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Following the release of the underrated melodic death/folk metal affair that was "Lunar Strain" and the EP "Subterranean", In Flames returned with "The Jester Race", which is often cited as their magnum opus. Released in 1996, this album was, and still is, an essential within the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene. This album is considered among the "big three" in the genre, along with Dark Tranquillity's "The Gallery" and At the Gates' "Slaughter of the Soul". There is that group of people who blame these releases for the eventual birth of metalcore and while these releases may have influenced that style of music, they are definitely pieces of revolutionary art. In Flames was the first melodic death metal band I heard, although I got into them through "Come Clarity". After that, I began listening to their entire discography in order. So in actuality, "The Jester Race" was the third album I heard from these dudes. I was probably 14 years old at this time and to me, this was some of the most extreme music I had heard, at that point in time of course. Looking back, this is definitely not my favorite In Flames album, as that title goes to "Colony". However, it is still a great album and I have always found myself coming back to it over and over again.
Beginning with the acoustic introduction to "Moonshield", this album gives the listener a foreshadowing of what's to come. Beautiful melodies, accompanied with distorted electric guitar and Anders Fridén's harsh vocals. This is definitely a metal album, no doubt about that. Musically speaking, it is similar in melody and structure to bands such as Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. However, the death metal influence lies within the vocals. There is a lot of controversy with this band due to their melodic take on death metal and a lot of death metal purists are quick to show discontent with In Flames, and any of the other "melodeath" bands for that matter. However, they inject a vast amount of melody and acoustic beauty into this extreme style of metal, and it works quite well. I'm sure if In Flames didn't go down the alternative "modern" metal style that they began with "Reroute to Remain" six years later, they wouldn't be shunned nearly as much. I'm not going to write a review berating anything In Flames has done in the past 14 years or so, but this is definitely different from anything post-2000. Harsher tracks such as "Artifacts of the Black Rain" and "Lord Hypnos" still contain tons of melody and are instantly recognizable classics.
This album clocks in at 40 minutes long and none of the songs go over the 5-minute mark, with "Dead Eternity" being the longest clocking in at just slightly over 5 minutes. In Flames have never been a band to write long, progressive pieces, and they've always been effective with average song lengths. This band gets their message across in a swift manner, but I'm almost always left underwhelmed in this aspect. Why? Simply because they easily could have added a few more minutes to some of these songs and the album would have been much better at 45 or 50 minutes, in my opinion. "Artifacts of the Black Rain" is probably the biggest offender of this, as it is one of the album's strongest tracks, but is sadly a bit too short in my opinion, at only slightly over 3 minutes.
Vocally, this is probably Fridén's greatest performance of the band's entire career. There is no clean singing anywhere on here, just angry, pissed off death metal growls and grunts. The album's title-track is probably my favorite vocally on the album. You can really feel his energy all over the place. On later albums, he began using clean vocals, which eventually improved in skill. However, it's nice to just hear solid, extreme vocals without being interrupted by clean singing. In Flames was certainly not trying to land any radio airplay here.
So, while this is not my favorite album from In Flames, it is certainly in my top three. I don't resent these guys for changing their sound, as bands evolve. However, one cannot deny the impact, legacy, and overall importance of "The Jester Race".
Before they tarnished their reputation with relatively bland alternative metal, In Flames were a mighty force in realm of melodic death metal, being the most popular of the famous Gothenburg trio that innovated the style in the early 1990s. In Flames combined the aggression and atmosphere of extreme metal with the accessibility of melodic metal more seamlessly than any band before them. Some scorned the band for "polluting" death metal with their damned melodic sensibility and sugary hooks, but what they started on this album could not be stopped. The Jester Race, along with Slaughter of the Soul, inspired legions of imitators over the next decade and still today, but THIS album was the original - and remains a work of unique inspiration and quality.
The songwriting here is absolutely top-notch. Even In Flames' most ardent detractors cannot deny that the band had a knack for beautiful melodies. This shows up in the acoustic passages (Moonshield, Jester's Dance), the guitar riffs (Dead Eternity, December Flower) and solos (Wayfaerer, Dead God In Me). During In Flames' five-year heyday (Subterranean through Whoracle), literally every melody they crafted was solid gold. And even though Anders Friden probably isn't as talented as Subterranean vocalist Henke Forss, he sounds better on this album than he ever has since. He actually has a low register with some legitimately powerful death growls on this one! Now that my metalhead ears are more seasoned, I admit that Friden is not the best melodeath vocalist out there. Tomas Lindberg and Mikael Stanne are both better. But in no way does Friden detract from the music at all, and as I said, he's at his best here. Jesper Stromblad is one of my favorite guitarists and he is consistently great on this disc as well. The band is going at full force and you can just tell they were really enjoying writing and playing this music together. The production isn't as pristine and polished as on its successors, which I actually count as a plus. It lends the music a sort of mystique they would lose later, though I love the next few albums as well.
Moonshield is one of the best album starters ever with its folky acoustic intro and how it transitions into the sorrowful melodic riffing. The lyrics and vocal performance are heartfelt. And when the acoustic and electric guitars come together at the end, it's pure beauty. Other highlights include December Flower with its heavy tremolo riffing and blast beats, the winding guitar instrumental Wayfaerer, the haunting Dead Eternity with its spoken word intro, the twin guitar melodies of Artifacts of the Black Rain, and Dead God In Me with its unorthodox structure and epic climax. In truth, every song here is catchy as hell and could be listed as a highlight, which is why this album is a true must-listen. It may not have the progressive ambition of The Gallery, but it's unrelentingly FUN - an enticing listen at any time, place or mood. The Jester Race was pivotal in the development of death metal (for better or worse), but it's also a true classic of the entire Metal genre.
