics) are really interesting as well and offer a new insight to the already well-known songs. Two covers that follow, "Eye Of The Beholder" and "Murders In The Rue Morgue" (if you don't know who it was that In Flames covered here, you are no metal fan!) are, although just covers, really well done and, in my opinion, much better and heavier than the originals.
Are there any flaws then? Well, some things ought to be pointed out. Firstly, the vocals (courtesy of session vocalist Henke Forrs) are quite different to Mikael Stanne's growls on the previous album, and, being a little screechy, the change isn't really for the better. I guess one could say that this is subjective, but I seriously doubt that anyone will like this singer more than Stanne or Friden, for that matter. Also, the production isn't that good either, although it's better than the work on "Lunar Strain" and much better compared to... Hmm... Darkthrone?
All in all, this piece of work is not as good as "Lunar Strain" or "The Jester Race" but, as these two are the finest works in the history of melodic death metal, this isn't really a drawback. These 5 (+4 bonus) songs are superb and therefore receive my unconditional recommendations. If you are in need for some quality melodeath, this one has it over the top.
(originally written for www.metalstorm.ee)
With an astounding second release, In Flames really begins to blaze their own trail in the world of metal. On “Subterranean”, you will hear some of the best melodies in modern death metal.
At this point, the new Swedish sound was finally coming into its own, with In Flames leading the way, carrying the torch as bearers of some of the most exciting sounds in the underground.
From the classically inspired runs of “Stand Ablaze” to the crushing weightiness and soaring harmonies of the deeply engaging title track, “Subterranean” defied all expectations, setting a new standard for creativity in extreme music. Equipped with folksy metal harmony, “Biosphere” is an extremely tuneful track that is arranged for the deliverance of maximum force.
During this period in the group’s career, fans had already began to catch onto their immense talent, not to mention the fact that the group had one of the most original sounds to be found, an intense combination of furious black metal blasts, distinctly melodic guitar harmonies and song structures which rivaled some of the most acclaimed acts in all of heavy metal.
This premium re-issue contains the group’s interpretation of Metallica’s “Eye Of The Beholder” and Iron Maiden’s classic “Murders In The Rue Morgue”. While the Metallica cover comes off great instrumentally, the vocals are a bit off-key. This fact makes this track an attractive novelty, but nothing close to essential listening. The Maiden track however, is an excellent foray and does much to show where the group’s influences originally stem from.
If you buy this record for no other reason, you should pick it up for this track alone. Taken as a whole, ‘Subterranean” was a definite progression for a group that would soon be dominating metal stages around the world.
Subterranean, in my opinion, is the best In Flames release by far. Problem is, it's just an EP! So what makes it so great? Well, it has the dark and brooding mood of Lunar Strain, but there are some major improvements on this release over Lunar Strain. Although I miss Mikael Stanne's vocals, Henke Forss is very good on this album and I wish they kept him instead of getting Anders Friden. In addition, the drumming here is much better than on Lunar Strain, done by actual drummers (some tracks Daniel Erlandsson of Arch Enemy, others Anders Jivarp of Dark Tranquullity) rather than Jesper overdubbed. The guitar duo of Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom also show off some of their finest work here, showing that they are actually better without a third guitarist. Plus, overall the transitions on Subterranean are much more flowing and natural than on Lunar Strain, where acoustic guitar and violin could basically pop up anywhere at any time. Now, for a song by song breakdown...
Stand Ablaze opens up the album (EP) perfectly with a beautiful piano intro leading into some classic melodic riffage. This is possibly my favorite In Flames song guitar-wise, with a really nice lengthy guitar passage at the end that is hardly boring, very melodic, and nice and fast. Everdying starts off rather aggressive compared to the other songs on this EP, eventually building up to a beautiful acoustic passage that fits nicely, then continues and ends with a second acoustic part. The title track, Subterranean, is nothing less than my favorite song of all time, containing a lot of different melodies all crammed into one dark, epic love song. Timeless is one of early In Flames' signature acoustic instrumentals, which of course is great, and Biosphere closes the album (EP) nicely with a great building riff in the beginning, to a rather fast majority of the song with faster, more aggressive leads than In Flames would probably ever use again. But, after that track...it sadly ends and leaves you craving more. I would suggrest buying the remaster, which is almost double the length, but the bonus tracks are a bit awkward and not nearly as good as the meat of Subterranean...here's a review for them anyway.
The demo version of the Jester Race classic Dead Eternity features Jocke Gothberg of Marduk on vocals, making this version sound a lot like Dimension Zero, with the Stromblad/Ljungstrom guitar duo and him on vocals. Major differences between this and The Jester Race version are the production and the vocals. The production is more raw because it's a demo, which can be both good and bad depending on what you like in your songs. The vocals are more shrieky and in my opinion a lot better than Friden's attempt at death grunts, but could be annoying to some. Overall I like it better though. The Inborn Lifeless, the demo of the track that would be called Dead God in Me on The Jester Race, has slightly different lyrics, different vocals, and again, rawer production. The vocalist on this one is some guy named Per Gyllenback...and personally I think he's nothing special, but again, better than Friden. Some versions of Subterranean also include bonus covers of Murders in the Rue Morgue (Iron Maiden), and Eye of the Beholder (Metallica). Murders in the Rue Morgue is nothing special, but it's cool if you feel like hearing Iron Maiden with death vocals, although that's been done a million times. Eye of the Beholder is an odd one for In Flames, with a session vocalist named Robert Dahn doing CLEAN vocals, and clean vocals nothing like Anders Friden would ever do. It's a good cover, but really doesn't sound anything like In Flames.
Overall, Subterranean is a fucking godly EP, and the remaster is worth getting for some bonus goodies. Plus, it's easier to find than the original.