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The spark before the flames. - 85%

hells_unicorn, February 19th, 2011

It’s a rare thing for a band to outdo itself before it is fully established, but it does happen from time to time. For most fans of harder edged metal, Helloween can be seen as a crowning example as their early speed metal work with Kai Hansen at the helm tend to be more strongly heralded than the higher fidelity, vocally polished incarnation that paved the way for present European power metal (“The Keepers” albums). In much the same way, In Flames has had this odd habit of hitting pay dirt during their non-full length releases, and the EP length demo that preceded their competent and intricate debut “Lunar Strain” is the prototypical example of it.

It is fairly easy to see how In Flames was able to land themselves in the midst of a notable revolution in the early 90s, as an independently produced product of this quality was probably not easy to come by before the days of widely distributed recording studio software. The dimensions that make up this chilling breeze of a sound are very clearly defined and audible, literally to the point where the band’s largely neglected bass player can be very clearly heard amidst the usual mess of tremolo riffs, blast beats and mid-pitched shouts. In fact, apart from the raspy and almost frostbitten roars of Mikael Stanne, this could almost be qualified as posh and power metal-like, particularly in comparison to the coinciding releases of At The Gates at this point.

Nevertheless, as far as In Flames offerings go, this is the clearest example of the band’s link to the broader genre of death metal, as well as a display of their varied stylistic devices. “Upon An Oaken Throne” is a bit more tuneful and less chaotic, but an examination of the dimensions of the song and the usage of somewhat occult oriented atmospheric devices, reveals a band that has a familiarity with Morbid Angel’s “Altars Of Madness”. By contrast, the acoustic intro to “In Flames” (which was cut from the “Lunar Strain” version) and the 30 second lead up to “Clad In Shadows” demonstrate a folksy tendency that predates the majestic melodeath meets Viking glory of Ensiferum and Suidakra by a good 3 or 4 years.

Ultimately what emerges here is actually a better version of what was present on “Lunar Strain”. Although definitely varied within the short duration of music it carries, this isn’t nearly as all over the place and heavy on the instrumental meandering as the studio debut, and contains a humbler production that is a bit more in line with the practices of late 80s to early 90s bands that paved the way towards this band. When the question of “What does In Flames have to do with death metal?” gets asked, this is what I always point to, and given that it is available along with the reissue of “Lunar Strain”, I think I’ll point in that direction for any who are interested in hearing Iron Maiden meets Death.