I probably should have discovered In Flames earlier than I did, what with being a fan of Arch Enemy and all. For whatever reason I didn't though, and here I am only reviewing the album 'The Jester Race' now, a long, long time after it was first recommended to me.
They do have a very likable quality about the sound that comes with this album, from the strange melodies on the opener 'Moonshield' that sound almost medieval to the heavier riffs on 'Lord Hypnos' and 'Dead Eternity' (although all the tracks are a nice mix of heavy and melodic). You can quite clearly tell that a lot of bands have taken heavy influence from this album, and it's no wonder that this band are considered one of the pioneers of melodic death metal.
I liked the track 'Artifacts of the Black Rain' more than the others, possibly because it was more in my comfort zone than the other tracks (which basically means it sounded more like Arch Enemy's style). The hooks come fast, but not thick to the extent that nothing else can be heard. The drumming isn't sensational, but it does provide a solid beat in the background. Most of the emphasis seems to be on the two guitars, the rhythm guitar making the general sound while the lead provides some melody to the song. Vocals are okay, nothing special but they're far from poor.
'Dead God in Me' is a little more confusing and less likable, the drums just pounding along at parts in a way that feels more black metal than death metal (not that I'm some kind of expert on that). For the most part the melodies are gone, but when they return they're nice (even if they sound a little reminiscent of pirate metal at parts, which is a bit out of place). I don't really get the fade out near the end for twenty or so seconds before the music returns to play the album out, which just adds to the confusion of the track. I really feel like I sit on the fence with this track.
The title track takes a more death metal type approach to it, but the melody is still there. The vocals on this track are better than the others, sounding deeper and more like Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth (which is always a good thing). The song as a whole is a great example of what this band can do, as they quite clearly demonstrate between this song, 'Dead God in Me' and 'Artifacts of the Black Rain' that they can come up with a variety of different ways to play melodeath.
Now, something that I don't like is that there are almost no signs of warning before some of the songs end. Besides the fact that they've been going on a while, some tracks just leave you to guess whether they're almost done or not. It's not the worst thing imaginable, but it does get a little bit annoying.
To conclude, I did like the album a lot, but it's not perfect. Of course no album is, but this one feels a lot further away than some others. Ultimately some of the tracks do drag it down a bit, perhaps stopping me from giving it a score in the nineties rather than mid-eighties. Still, they practically came up with the genre along with Dark Tranquility and At the Gates and this is very much a prototype for the rest of the genre to take on board, something that later bands would do with the best possible outcomes.
Few artists could ever claim to have left such a lasting stamp on a genre as In Flames have on the melodic death metal genre since their inception in 1990, and not without good reason. This was the band that released Clayman, the mighty Whoracle, Lunar Strain, Colony and their opus The Jester Race. The band was initially formed as the side project of then-Ceremonial Oath bassist Jesper Stromblad as an outlet for his more melodically-oriented writing style that did not fit his primary band of the time. Come 1993, the situation had changed and Stromblad had quit that particular band and recruited a line-up to write and record a debut album under the In Flames band. Following this the band grew tired of using session musicians for vocals and Jesper playing drums on the album, and so they recruited the final members of their line-up and set about recording and then releasing The Jester Race in 1995.
This is an album that has no intention of taking its foot off of the listeners throat despite its melodic nature. The guitar tones are exceedingly heavy and the vocals are aggressive; the riffs bludgeoning and the drumming cool and calculated but still carrying a lot of rage behind it throughout. As far as complete band performances go The Jester Race ranks right up there among the best albums, with every member of the band consistently contributing something good that adds to the overall mood of the album. The guitars create a dark atmosphere that the demonic vocals from new recruit Anders Friden perfectly compliment with a lot of aggression behind them. Jesper also contributes acoustic guitars on this release which add a lot of diversity to it and draw up a gloomy picture, particularly on the opening song Moonshield. This five minute masterpiece was the perfect way to open up the album, with the acoustic guitar being used more than once to great effect including as the introduction to the song. The way the band transition from accompanying acoustic guitar work to electric guitar work is also something to marvel at; with the acoustic sections feeling suitably relaxed whilst the heavy parts are barbaric and yet somewhat restrained, keeping to a slow pace.
Each and every song on The Jester Race is one that leaps out with its own characteristics and yet still contributing to the overall flow of the album. The instrumental number The Jester's Dance shows off just how well the band can nail the soft to heavy dynamic, whilst Graveland shows off a much faster side to the band at times. The guitar work varies from the slow and sludgy to the lightning fast and the vocals aggressive whilst the drums constantly adapt to the meandering pace. This album makes great use of slightly more progressive song structures than what some death metal fans may be unaccustomed to with some frequently altering tempos and it is clear that In Flames really strived to make their mark on metal music with this release. This is arguably their most ambitious and complete-sounding release, although some might give that title to any of their first five releases. The pacing and flow of The Jester Race is completely unmatched, with every song feeling complete no matter what the length whilst the longer tracks (of which non stretches far past the five minute mark) never feel over-stretched, such is the genius behind the song writing.
The Jester Race is the perfect example of flawlessly executed melodic death metal with some angry vocal work, thought-provoking lyrics and great riffing and the cool use of acoustic guitars mixed perfectly among the heaviness. The production job is crisp and the drumming and bass work merely completes the rout. If you have not heard this then I highly recommend it as In Flames proved on here that they are more than a cut above the average Gothenburg band.
