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The concept of the live album, in a metal context, has been the subject of little variation. The general formula, as earlier established by mainstays from Black Sabbath to Manowar, is to play up the audience participation and to not only modify studio songs for the sake of surprising and involving the audience, but also to shorten and combine them in order to get more material into a shorter duration. Though song selection naturally plays a pivotal role alongside this tendency to include the audience, production takes a critical role, and all but demands a sound conducive to a theatrical setting with plenty of crowd noise and applause. In all of these respects, In Flames’ well known live offering “The Tokyo Showdown” could be considered the opposite of a live album, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While it is all well and good to hear the screaming of thousands upon thousands of faithful Brazilian metal heads on a Helloween live album, or hear Ronnie James Dio humbly featuring the audience for a sing along, sometimes you just want to hear the band. In this, the album is a very massive success, offering up something that sounds like a small venue gig, even though it most likely was not given the popularity of the band at this point. There’s a bit of an overemphasis on the drums and the bass is uncharacteristically loud compared to all of the studio versions of these songs, but this doesn’t wholly detract from the overall feel of things. The only thing that really kind of drags on the quality of these songs is that Friden’s emo tendencies (which exploded a year later on “Reroute To Remain”) have seeped into what were originally supposed to be quiet spoken lines, particularly on that of “Bullet Ride” and “Ordinary Story”.
One thing has to be handed to this band, regardless of whether or not the contents of “Whoralce” through “Clayman” were well received by your ears (as these albums dominate this offering), this is a very faithful and consistent presentation of the driving, somewhat power metal-like tendency of this era of the band. Absent perhaps the amplified presence given by studio tweaks and enhanced keyboard ambiences (the latter of which is heavily downplayed on here), this is what these songs likely would have sounded like had they been recorded in one take, save Anders attempting to involve the audience a little bit at the beginning of “Swim”. The renditions of such hard hitting speeders like “Clayman”, “Scorn” and “Pinball Map” feature exquisite guitar work and might encourage some involuntary horn throwing. The classics “Moonshield” and “Beyond Space” are also nicely realized, though the acoustic elements have been either omitted or electrified, and songs I’m not terribly keen on like “Jotun” and “Episode 666” sound energetic and lively, probably due to the superior kit abilities of Dan Svensson.
It is somewhat strange to be dissenting on this point, but this is actually among the better In Flames releases during their middle era, and it is definitely a somewhat surprising breath of fresh air in an endless stream of live albums where bands seek to overemphasize the audience reaction. This is not to say that the roar of applause in a massive arena is a bad thing, but it is refreshing to hear a band focus on what the audience is actually focused on during the concert, and that is the music. Those who want pure melodeath will have to try and hunt down the split live album with Darkseed and EverEve, but for the less fussy and conservative types, this is slightly inferior but still fun album by a band that was still in the game.