Somewhere lodged in the midst of metal’s alleged death in the mid 90s stood this, a member of Gothenburg’s famed melodeath trinity, now fully formed and unleashed upon the unbelieving masses, or so the story goes according to In Flames’ most avid of early fans. In truth, the first so-called true offering with vocalist Anders Fridén at the helm is a fairly decent offering, though it carries the unfortunate status of having Fridén on the album. Had the services of now swapped front man of Dark Tranquillity Mikael Stanne been retained, I can’t help but speculate as to how much better this consistent collection of somber and melodic tunes might have turned out. Nonetheless, amongst the crop of early Gothenburg offerings, this is a decent release that can be enjoyed by anyone who seeks a middle ground between the consonant character of early NWOBHM and the viler tendencies of death metal.
In many respects, “The Jester Race” represents one of the first true melodeath offerings, as it breaks ties with the chaotic song structures and rapid shifts in feel often associated with the style it grew out of. Instead of an utterly jarring collection of tuneful yet violent sections as typified in “Lunar Strain”, the principle thrust at play here is melody and atmosphere. When following the various incarnations that Death went through in the early 90s, the death metal roots of In Flames and others in the Gothenburg become immediately apparent, though anyone who was raised on the more dissonant and morose bands drawn out of the Cannibal Corpse and Deicide camp will probably dismiss the scene as being power metal with harsh vocals (which is about as big of a stretch as comparing it with Cannibal Corpse), or try to label it a distant cousin of black metal (which is a little less tenuous).
Dealing with the divergence between this album and its 1993 predecessor is actually a pretty large affair, despite both being almost identical in overall quality. “The Jester Race” comes across as much more focused and mellow, rather than being dry and detached; perhaps being best analogized as being a shift from being trapped in a block of ice versus being buried in snow. Instead of a bouncy set of folksy acoustic breaks and classical interludes, the quieter sections are much more droning and distant sounding, almost like the echoes of a massive cave. This can be best observed in the short instrumental “The Jester’s Dance”, which is a pretty good representation of why the band is often compared to Iron Maiden. The acoustic themes, in contrast to the bouncing ones before, have almost a crooning character to them, despite being layered on top of a driving bass and drum line.
In the midst of a very consistent album that balances out blasting tremolo sections with steady, down tempo grooves with layers of slow moving melodic lines is Anders, attempting to be the beast in agony in the midst of so much somber beauty. Suffice to say, he does an adequate job, but largely drags down the rest of the album. His sound could be best described as a somewhat whinny and weak rendition on the Chuck Schuldiner and John Tandy approach to old school death growls, being largely in a flat baritone character with a lot of strain and throat thrown into every syllable. It is still better than the ultra-whinny take on this style that most metalcore bands would bring to the table later, but it is pretty apparent that Anders is one of the sources of this well known and utterly annoying vocal style.
Nonetheless, in spite of a few glaring flaws, this is an album possessed of several early melodeath classics and largely avoids using filler to complement the killer. The band really starts off on a positive note with “Moonshield”, which takes an extremely beautiful folksy progression and obscures it into a droning acoustic line that eventually makes way for a massively memorable yet largely mid-paced song. “Graveland” and “December Flower” show the band able to kick up the aggression a little and yet still maintain that overriding character of wintry landscapes and hopeless endeavors, essentially merging this mellow sounding style with a solid bit of thrash elements. The only area where the album breaks character a little bit and almost turns into a happy sounding power metal album is a few minutes on the other instrumental “Wayfaerer”, but against everything else, it is barely noticeable in spite of being painfully different from the rest of the album.
The sad truth is that in many cases, the person doing the vocals tends to be the person who makes the biggest impression, even on an album loaded up with instrumental breaks like this one. This is the sort of album that I can break out on occasion and really get into, but then have to shelf for a while both because of the somewhat annoying vocal performance, but also because of its utter simplicity. The biggest reason why this band and this style became so popular is because apart from the earliest incarnations of both, there is not much experimentation going on except for the basic concept of consonant melodies alongside a harsh vocalist. Basically speaking, if you want consistency then this is the album to get, but those who want an album with a few surprises will want to look to the debut. Speaking for myself, I like them both about equally, but for very different reasons.
Yes that's right people, the same band that today is releasing those terrible metalcore-influenced albums actually had a point in their career where they actually managed to release some pretty damn good albums. The Jester Race happened to be released in the peak of the Gothenburg metal scene in the early 90s, along with classics such as Dark Tranquillity's The Gallery and At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul. This album was really the album that got me completely hooked with the early Gothenburg melodeath scene, and if you have a listen you will probably understand why.
One of the most outstanding elements of this album to me is the guitars. What really appealed to me with the guitar playing on this album was the amazing harmony sections that were created by Jesper Stromblad's and Glenn Ljungstrom's incredible lead-guitar work. These harmonised melodies were what really brought out and supported the vocal line laid down by Anders Friden. In fact, the guitar parts on this album stood out so much for me that I had all the lead guitar melodies stuck in my head after each listen instead of the vocals/lyrics, which is a really good thing! I also really enjoyed all the acoustic guitar passages that were included throughout the album, as it added a lot more character to the overall sound.
Even though I wouldn't say the same about his vocals today, Anders Friden's vocals on this album were some of the best raw melodic death metal vocals I have ever heard. Although I have always preferred the likes of Mikael Stanne to him, he really does an amazing performance on this album, and his voice really blends in with the music quite well, which you definitely could not say the same for on the band's later and more horrible releases.
I can't really say much about the bass parts (as most of the time I was blinded by the sheer might of the guitars), however it seems that it really plays its part in the album and does well to blend in with the other layers of sound. The same could be said about the drums, as Bjorn Gelotte really is consistent behind the drum kit on this album.
This album really is one of my favourite albums of all time, and the more I listen to it makes me just love it even more! I recommend that anyone wanting to give In Flames a little taste should not sit and suffer through their later stuff, but rather indulge in their earlier musical masterpieces, such as The Jester Race.
Most standout songs for me: Moonshield, Lord Hypnos, The Jester Race, Dead God in Me
Long has it been since I first heard this and was floored by its magnificence. Back when I first heard In Flames, I thought they destroyed all the radio rock bands I listened to at the time. Reroute To Remain was then their biggest attraction, and Soundtrack To Your Escape was going to hit the market, too, but it’d take me another year to take a dive into the archives of metal. The Jester Race looked the most attractive, so I took a gander and I was never the same again. After hearing this album, I knew damn well that metal was the music genre I’d swear my life by… but not in any gay Manowar sort of way.
I’ve grown up a lot, endured tougher experiences, and encountered more metal that destroys In Flames. Still, this album has its appeal, but I don’t consider it that grand masterpiece I once loved. To me, it’s a great full-fledged Gothenburg album, and that’s sad since it could have retained it's scene superiority. If it was between the lowest level of awesome and the highest level of great, then it's the highest level of great. The band dropped a good number of tracks, juiced it with the sweet tone of melodic death antiquity, and achieved a sense of identity – kind of like the Subterranean EP, but with more songs.
By this point, Jesper and Glenn were pulling heavy / power metal leads so wrought with slickness that the guitars, with a tone so cut-throat it could shred a warp hold if need be, take on that role. To a degree, this would make this a heavy / power metal album with screams / growls, and while I do agree with that, it’s the core that counts. Songs like the enigmatic “The Jester’s Dance,” the majestic “Lord Hypnos” (with that breathtaking bridge section), and the imposing solo-tsunamis of the title track and “December Flower” all support this case (that this is a power metal-leaning album), and the other thus far unmentioned tracks do the same to their respective degrees. Not only that, but none of them are sappy or half-assed like the ones found on Lunar Strain or on later albums like Whoracle; a lot of them don’t slay, either, but a good lead will have to do.
With the guitar tone it’s a certain sound that I will never forget – a very historic, ancient tone, especially with the leads and cleans. The keeper though is the burly, thicker, artillery-precise tone complimenting the rhythm riffs – much clearer and thunderous than previous In Flames releases. Backing up the guitar tone even more this time is the bass, doing the same rhythm backing as always and fluctuating between fairly clear and normally not. Between the depth of the guitar tone and the lower end of the drum kit, the bass does get firmly crushed. Nonetheless, thickness in this regard still forms a solid base, since the drums are taken on by Gelotte who, while not kickass, sure does a better job than Jesper. Gelotte, now on a grand kit with doorknob double bass and non-hollow snares, doesn’t mess around with inoffensive, consistent beating. No, it’s bashes and blasts for this guy, much like Svensson later in the band’s career.
The frontman I’m not a huge fan of – for the record, Anders Fridén is a horrible vocalist, but here he’s decent. Of course when I first heard this I thought he was a demon, but time and experience among far better vocalists has made Fridén tame to my ears. His growling is like the growls you do after you get fired from your job – strong exhales with a bit of upper throat power that scrape the growl into a barked scream. It works much better than Stanne on Lunar Strain and I’d take it second to Henke Forss’ performance on the Subterranean EP; thin vocals couldn’t have worked on this album, although I’m not imagining hard enough to convince myself, either. Now the one problem I do have with these vocals is that they get fairly redundant – I hear them enough and they just become passive noise attached to the song, eventually tugging on it before dragging it down and making the whole album a bit boring.
Even without his vocals, I do end up going for another album because, while entertaining, I’m not gripped as emotionally by this music. Like I said before it’s great, but not impactful anymore. "Graveland" flat out meanders on its own level unlike the rest of the album. Every song but that one rules. Even with the Black Ash Inheritance EP, which includes an extra cool track (“Goliaths Disarm Their Davids”), I’m not thoroughly convinced that this is a gem from the older years. Putting it on In Flames terms, this is a classic, but zooming out once more lets me see that there are better fish out there in the sea…
The In Flames you probably know today is absolutely nothing like the In Flames about a decade and a half ago. Back in 1996, no In Flames fan in their right minds could have predicted that the same band would later release Soundtrack To Your Escape. So please, don't run away when you hear the words 'In Flames.' This album really is almost as worthy, if not AS essential to the Gothenburg genre as The Gallery by Dark Tranquility, Slaughter of the Soul from At The Gates, or Stigmata from Arch Enemy. This album may be power metal influenced, but make no mistake it is indeed dark while still being very atmospheric and beautiful.
"Moonsheild" is an appropriate prologue into "Jester's Dance," and sets the tone for the rest of the album quite accurately. "Artifacts of the Black Rain" is basically everything I would want from he Gothenburg scene, but with a unique power metal twist. Amazing, catchy riffs, kickass solo, drumming that doesn't blow, and pretty cool vocals. This never lets up throughout the remainder of the album.
Yes, some people may not be a fan of the power metal twist, and that is understandable. What this does though, is it differentiates themselves from the rest of the scene. They took melodic death metal and made it their own, not unlike At The Gates or Dark Tranquility. Every single song on The Jester Race is filled with unbelievably catchy melodic death/power metal riffs that will bring you to tears. Strömblad and Ljungström are incredible at what they do, as is Fridén. Fridén's vocals are indeed melodic death metal vocals. There are no shitty clean emo sections like in Reroute to Remain or A Sense of Purpose, so once again, don't even worry about that.
Basically, avoid new In Flames (and for that matter, Soilwork and Arch Enemy, as well) and sink your teeth into some classic melodic death metal. Enjoy your time travel back into the 90s Gothenburg scene!
Highlights: Moonsheild, Dead Eternity, Jester Race, December Flower
In Flames get talked about a lot. From their early underground Melodic Death Metal days to their later days as a cocky, goofy, streamlined Alt. Rock band, they are a very popular band - for better or for worse. They were at the forefront of the Melodic Death scene and pretty much set the blueprint for the style, along with Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates. This was their celebrated sophomore effort The Jester Race, and while I don't worship it like some people do, I can still testify to its quality.
Let's just get one thing straight: this is not a Death Metal album. Melodic Death Metal is pretty poorly named, I think, because there isn't much Death-y about it, aside from the fact that the vocals vaguely remind of the old school bands like Entombed or Death. The only reason that this genre of music is called Melodic Death Metal seems to be because there isn't anything else to call it. So, a bit of a misnomer, but whatever.
Now, with that out of the way, let's move onto the music itself (gasp). The music on The Jester Race is not that heavy or extreme, rather focusing on simple riffs and ear-pleasing melodies wrapped up in a tight package of mystical intricacy, not complex or involving at all, but still perhaps needing a few listens to really sink in. While I admire the band's ability to create simple and solid melodies, a lot of the time this just isn't too exciting, with most of the songs just sort of blending together into one solid mass of riffs and growling and solos. The guitar tone is a bit weak, but most of the time the band sounds tight and sober here. It's just that they never get you headbanging or staring in awe at your speakers. The music is competent and well played, but not stirring, emotional or even any fun. "Moonshield" is cool, with its acoustic intro bit, and "December Flower" has some very colorful melodies amidst the drolling, pounding riffs, but pretty much everything else, while played well, just isn't anything special.
My problem with this album, and this band as a whole is that a) they have no longevity and b) they are too plain.
When I first heard The Jester Race, I thought it was a great album, but ever since then, it has just been getting more and more bland to these ears. This is due to its simplicity. As is the case with many things that are so simple, its pleasures may not last forever, becoming stale or tepid after hours of listening. Hours of familiarity and intimacy with the material. The Jester Race is a pretty good album, but it lacks any sort of oomph to make it memorable or worth playing more than a few times. This is very plain music, lacking any real sort of ambition, and while bands like Omen or Grim Reaper could make "plain" music work well by adding some fiery pep and kicking energy to the mix, In Flames are trying at a more moody and esoteric style, and they need a little bit more flair to their music for that. Perhaps more weight on the atmospheric side with their acoustic guitar melodies would make this album more interesting. This...this just doesn't really do anything, as it is.
Listening to this is oftentimes like looking at a blank white wall. It might be well flourished and smooth and inoffensive, but it won't provide you with much excitement in the end. I haven't heard all of In Flames' albums, but that analogy seems to sum the band as a whole up pretty well.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
The Jester Race is, by far, an essential Göthenburg album. It stands next to The Gallery, The Red in the Sky is Ours, and In Flames' own Subterranean as a member of the pantheon of strange melodic goodness that, somehow, ended up screwing up completely. But this isn't about 1995-on (Jester Race was recorded in '95), this is about The Jester Race.
Anders Fridén, the well-known vocalist for In Flames, made his debut with this album. His mix of shriek and growl was either well received or not, and I, frankly, am one of the few who take it with either viewpoint. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoy the shrieks in black metal -- the fact that I can stand Virkernes' vocals is a testament to that. The other: I love growls, the sheer brutality and Power that is inherent in such a guttural and strong vocalization. The two combined, therefore, should be a recipe for greatness, but it is not.
Unfortunately, Fridén continues to degrade as the years go by, but his vocals were decent and fun to listen to in the beginning, even if it was mostly from novelty. I still have qualms with the majority of vocals in the Göthenburg genre, but it's something I can live with thanks to the pure musicality of the songs produced by these bands.
Speaking of musicality, listening to The Jester Race is like listening to different songs -- for the most part, though The Jesters' Dance and The Jester Race share thematic similarities, but that's intentional, I believe -- each one is different than the last. Go ahead, listen to Dead God in Me, and then Artifacts of the Black Rain; it's an incredible change in mood.
Each song follows a structure, but it's not a bad thing. In metal, we usually see what some call a narrative structure, where there isn't a coherent ABAB etc. arrangement of different pieces. In The Jester Race, we see an ABAB with slight variations, but it's done to good effect: it emphasizes motif in each song, which In Flames was definitely not shy about in later albums.
The lyrics are beautiful, not nonsense like Whoracle and Clayman, and not whining like recent release Come Clarity. Understanding Fridén's vocals is a task, but when you do, the lyrics he releases from his throat are outstanding. December Flower is a great example of beauty and brutality mixed.
The production is clear, but not overly so. It still maintains a degree of atmosphere, while the guitars have enough fuzz to grate the ear a little, but still retain tone. Tone is everything in a melodeath album.
Overall, it's a wonderful album to listen to. In Flames once did masterpieces, and now they don't. It's unfortunate that Colony marked the tragic end of this once-amazing band, but we still have Subterranean and The Jester Race.
Describing something that is perfect is much more difficult than you would think. The word ‘perfect’ itself has become largely overused today, however it’s one of the only words that comes to mind when I think about In Flames’ utter masterpiece which is The Jester Race. Never before have I become so entirely attached to an album.
A stunning acoustic harmony is what you will first hear when you begin to listen to this album. Moonshield is the best introductory song imaginable. The acoustic intro is actually mesmerizing and surreal and when the heavy riff hits in at 49 seconds you still haven’t woken up from this dreamland. Stormblad is truly a musical genius and why he doesn’t write melodies like this anymore is completely beyond me. What else is beyond me is the fact that this song has become a rarity at their live shows. When the music fades on Moonshield, we get some more beauty from The Jester’s Dance which serves as a great instrumental interlude between the opener and Artifacts Of The Black Rain. It is at this point in which the album picks up speed. The tight guitar riffs and fast paced vocals make this track a headbanging highlight. They also made a music video for this track, but that’s nothing special. The Jester Race flawlessly combines harmonies and beautiful melodies (the title track) with crushing anger and aggression (December Flower, Dead God In Me).
In the album sleeve it states that Jesper Stormblad wrote the majority of the music on this album and I believe that he still writes most of In Flames’ music today but I can’t understand why it was so much more inventive and stunning back in the day. Anders Friden belches out one of the best vocal performances he’s ever done. Each lyric drips with despair and anger as he screams them out. Although I think Colony calims the best vocals from Friden, I think The Jester Race is the most emotional. The drums are excellent as always and were performed by Björn Gelotte, who is now a guitarist in the band along with Stormblad. The lyrics may be the best the band has to offer, mostly incorporating themes of depression and human weakness.
The Jester Race is a journey of an album not to be missed. It is considered by many to be In Flames’ masterpiece, and I think I might agree with that. The music is truly timeless and can be listened to over and over again. If you appreciate creative music in general, you better look into this album, as it helped develop the genre of what is now known as classic melodic death metal.
Before the release of their recent disc-shaped faeces (Read: everything after "Clayman"), before the times of Maiden-goes-accessible-and-harsh ("Colony") and even before the lacklustre charm of "Whoracle", In Flames released recognizable classic upon the unsuspecting crowd of Sweden's most recognizable rainy town.
This is great old Gothenburg: a healthy mixture of death metal’s fast drumming, tremolo riffing and harsh vocals with power metal’s melodic elements, acoustic breaks and occasional clean vocals. We are talking about the years when the so called “Gothenburg scene” was still strong, fresh and unique. Much like the thrash boom in the 80’s, this was a time when young musicians were yearning to show every metalhead their youthful creativity, energy and their strong musicianship, and thus, a new and still controversial metal genre was born. As of 1996, landmark albums such as Dark Tranquillity’s "The Gallery" and At The Gates’ "The Red in the Sky Is Ours" have already been released, so it was time for Jesper Stromblad’s crew to step up their game and write another hard-hitter after the acclaimed "Lunar Strain". The chance was theirs to write a follow up to the marvel that was "Subterranean", that had the sole defect of being too short. Did they pull it off? Well, obviously no, silly. But hey, at least there was a distinguishable ATTEMPT made, and when you consider how fast and how far this group would soon fall, you can count that as a compliment.
Songs here range from somewhat campy (albeit catchy) growl-along power metal esque tracks ("Artifacts of the Black Rain") to stronger, faster and more visceral heavy rockers ("Dead Eternity") to create a varied and interesting experience. Acoustics are used with welcome sobriety, riffing is akin to power metal with the occasional tremolo racket to emphasize the aggression or sometimes the melodic theme of the songs, and the clean vocals are, fortunately, used sparingly. Why? Well, let's get that out of the way, then.
The most underwhelming performance stems from Friden’s vocals. While still retaining a small trace of his unhinged persona from “Skydancer”, this album’s slower and more focused nature allows Anders little space to dwell on ferocity alone as he struggles not only with diction issues, but also with interpretative ones. Having proved later on to be able to sing in different voices and tones (whether these are any good, however, is up to you) and perform a modicum of competent multitracking, his decision to carry this whole album in a boring, hoarse and never-changing rasp is strange at best and catastrophic at worst. To sing about Greek gods (“Lord Hypnos”), age-old earth deities (“Artifacts of the Black Rain”) and vivid, disturbing recollections of molestation (“Dead God in Me”) with the same monotone succeeds only in making me nervous, like watching Keanu Reeves sleepwalking through an amazingly written script.
To state that the Zeitgeist is the sole responsible party for such a dry performance is only half right. It is safe to assume that by that time, most death metal vocalists didn’t really give a shit about fruity clean singer stuff like interpretation, diction and intonation. However, Friden’s closest contemporaries Stanne and Lindberg were already seeking ways to evolve just by trying a little bit more. Fresh from a screeching performance in “Lunar Strain”, the former landed on Dark Tranquillity’s “The Gallery” with equal craziness but absolutely adapted to that album’s pace and identity, while the latter quickly realized it could be possible to sound maniacally Swedish AND understandable at the same time, thus giving a less agonizing performance in commercial landmark “Slaughter of the Soul” than he did on ATG’s previous, more accomplished works.
His finesse for writing lyrics used to be, however, surprisingly brilliant. Yes, his nonsensical warbling on "Whoracle" and his most recent alternative musings are far away from this album’s greatness, which is the closest In Flames ever got to emulating Arcturus' or Dark Tranquillity's penchant for abstract, over-the-top poetry. It comes as no surprise that Niklas Sundin helped him with the concepts, resulting in a really praiseworthy job, proving that Frid has (or had) a great talent with words, but unfortunately, that’s about it.
The Jester Race’s coolest assets are, as per expectations, Jesper’s and Glenn’s great guitar skills. The duet craft very nice leads and melodies through the album and accentuates them with tight and solid (although not overly technical) riffing. Soloing in here are also hits the spot, ranging from infectious and catchy power metal worship ("December Flower"; played by DT's Fredrik Johansson) to more melancholic and brooding pieces ("Dead God in Me"). Johann’s bass is somewhat hard to distinguish from the album’s thick guitar tone, which is sad, because his basslines on "Subterranean" were very nice and audible. Björn’s drumming is standard (for metal) and fails to impress or to stand out, unfortunately, although his taste for jumpy beats gets some spotlight in "Dead Eternity".
Well, every track here is very solid and diverse, some of them plod a little bit, but then they are saved by a powerful break ("Graveland", "Dead God in Me"). Others feature brief but very catchy guitar leads ("Artifacts", "Lord Hypnos") and cool acoustic breaks ("Lord Hypnos" again), but there is one song that I wish to highlight, that is one of In Flames’ most recognizable and beautiful compositions, the marvellous “Moonshield”. God, if this wasn't written in the "Subterranean" sessions, I'm changing my name to Jeff Goldblum. Soothing and incredibly well-written acoustic and electric folk melodies, melancholic lyrics, well-paced drumming, and even Anders’ screams sound fitting here. Yes, it’s that good. A genuine killer that shows the great capacity for creating atmospheres these guys had, only to later squander the whole lot of it penning insurmountable crap like “The Quiet Place”. Give me a break.
Yes, this is In Flames at the top of their game. An amazing mix between melody and aggressiveness, clean and harsh, light and heavy. I really miss the time when those guys knew how to do it right, because after this album, they only managed to screw things up, getting progressively worse and worse until their mallcore years, when they just pissed in their whole legacy. Sad, really sad.
This album's way too standard drumming and relentlessly morose vocals drag it down a bit, but not enough to take away its obvious merits. If you’re not a narrow-minded black/death elitist, you should check this out for its powerful melodies, thrilling lyrical content and the overall fun this release provides, you won’t regret it. There was a time when In Flames ruled, but most of us just don’t remember it. Well, neither does them, I suppose.
So it all begins here, this is technically In Flamesâ€™ debut album since their actual first album was more of a project featuring Dark Tranquilltyâ€™s vocalist Mikael Stanne and that was merely a favor granted by him. Apparently after that debut, two years later the band released this crown jewel. This album in comparison to LUNAR STRAIN has a better production, not to mention they have abandoned their former death metal style riffs. True, this is still melodic in a sense, but it is too melodic to even be considered in the category as melodic death metal. While this album shows harsh vocals and down tuned guitars, this is basically Iron Maiden with harsh vocals. Most â€œtrueâ€ metalheads would consider this as blasphemy known as the Gothenburg genre of metal, I however think this is a grand sound presented by the former grand Swedish band, In Flames.
The overall music itself is very unique in general featuring twin harmony guitars playing at a pace that is, well, rather fast. Itâ€™s almost as similar to speed metal in a sense, but it doesnâ€™t sound like classic speed metal. Take for example the song December Flower, it is by far the best song on the album played in a speed metal tune with a great solo to match (even though their producer performed it for them). Other features on this album also include acoustic guitar. Moonshield proudly displays this kind of guitar work while not being the most interesting song on the album, it still packs one hell of a punch. Not to mention the instrumentals which feature both kinds of guitar tone. The Jesters Dance is a short instrumental that features some nice riffs while Wayfaerer is a power packed song with a lot of nice keyboard solos.
Basically what we have here is a modern form of maiden worship to the extent where one would think itâ€™s death metal, but it really isnâ€™t death metal at all. Its power metal with harsh vocals and in my opinion it is very well executed than the majority of Gothenburg sound based albums.
If you have a case of UltraBorism or just believe that this kind of sound â€œsucksâ€, then this album is obviously not for you. However if you do like the twin harmonizing sound that these guys play on their guitars then youâ€™ll like this album and maybe their next few releases like, WHORACLE, COLONY, and CLAYMAN.
Take it from me, I bought their Japanese release.
Some people have contested this album’s worth as a Death Metal album. They claimed that the style of play found here is more akin to a power metal band. Yet, it is a mystery why no one has contested this album’s worth as a metal album, period. It is difficult to consider this metal at all, much less power metal, and certainly not death metal.
The only time In Flames truly shines is on the very first song, Moonshield. This song is a masterpiece, and it stands as a mountain among wee little mole hills, which is the rest of the album. Cleverly crafted folk melodies are interwoven throughout the track with such exquisite delicacy. If In Flames composed the rest of the songs in similar manner, it may very well be praiseworthy.
Unfortunately, they don’t. It seems as though In Flames spent all of their energies and efforts for the sole purpose of producing Moonshield. On the rest of the album, it just seems like they half-assed it. The brilliant wanderings prevalent on Moonshield are absent on every single other song. Instead, they are replaced with wimpy riffs whose melodies resemble that of commercial jingles. Every riff contains a happy bouncy feel; the kind of feel one experiences when listening to a pop album. In fact, it is safer to categorize The Jester Race as a pop/rock album, rather than a metal album.
Another attribute which makes this more of a pop/rock album than anything is the rather stale songwriting. All the do is layer riff after riff of sheer ineptitude. They are more bent on formulating hooks than any feasible songwriting. To make matters worse, these hooks are not very well supported. They’re overly consonant and devoid of any interesting contrast. The melodies are more prone to drive the listener up the wall with sappy sentimentality.
Why is this album praised? Why is it even considered metal? It is just a collection of bouncy riffs and malformed melodies which are miserable attempts at emulating Iron Maiden. The only time In Flames has been successful at emulating Iron Maiden is on Colony. That’s right, Colony is better. In fact, it is actually quite enjoyable. The Jester Race is not.
Looking back on the history of metal, it seems as though the early albums from many a band turn out to be that band's most popular, well received releases in their discography. This isn't always the case, yes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to come up with bands where this is true. From the mainstream metal scene, you've obvious bands like Metallica and Megadeth, who've released successful albums like Master of Puppets and Rust in Peace early on and then largely disliked albums including Risk and St. Anger. Then there are bands like Cradle of Filth and Helloween, who each have had successes early in their career, but have been criticized by masses of metal heads later on, fairly or unfairly. But it's those early albums like Keeper of the Seven Keys and In the Nightside Eclipse where most seem to generally agree that a classic rating is merited. Another band which seems to receive similar treatment is In Flames. Though their last few releases, Reroute to Remain and Soundtrack to your Escape for example, have been met with less than stellar reviews, the influential Gothenburg powerhouse definitely has a very good past. They've got albums that are among Gothenburg metal's finest, albums like Colony and The Jester's Race. The latter in particular, is personally my favourite of the genre. Originally released in 1995, The Jester Race was re-released in 2002 with the Black Inheritance EP added to the run time, increasing the track list by four songs.
Anyone who knows my musical taste, knows that I love melody it my music. And In Flames definitely succeeds in meeting this craving. Every song is extremely melodic, both in the actual sound, and the mood of the music. Guitarists Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom combine their talents to craft beautiful melodies, harmonies, and solos. In this area, the band is not exceedingly aggressive, as a band like Arsis might be, but their main appeal comes from the, again, beautiful sound & structure, as well as the sheer precision in which Jesper and Glenn play. The melodic guitars, which are an important element in The Jester Race, snake their way through the release, and are one of the album's most enjoyable parts. In addition, these sections are enhanced due to the infectious tone on the guitars. Truly amazing and very fun to listen to, if I must remind you yet again.
But don't be fooled into thinking that The Jester Race is all melody and nothing else. Though it's no Scream Bloody Gore, the album still contains heaviness. Though perhaps largely overshadowed by the extreme melody, there are still aggressive riffs to be found, often holding up the rhythm of the music. The riffing is very well thought out, and does not take away anything from the music, only adding to it. Like the harmonies and leads, the riffing is precise and enjoyable. But the aggressive riffs found in the likes of Dead God in Me and the title track are not the only elements that make up the heaviness of The Jester Race. The brutal death metal growls of frontman Anders Friden definitely add to the heavy mood. Anders has what is arguably his best performance for In Flames. His growls are just as much of an instrument as the guitars. They are very effective and manage to add extra aggression to the music. Anders' performance on In Flames' second full length release is actually one of my favourite performances in the genre, as his technique has a real authority to it, and just has an all around excellent sound to it. Though it isn't as big of a factor as melody, is still find heaviness to be an important part of the band's formula, and an element which they make good use of.
In Flames is a band that has endured some harsh reviews over the last five years. Whether it is deserved or not is up for debate, but one thing that most can agree with is that The Jester Race is one of the band's top releases, and a classic in the Gothenburg metal scene, if there ever was one. The album contains the perfect dose of melody and aggression in a way that several bands have since attempted, but many have failed to do. The Jester Race is a perfect showing of In Flames' song writing skill, as well as the reason why they were at one time considered an important, innovative Gothenburg metal band. The album, their sophomore effort, is easily an essential metal release, and is definitely worth the money. Do not let albums like Reroute to Remain or Soundtrack to your Escape deter you from purchasing this album, as it definitely belongs in the collection of any metalhead.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
This is the first album remembered in a discussion about “Swedish melodic death metal”, In Flames’ “The Jester Race”. It’s hailed as a masterpiece by everyone who listens to it, everyone who reviews it and by the end of the day, it got a lot of more of praise than it truly deserves. It’s not really that amazing.
The core of this album is, of course, the nice lead/acoustic guitar by Jesper Strömblad. In fact, he is the best member of this band. His soloing is, for most part, very nice and beautiful. At his best moments, he could even surpass guitarists like Jon Nodtveidt or the lead guitar player from Soilwork. For example, “Moonshield”. In the lead guitar department, this is one of my favorite songs ever. It starts with a really nice acoustic intro, and then is possessed by some of the nicest leads in the whole world of melodic metal. Although he can’t achieve the same level of success in the other songs, his work is well above average. “Jester’s Dance” is one little nice instrumental, which alternates the melodies with “heavy” parts. This song has even a “Wasting Love” rip-off riff in the start but oh let’s not get nitpicky. Jesper has a lot of influence here: When something goes bad, he comes to the rescue with some of his leads and solos. The solo on “December’s Flower” is indeed great.
One can also trace a comparison of this album with Agalloch’s The Mantle. Excellent lead guitar, poor rhythm guitar. This is exactly what happens here. Most riffs here are pretty simple, midpaced and without any punch or a decent level of complexity. The guitar tone is not that one we are used to: heavy, grinding. It really makes me wonder why this is called “death metal”. When at their best, the riffs are acceptable (“Jester’s Dance”). When they suck… Well, just listen to “Wayfaerer”. No need to worry. Whenever the songs start dragging, which happens often, Jasper throws out some sugary melodies, with his over-predominant lead guitar to save everything with his tried-and-true success formula. The album is mostly midtempo, with few exceptions like the nice Dissection-style break at 1:59 of “Graveland”. “December’s Flower” and “Dead God in Me” also feature some high-speed passages. The occasional good riff tends to pop up, though: The mentioned break in “Graveland”, the diverse “Dead Eternity” and some others. The drumming is pretty simple and the vocals are rough, but not straight death metal growls.
I’d choose as highlights the amazing “Moonshield”, “Jester’s Dance”, “December’s Flower” and “Dead God in Me”. The rest is not good enough or mediocre. The only song that truly deserves the title of “like OMG what a motherfucking walking abortion” is the instrumental called “Wayfaerer”. Nice talent for writing horrible riffs.
In the end of the day, this is very overrated. If you really like Gothenburg metal, there’s Soilwork’s “Chainheart Machine”, which is much more intense, heavy, faster and has excellent lead guitar work, comparable to Jesper’s, although their styles are somewhat different. Or if you hate Gothenburg, listen to anything by Necrophobic, amazing melodic death metal with a capital motherfucking D. This is just another album that received unfair godlike status.